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What else could Metrolinx do with its PRESTO cards?

Posted by Chris Bateman / December 11, 2012

toronto presto readerIt was a long time coming, but the TTC last month signed off on PRESTO, provincial transit agency Metronlix's contactless payment card system, with a promise to have readers in every bus, streetcar, and subway station in time for 2016. The card, which holds a balance uploaded from a credit or debit card, is also compatible with other regional transit services, including GO, making it easier than ever to pay a fare in the GTA.

The scope of a widely adopted instant payment system could potentially be very broad. What service in Toronto couldn't be made better with a quick way to pay? According to Robert Hollis, the managing director and VP of PRESTO, it would actually be very easy to hook up readers to BIXI bike stations and Green P municipal parking meters.

"From a technology point of view, that's the easy part," says Hollis, "you can get a proximity reader on a number of devices so the ability to tap a card is really about having the equipment — the bigger challenge is how you're going to manage the payments in the back end."

The main hurdles to expanding PRESTO beyond transit are federal rules that govern all forms of currency within Canada. "If you're setting up an e-purse payment system you have to follow Canadian Payment Association rules," continues Hollis. The CPA oversees all electronic payments from ATM debit card withdrawals to a credit card pre-authorizations. A total of $179.4 billion of transactions were processed under their stewardship in 2011.

"Our focus is on transit we're still rolling out across our resources will be focused on what we believe is our prime objective. Once we have cards in people's hands I think it says to us 'what other things could we do with that card'...we have been looking since day one for opportunities to expand our card, it's just not the highest priority for us right now."toronto presto cardA focus on transit doesn't rule out BIXI, taxi companies, parking lots, and ferries adopting PRESTO. I would argue Metrolinx's next move after getting the TTC up and running should be to go to these companies and work out a way of making contactless payment seamless across all forms of transit in Toronto. Paying for a coffee and a newspaper, as one can in New Zealand with the Snapper card, might be a long way off but there's no reason why renting a bike or hopping over to the Islands can't be as simple as waving a card.

Adding other businesses such as Tim Hortons or Gateway Newstands, the company contracted to operate convenience stores and bakeries within the subway system, to its roster at a later date could be a nice sweetener for its users.

UPDATE: 15:14

Kevin McLaughlin, president of Autoshare, says his company approached Metrolinx about using PRESTO cards as a form of ID for customers collecting a vehicle. He says so far the reception has been decidedly lukewarm even though he believes his company falls under the umbrella of "transit," Hollis' focus.

"We want to work with PRESTO," he says, "I don't want to be negative towards them because I'm not, [but] sometimes it's unfortunate when we see folks in Montreal who basically get a greener light to start talking about these ideas and yet meanwhile we're ready to go."

"It just seems like in this day and age when government is struggling with transit and you've got this huge opportunity you should be looking at other cities to see what they're doing with [fare cards]. It's almost a scandal that we're not doing something with it."

That said, Autoshare is likely to go ahead with PRESTO integration with or without Metrolinx. The readers the company is installing its cars will authorize pick-ups using a unique ID number stored on each card without debiting the balance. McLaughlin also hopes to accept similar contactless cards from Montreal's transit system.

Metrolinx released a statement in response:

"PRESTO has spoken previously with Autoshare. They are aware of our mandate, and while we understand the potential for expanding partnerships in the future, today our focus is to integrate transit - and we are doing that."

What are your thoughts? Is Metrolinx right to stick to traditional transit systems or should it be working with companies like Autoshare and BIXI to develop additional uses for its cards?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Derek Flack/blogTO and Metrolinx.



