The Switch to Presto Could Make Life a Lot Harder for Seniors and Students
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The Switch to Presto Could Make Life a Lot Harder for Seniors and Students

Until 2017, discounted fares will only be available at Davisville station.

Renz Gamboa uses the TTC every day. He’s a student who attends school in Toronto, and he used to purchase a Metropass for his commute.

He didn’t know about the discounted fares offered to students like him by the TTC through Presto, and when he heard about the reloadable transit card, he decided to buy one. But then he learned he had to travel to Davisville station to get his discount.

Presto is intended to make life easier for commuters in the GTA. But for students and seniors, both of whom are eligible for discounted fares, the new system could be inconvenient at best and inaccessible at worst.

The value of having Presto for seniors and students who routinely ride the TTC is that they’re able to add a concession on the self-service fare card. This is a feature that allows customers to apply discounts.

By default, the card is set to the adult fare, and in order to have their discount applied, riders only have one option: they have to visit Davisville station.

While making the trip to Davisville is a one-time burden to get approved for discounted fares, having only the one option raises concerns for people who rely on transit to travel through the GTA, especially those with mobility issues.

The number of TTC rides increased to 70,967,000 in 2015 from 65,596,000 in 2012, according to the Toronto Transit Commission Analysis of Ridership. Only 438,000 fares used Presto, compared to 25,092,000 who used a monthly pass.

Seniors or people with disabilities may find it challenging to reach Davisville. While the station is more accessible than others, obstacles can still arise, such as elevators or escalators being out of service. And more practically, those on the outskirts of Toronto’s midtown—whether from Etobicoke or Scarborough—will have to make a long trek just to get a concession they’re entitled to.

Gamboa says paying for any kind of transportation—bus, train, or subway—with the quick tap of a card will make things more flexible for passengers. But having discounted fares available only at one location detracts from that convenience.

TTC Chair and Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) admits the system still isn’t perfect.

“The senior [discount situation] is admittedly not as convenient as we like right now, having to go to Davisville,” Colle says. “Eventually you’ll be able get your card, if you’re a senior or student, and the concession that comes with it wherever you get your card, the same way you get your tickets or tokens now.”

The TTC announced this summer it intends to eliminate tokens and tickets by mid-2017 to pave the way for widespread Presto use. It will still accept cash payment, but that likely won’t be for long—the TTC is expected to only accept Presto cards by the end of 2017.

There likely won’t be an increase in the number of locations offering the concession until well after the transition period ends next year.

So far, Presto readers have been installed in more than 1,000 TTC buses and at turnstile entrances of 30 subway stations to complement all streetcars travelling across the city. The system-wide rollout of the card on all buses and subway stations is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

TTC communications advisor Kadeem Griffiths says commuters will know ahead of time of any coming changes to fare policies.

“It will be communicated well in advance when we stop accepting cash, tickets and tokens, and when everyone should be transitioned over to Presto,” Griffiths says.

Colle adds that the TTC and Metrolinx will have to overcome the challenge of educating Torontonians about the new fare system, making sure the distribution network of Presto is wide and available everywhere.

Even if the TTC expands the availability of discounts for seniors and students, ensuring that all of its stations are accessible is equally important. Currently, 34 stations (including Davisville) are considered accessible with elevators and escalators.

But 35 others remain inaccessible, though they are required to undergo changes by 2025 to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The TTC is expected to spend $462.8 million on accessibility projects [PDF] as part of its 2016-2025 capital budget.

But a chunk of the funds, $429 million, will be spent on accessibility retrofits at subway stations, including elevators, power-operated sliding doors, fare gates, ramps, and signage.

Until things change, commuters like Gamboa will have to head to Davisville—an out-of-the-way trip—all for a discount that’s rightfully theirs.

CORRECTION: SEPTEMBER 21, 11:56 AM: This article originally cited incorrect ridership numbers. We regret the error.