Nov 25, 2009

Token Hoarding & Smartcards

Ontario’s new smartcard fare card will eliminate the token hoarding that is currently besieging the TTC, councillors acknowledged yesterday, yet the region’s biggest transit network will be the last in the province to get it.

The province’s PRESTO card goes live next week for the first 500 customers at two Oakville GO Stations. Those passengers will also be able to initially swipe their way through two turnstiles at Toronto’s Union Station, with a bigger rollout in May.

But Toronto passengers will likely have to wait until at least 2012 or 2013 for pre-loaded smartcards because the Toronto Transit Commission only gave PRESTO conditional approval last week, joining GO Transit, Oakville, Mississauga, York Region, Durham Region Brampton, Hamilton, Burlington – even Ottawa.

“Everybody else made a decision to go ahead in 2006 and TTC is making a decision in 2009 and so clearly that’s the reason why they’re last,” said David Smith, director of program services at PRESTO, which is overseen by provincially mandated regional transportation authority Metrolinx. “We’re very pleased with that decision and we’ll work with them as hard as we can to get them rolled out so that both the people who live in the 905 who use the TTC and all the residents of Toronto can enjoy the benefits of the PRESTO card.”

Since it announced a 25-cent fare hike effective Jan. 3, the TTC has faced a run on tokens, forcing it to first limit the number of tokens available to each customer and finally spend $50,000 printing 10 million temporary tickets for December as its token stores were depleted.

The TTC estimates it could lose $5-million from token hoarding.

Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke Lakeshore) said the whole debacle would have been avoided if the TTC had a less archaic fare system.

“With a smartcard system you could literally, practically overnight, change the fares. The next day it would deduct a different amount from your fare card. So there’d be no issue of hoarding tokens or anything else for that matter,” he said. “We have a fare system that others back in the ‘70s started going to magnetic tickets and things like that and probably since the ‘70s we’ve been somewhat behind.”

It would also offer the ability to load the card online, to pay with a credit card, and to register the card in case of theft or loss.

But Mr. Milczyn defended the TTC’s hesitancy to jump on board PRESTO. A report to the commission last week outlined significant costs as a chief concern. The province has agreed to bankroll $140-million of the start-up costs, in addition to installing PRESTO readers at 12 subways stations what will be part of a pilot.

But the report warned the true costs of implementation for the TTC could be as high as $417-million.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (St. Paul’s), vice chair of the TTC, said the commission has to tread carefully.

“We cannot make this something where the TTC loses money and we need to be able to control certain pieces,” he said. “If we want to introduce fare by distance or a discount for students or seniors or to offer off-peak lower fares, we need to be able to set those rules. We can’t have a third party set them for us.”

Mr. Mihevc said the costs meant implementing smartcard technology was not a priority for the TTC until recently.

“We have an integrated system whereby many of the buses and the streetcars go right into subway stations, therefore not requiring transfers, and our turnstile technology is pretty good and works just fine, it wasn’t in need of replacement. It wasn’t something that was on the TTC’s horizon” he said. “We had enough state of good repair issues to deal with 10 years ago when public transit money was really tight. So we decided our public transit system was working very fine, thank you very much, we’ll consider this at a later date. Now it’s that later date.”

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