Ryan / December 11, 2012 at 08:39 am
They need to fix their other problems first.
I've gone negative balance twice now even though I've loaded $20 on my card the night before. Turns out that the cards aren't smart enough to deduct what you already have on the card on top of what's about to be added to it.
The auto reload minimum threshold is set way too high at $20. For someone that only uses it for regional transit like YRT; I don't need to reload another $20 (the minimum auto reload amount) on it every time I drop below the $20 threshold.
Jer / December 11, 2012 at 08:51 am
I have never actually held a card in my hand before, are they bigger than a credit card? It looks HUGE in that picture. Would it even fit in a standard wallet?
JM / December 11, 2012 at 09:00 am
The Octopus MTR card in Hong Kong is an excellent example ( Can be used on subways, buses, ferries, taxis (in most cases) on the transit end, as well as convenience stores, some grocery stores and any other retailer that participates. You can fill it up almost anywhere, carries a max balance of 500HKD, and there is a 50HKD overdraft, just in case.

Besides the obvious convenience, the best part is how efficiently it moves the line of people waiting for more waiting for people to count change, and no waiting as ticket purchasers hold up the line.
Kelsey / December 11, 2012 at 09:04 am
the size of the card is the same as a credit card...
alex / December 11, 2012 at 09:20 am
The potential of this card is great and it can have many many uses, but what happens if you lose it and someone else uses it to buy stuff in a convenience store or pay for something more expensive than just a bus ride? With a VISA, it's not hard to get them to investigate and reimburse you, but seeing as how this is under a government agency, it'd take years for them to do anything...
Chris Bateman / December 11, 2012 at 09:30 am
Other agencies will reimburse the balance on a registered card if it's lost or stolen:
the lemur / December 11, 2012 at 09:32 am
I don't see why it should do anything other than pay for transit fares, maybe ferries. It's too cumbersome to align Bixi with Presto technically, but you could offer discounts on one for users of the other.

The more you make Presto do, the more money you store on it, the more complex it gets and the more annoying it becomes if you lose the card or it malfunctions. Remember, it's just a card you store money on that doesn't earn interest.
cobyrne / December 11, 2012 at 09:47 am
Once it's on all subways, busses and streetcars that's all it needs. It should have always been that way as it was pretty much useless in the city of Toronto up to know.

Why does it have to take until 2016 though? 4 years? Seriously? This should take 1 year max.
Tim / December 11, 2012 at 09:50 am
Agree with JM above. Please learn from what other cities are already doing. Octopus has to be the best example of how this can integrated and some of the usability solutions for Presto. Everyone in HK has an octopus card. It is a way of life. I can only forsee this technology being moved onto smartphones as well.
reader / December 11, 2012 at 09:50 am
Lived in Korea for a long time and back in 1999 they had a T-money card which is exactly the same. You can use it for busses, subways, taxis, purchases from automated kiosks and a few other things.

Why will it take 4 years to get this installed? How freaking useless and inefficient is the TTC? No wonder I drive in Toronto, it's easier, cheaper and reduces my stress.
Kevin McLaughlin / December 11, 2012 at 09:51 am
AutoShare is already "Presto Ready". All of our vehicles are equipped with an RFID system that reads the Presto card's 'public' ID number (which uses the MIFARE convention). While we cannot see any personal/financial info, nor do we have plans at this time to tie in payment to the Presto Purse, members are able to link their Presto card to their AutoShare account, for a "one card" mobility experience. We're just waiting for Presto to discuss this further, before widely launching.
Chris / December 11, 2012 at 09:53 am
I assume that only registered Presto cards would be usable at Bixi stations or you would have to have enough of a balance to cover the deposit of the Bike.
duder replying to a comment from reader / December 11, 2012 at 10:04 am
Completely agree. Have used T-Money in Korea, Suica in Japan and the Octopus card in HK (as well as similar systems elsewhere), I find it ridiculous that it's going to take another four years before it's installed everywhere. They've been working on this thing for a decade, too!

Then again, this is the TTC we're talking about...a system where expanding a subway by a few stops takes 30 years, as opposed to months in other countries.
Michael / December 11, 2012 at 10:16 am
Yeah for some reason they have two of these types of cards in Tokyo: Suica and Passmo. Passmo was the originator from back in the '90s, I believe. And they setup this whooooolee payment network at convenience stores and vending machines.

