Almost a million people in Ontario have Presto cards for transit service. Even the TTC is a recent partner. But rapid growth means glitches.
Maureen Watt-Smit has a problem with Presto, a card used for payment on regional transit systems. She spent three months trying to get a $93 refund.
The Kitchener transit terminal told her she had to contact Presto to get a refund form. Presto said she had to do it at the Kitchener transit terminal, but later agreed to send it by Canada Post.
A month later, nothing had arrived. She couldn’t find an online form and sent an email to Presto.
“”Your input is extremely valuable to the constant improvement of the Presto system,” said the reply, adding that she would be contacted within five business days.
When she didn’t get a return email, she went back to the Kitchener terminal. There, she learned she could apply at Presto’s website.
After 30 minutes searching for an online form, she called customer service and spoke to someone who couldn’t find the form either. A supervisor insisted she had to go to the Kitchener terminal.
Back and forth they went until the supervisor agreed to send a refund form by email. One week later, it hadn’t arrived. Another email in mid-November did not elicit a reply.
“If I get to the step where I can actually obtain a refund, Presto will deduct 4 per cent of my refund for handling costs. What about all the time and effort I spent? I should be billing them,” she told me.
Using Twitter to reach @PrestoCard, I heard from Anne Marie Aikins. She’s the media relations manager for Metrolinx, an Ontario government agency set up to integrate transit systems and implement smart card technology.
Aikins sent a refund form by email on Nov. 19, saying it would be available from that day forward at Presto’s website.
She also promised to speed up the refund request and waive the 4-per-cent handling fee to compensate for the customer’s inconvenience.
Presto vice-president Robert Hollis said there may have been some confusion since refunds are processed differently, depending on amount.
Metrolinx handles refunds over $50, while customer service outlets at the local transit agencies handle refunds under $50.
Watt-Smit’s refund was over $50. So why did Metrolinx keep sending her to the Kitchener outlet?
“We’re growing very quickly and can’t react as quickly to a surge in calls. We have had to bring in another call centre and bring the team up to speed,” Hollis said.
Presto has more than 950,000 cardholders and is adding 35,000 a month. The system records 12 million card taps a month.
GO Transit is a big Presto card user with 75-per-cent adoption. Eight transit agencies in greater Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa are adopting it as well.
But if you live and work in Toronto, you may know nothing about Presto. Your choices are tickets, tokens, cash or a monthly Metropass card.
“The Toronto Transit Commission was always at the table as Presto evolved, but it only fully signed on in November 2012,” Hollis says.
The TTC has 14 of its 75 subway stations enabled for Presto, among them Bloor-Yonge, Union, St. George, Downsview and Islington, with 21,000 fare payments on an average weekday. Nine stations will be added next year.
It will take three years — until the end of 2016 — to equip all TTC vehicles and stations, as well as Wheel-Trans (a door-to-door service for people with physical disabilities), with access to Presto card payments.
Despite the delay in going electronic, the TTC has signed up 4,000 retailers to sell tickets, tokens and passes. It sees this as progress.
“Payments are not a big locus of complaints for us,” says Chris Upfold, the TTC’s chief customer service officer, “although there is lots of talk about how we’re behind.”
Electronic payments are easier to track than cash, tokens or tickets if you apply for the public transit tax credit. And they allow you to take a trip home at night, even if you don’t have enough money on the card.
Presto users who register their cards can get a ride after 8 p.m. The card goes into a deficit or overdraft, allowing them to complete one trip before reloading.
The cost of the trip, plus a 25-cent fee, is deducted from the minimum load of $10, which can be done over the Internet or in person at a sales centre.