2016 Villain: Presto
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2016 Villain: Presto

Nominated for: being a major headache.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Torontoist - Villain - Presto - Dasha  Zolota

The idea of Presto makes so much sense—a reloadable card that allows you to board transit with a simple tap on a machine. No need for tokens, tickets, or cash.

But city-wide implementation of the system has been brutal—slow, riddled with glitches, and nowhere near as user-friendly as it should be. Presto needs a lot more work before it will be the dream of a system it’s promised to be.

The system, which revolves around a green card, was introduced by Metrolinx in late 2009 at just three GO stations and the Union Station subway stop. It has expanded since, throughout the GO Transit system, as well as throughout the TTC and regional transit in Oakville, Burlington, and Hamilton.

The timeline for city-wide rollout was, apparently, ambitious. Back in fall of 2015, Metrolinx said Presto would be available at all subway stations, streetcars, buses and Wheel-Trans by the end of 2016. They finally made that target on December 23, but not without some user frustration.

So far, about 1,000 of the TTC’s 1,900 buses have Presto machines. All streetcars have had Presto machines since the end of 2015. (Though they don’t always, ahem, work.)

In the summer of 2015, the TTC said it would be eliminating tokens and tickets by mid-2017.

By the end of 2016, all buses, and at least one entrance at all subway stations would have Presto readers, the organization said in September of this year.

We’ll see.

In places where Presto does exist, there are problems with how the system works.

Sometimes, Presto overcharges. Unless you’re checking your online account frequently, you’d never notice. This might happen when you’re transferring, from the subway to a streetcar, for instance—you’re supposed to tap as you board the streetcar, but Presto isn’t supposed to charge you.

Or the card might fail to acknowledge you’ve “tapped off” at a machine.

Or you may arrive at a station only to find no Presto machine at all.

“Presto” is also a bit of a misnomer. Loading funds onto your card (which can be done online) is not an instantaneous action. It can take up to 24 hours for the money to be available for use on your card. That’s not poof! Presto! It’s inconvenient.

Right now, Presto is a frequent headache for many people. We’ll remain hopeful that in 2017, Metrolinx and the TCC will get their act together, and work to make Presto as efficient and convenient as it should be, because it’s not there yet.


CORRECTION: JANUARY 3, 4:57 PM This article was originally filed and edited before December 23, but published afterwards. Since then Presto has been introduced to at least one entrance at each subway station, and installed on each bus and streetcar.


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