Then the JR Corporation created the Suica card, which also worked in select other cities and ate Passmo's lunch. Passmo still exists and people still use it at convenience stores... unfortunately, 10 yen and the all-annoying 1 yen coins ($0.012) still do as well.

And actually these NFC cards are pretty cool because you don't have to fumble with cards or change out of your wallet! You don't even have to take your wallet out of your pocket sometimes. Just bum pocket to reader! No big deal.
Mt / December 11, 2012 at 10:23 am
Lovely dream, however it's comical because all of these things have been done for decades in other cities. Instead of playing catch-up to ideas from the 90's, how about aiming for modern goals like smartphone and NFC bank card payments?
Mike replying to a comment from reader / December 11, 2012 at 10:29 am
@reader you drive everywhere in Toronto eh? Drive to the airport and go back to Korea then. Presto is a project managed by Metrolinx. The TTC never wanted Presto in the first place and wanted an open payment systems. Learn about the issues before you spew out hate.
Deric replying to a comment from cobyrne / December 11, 2012 at 10:34 am
A lot of people are wondering why the process to get these things going is going to take so long. In Mississauga, the process took around 2 years to implement these things - they have to make sure the machines are hooked up properly, make sure they don't slow down business, and then get people on board. i.e. What are you going to do now about people who get the discounted metropass through their work? etc etc.
Alex / December 11, 2012 at 10:36 am
Only if they fix their problems first. 24 hours for them to process a top-up on the card is mighty inconvenient.
Paul / December 11, 2012 at 10:54 am
Any blame on implementation should go to the province, who had to ensure that their buddies at Accenture were able to make megabucks developing a unique solution instead of buying open payment systems off the shelf like the TTC wanted to do.
Tony / December 11, 2012 at 11:04 am
2016 to have these installed!! The technology will be completely irrelevant by then. Somebody's pocket was lined with gold with this deal. Why wouldnt they just use NFC technology? All you need is your mobile phone to tap payment. You use cards only for those that dont have a smartphone and cash machines. Another botched roll out for a Govt agency, great job!! The negativity surrounding Presto, regardless of how good it might or could be will be its demise.
GEORGIE P replying to a comment from Mt / December 11, 2012 at 11:12 am
Because then in ten year, we will have no projects to be catching up on and the people making $70k - $80k at Metrolinx will have nothing to do.
NFC / December 11, 2012 at 11:54 am
Can I just use my Android phone's NFC capability with Presto readers rather than carrying another piece of plastic in my wallet?
jer replying to a comment from Tony / December 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm
Totally agree. Why aren't they more forward looking on this.

Aaron replying to a comment from Jer / December 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm
Yes, the card is standard credit card size
me / December 11, 2012 at 01:54 pm
it's ridiculous that we're still discussing this concept, something that's been in the works for ages, locally, and that has been implemented successfully in various formats, globally. it would be awesome if something radically new or inspiring was in the works, but it's an existing technology (and one that even comes up short compared to other implementations of similar concepts).

maybe we need another study to see if the progress-to-date is on par with what was timelined in the previous study? our transit system is so antiquated and slow to develop relatively basic technology and concepts (yes, i realize it's not solely the TTC's fault, and that different levels of gov't, agencies, and other stakeholders have contributed to the general clusterf**k).
the lemur replying to a comment from me / December 11, 2012 at 02:16 pm
It's mostly the TTC's fault, though. They've gone through several rounds of saying they should/would look at automated payment systems of some kind, only to conclude that it would be better to wait until one system or another was cheaper (admittedly they didn't usually have the money to implement it either), more secure, etc. They've done a lot of wait-and-see and it has never worked out in their favour.
McRib / December 11, 2012 at 02:30 pm
Presto pay toilets
Joe / December 11, 2012 at 02:52 pm
You all, are indeed, mad.
Sean / December 11, 2012 at 04:04 pm
For the time being, cash and tokens rule.
one card system software / December 11, 2012 at 04:18 pm
better fix first the problem before placing it..make sure the people won't be having a hard time

