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One-fare transit a step closer

Testing of Presto will begin on TTC, Mississauga and GO Transit mid-July

Jun 26, 2007 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Mississauga Transit, GO and the TTC are looking for a few good commuters to “tap onto transit” and act as guinea pigs for a test of Presto, the new regionwide fare card the province says will revolutionize public transit.

To use it, the green card is simply tapped on an electronic reader, which deducts the lowest applicable fare for the ride. With the card, riders will no longer have to hunt for transfers or exact change, or handle multiple passes, tickets and tokens for various transit systems.

Instead, they’ll load value on to their card at a transit kiosk or online. Registered users will also be able to get a lost or stolen card replaced.

Similar technology is already in use in 30 countries, but Presto will be the first such card in Canada when the test is launched in mid-July on Mississauga, GO Transit and the TTC.

Touting the convenience of Hong Kong’s Octopus card and London’s Oyster card, transportation officials say Presto will draw motorists to public transit and help commuters move seamlessly between various bus and train systems.

“We need to move people easily. This is the only way to do it. You’ve got nine transit systems, with nine fare boxes and nine sets of transfers. This is one, and that’s the difference,” Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield said yesterday at a news conference at Mississauga’s Cooksville GO station.

Next year, the card will launch on GO’s busy Lakeshore West line and the Burlington and Oakville bus service. By 2010, Presto should extend to nine municipalities and include card readers at five subway stations: Don Mills, Downsview, Finch, Islington and Union, which currently handle 10 million cross-border trips a year.

The TTC remains the only GTA transit system not yet fully committed to the project.

“We continue to have a lot of questions,” TTC Chair Adam Giambrone said yesterday, adding that Presto would cost $300 million to roll out for the TTC and add $25 million in annual operating costs.

But Cansfield said she’s confident the TTC will sign on.

“There’s no question the TTC has a fair amount on its plate,” she said, including a $6 billion light-rail plan for which Queen’s Park recently pledged funding.

“I’m sure we will continue to work together to find solutions to all the challenges that face both of us,” she said.

The province has contracted Accenture Inc. to design and maintain the smart card system for 10 years, for $250 million. The fare card will become the responsibility of the Greater Toronto Transit Authority.

NDP transportation critic Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) criticized the government for taking so long to launch the card.

“Dalton McGuinty promised an integrated ticket within 18 months over four years ago – now he’s making the same promise again,” said Tabuns in a release yesterday.

But the test, expected to take between a year and 18 months, is needed to make sure bugs are worked out of the system, Cansfield said.

Presto user guide

Who: Transit officials are recruiting 500 commuters willing to test the Presto card for at least six months – preferably people who use Mississauga Transit, GO and the TTC in combination. Applications distributed at Cooksville and Meadowvale GO stations, and on four linking bus routes.

How: Each card is embedded with a computer chip and antenna, and loaded with a dollar value. Riders tap or pass the card over a reader to have the lowest applicable fare deducted. If your backpack or wallet isn’t too thick, you may not even have to remove it. An anti-passback feature prevents paying twice. White machines at key transit entrances will let you check your balance and recent transactions.

Where: On Mississauga Transit buses to GO trains at Meadowvale and Cooksville, at GO station entrances and at Union Station.

What if:

You’re a tester: In exchange for participating, the issuance fee (about $5) will be waived.

You run out of card value: The reader beeps and shows a red light.

A GO officer checks your card: Officers carry hand-held devices to check that your card has been read.

You lose the card: Cards contain no personal information. But registered users, whose information is stored in a central computer, can have the value replaced.

Transit trip planning tool would cut travel time

The Greater Toronto Transit Authority wants to create an integrated, online trip-planning tool to make it easier for transit users to traverse the Toronto region, according to chair Rob MacIsaac.

“The idea is that we would create a web-based trip planner that would allow you to plug in origins and destinations and it would spit out directions on how you could get around the whole of the region. Like a big transit MapQuest for the Greater Toronto Area,” he said.

An integrated trip planner was among the transit needs identified in the Toronto Star’s Commuter Challenge series on cross-border commuting earlier this month.

Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield said transit users often have “phenomenal” waits to transfer from one system to another. “At the end of the day … you just want to get to work,” she said.

Tess Kalinowski