one card system software
Kenneth / December 11, 2012 at 04:52 pm
Autoshare I'm glad you support the PRESTO with Autoshare how great would that be. To have to carry one less card. If it means me carrying around fewer cards I'm all for it.
Other Sean / December 11, 2012 at 06:07 pm
Simon Tarses / December 11, 2012 at 07:22 pm
Again, what are the poor to do if they need to get somewhere and they can't because ticket/tokens/change is no longer accepted on the TTC?
me replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / December 11, 2012 at 07:35 pm
if it's like most (all?) other transit systems, they will still accept money/change.
stopitman replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / December 11, 2012 at 07:40 pm
There will still be cash and likely another system along with Presto (either tokens or a ticket system like European countries have).

Another thing that Presto could bring back in with the TTC is fare zones, which would require stiles that accept tickets. They worked in the past when the subway was built (I believe that anywhere in the inner suburbs was considered Zone 2 and the City of Toronto was Zone 1) and they work in Paris, London, etc. Why should someone travelling from Kipling to Old Mill pay the same as someone travelling from Kipling to Union?

The Presto has been great for me - no need for change, tickets, transfers, or as much pre-planning when travelling on GO and on the suburban transit systems.
Off replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / December 11, 2012 at 08:54 pm
Don't let them on, just like we do today.
kg replying to a comment from the lemur / December 11, 2012 at 09:07 pm
I don't understand why people are making this out to be more of a problem than it really is. As mentioned by JM, Hong Kong has been using it's Octopus cards or a while now. If the system was faulty why would they continue it. If you don't want to load too much money on it then don't, but to have the option and convenience is amazing.
I lived in HK for 3 months and that was one of the things I wished we had in Toronto for sure.
Glad we're finally getting with the times.
the lemur replying to a comment from kg / December 11, 2012 at 11:43 pm
I didn't say the system itself was necessarily faulty, but we need to see Metrolinx get Presto working properly in the transit sphere first before thinking about expanding it to other goods and services, and whether people really consider that desirable, useful or necessary.
Tasha / December 12, 2012 at 01:38 am
This comment is probably going to offend some people, but it has to be said. Toronto is BEHIND on A LOT of things. We live in a city that claims to be open to other backgrounds, open to ideas that will benefit the general public - yet when the public tells you that they aren`t on board with something etc, they often times are ignored.

Why expect a city as big as Toronto to be on board with your backward ideas.

I know there are some people who know what I`m talking about - on all fronts etc. Yet, it seems so clear to me that, the city of Toronto is not as clear.
Mark / December 12, 2012 at 05:35 am
2016! Wow! Why the hell does it take the dam TTC sooooo long to do everything!!!
the lemur replying to a comment from Tasha / December 12, 2012 at 09:53 am
Whose backward ideas? What has the public said it's not on board with?

The delay with this is entirely down to the TTC. To respond to Mark's comment as well, the TTC has a habit of stalling and dragging its feet on just about everything. They don't like other people's ideas, on principle.

The TTC had to be legally forced to implement stop announcements.

The TTC put off the idea of electronic fare media systems time and again, thinking it could wait until a given system became cheaper (it never does).

The TTC has been told over and over that its wayfinding/signage system was deficient, and all they've ever done is commission someone to do a trial redesign, for free, of St George and then left the results in place.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Off / December 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Hey dumbfuck, one day YOU might be in a situation where you have been ill for quite a while (mental illness being the most likely), don't have a lot of money, and have to go places for whatever reason (doctor's appointments, therapy sessions, job searches)-what would YOU do when because of the implementation of this system, you won't be able to get on the bus, streetcars, subway, or LRT because the current system's set up only for pay from PRESTO cards? What do you do when there's not enough money left for said card to top up the fare? And, what do you do when you live in a different part of the city and you can't just walk to these assignments? Also, how would you fee if somebody told now semi-destitute you what you just said to me about people on the margins?

I'm afraid that this is just being done to appease people who crave fast convince (and the cachet of being like every other city on Earth-as if we're all kids that need the latest gadget) at the expense of others that can't afford it.
lizzy / December 12, 2012 at 01:20 pm
Let's just stick to transit. I agree with the point of - if the PRESTO card gets expanded to being used for parking and in convenience stores, the more money people will load onto the card. If the card is stolen and the card is used, there is just too much risk for people getting their purse wiped out. Considering banks can't even protect customers from criminals copying debit/credit cards.. let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

One step at a time. Metrolinx has A LOT of work to do when it comes to PRESTO. How bout fixing their self-serve machines that seem crash so often, adding more self serve machines around the GTA, and most of all.. it shouldn't take 24 hours for online transactions to your e-purse.
me / December 12, 2012 at 03:37 pm
while it's not the most elegant solution, if your presto card is lost or stolen, it's not inherent that you've lost your balance, as there are ways to protect it...

How do I protect my card balance?

Protect your card balance from loss or theft by registering your card. You can block a registered card from further use and transfer the remaining balance to a replacement card.

What do I do if my card is lost or stolen?

If your card is registered, immediately report the loss:

Report a lost card online.
By phone at 1-8-PRESTO-123 (1-877-378-6123).
In person at a Customer Service Outlet.

Can I recover a pass if my card is lost or stolen?

You can only transfer a current pass to a replacement card if you order a replacement card for delivery online. You cannot transfer a pass when you purchase an anonymous replacement card and manually transfer your balance.

To recover a pass on your replacement card:

Report your loss and order a replacement card online. Access your account with your old card number.
The card will arrive by mail in about 10 days. It will already be loaded with all your existing information, remaining balance (minus $6 issuance fee) and existing passes.
Activate your replacement card before using it.
Charlie / December 13, 2012 at 02:38 pm
We are a bunch of suckers. To date Metrolinx has spent 700 million dollars developing this this. And guess who's money they spent doing it? Yup... ours. What a joke.

By the time the next phase gets implemented with the TTC in 2016 (they say, but I am sure there will be some kind of delay pushing it to 2017) it will be so far out of date that it may as well be irrelevant. Rogers and CIBC just launched their mobile credit card payment App for use with a Blackberry Bold 9900. If this can happen now then I am positive that in 4 years time there will many more advances in this area. Why didn't Metrolinx spend the money on a new payment system incorporating mobile instead of paying Accenture to build us a custom solution fit for the Nineties. Truly, it just boggles the mind.
Charlie replying to a comment from Mike / December 13, 2012 at 02:55 pm
"@reader you drive everywhere in Toronto eh? Drive to the airport and go back to Korea then. Presto is a project managed by Metrolinx. The TTC never wanted Presto in the first place and wanted an open payment systems. Learn about the issues before you spew out hate."

Mike, why so angry man? That is not spewing hate that is someone who is truly frustrated. I know that in this case the TTC isn't really at fault but they do play a part in this. However his comment about the TTC is totally valid - they are a joke. What were they waiting for this whole time? A payment system to fall into their laps? They could have gotten more involved but instead they did nothing.

I love me some tokens as much as the next guy but I those need to go.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Mt / December 13, 2012 at 03:26 pm
Not everybody wants a smartphone to be doing this and adding to their cellphone bill, I'd think.
Shane329 / April 15, 2013 at 02:53 pm
Auto Card Systems East provides Credential Protection Services, adding an extra layer of security to your company. They provide superior solutions for identification as well as their plastic card products needs.
Wm. Ryan Bailey / April 26, 2016 at 04:43 pm
Got a card last week.... It's already stolen $10 from it... Fuck this piece of shit card... Fix the long standing fucking problems
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