The TTC will consider a report this week wherein staff recommend adopting the Metrolinx Presto Card program. This program, now in its fourth year of a slow roll-out, aims to give every transit user a pre-loaded card that they can use to pay their fares on local and regional transit vehicles across Ontario.
It’s a good idea, but implementation has been stalled for years in Toronto because the province has only promised to provide partial funding. Given that the TTC faces a huge (and growing) backlog of necessary capital projects, asking local taxpayers to pick up about half the cost of implementing a system that will primarily benefit commuters coming from outside the 416 seems a little crazy.
In his well-worth-listening-to exit interview with Spacing Radio, former mayor David Miller spoke of a very early briefing note he was given regarding Presto. He paraphrases: “Warning! Warning! Presto will bankrupt the TTC! Don’t ever allow the cost of Presto to be put on the TTC.”
So what happened? Wasn’t it only a few weeks back that TTC Chair Karen Stintz was dismissing Presto as too expensive? Essentially, because the province holds all the cards when it comes to infrastructure funding, the TTC got squeezed enough that they’ve given in.
The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:
The TTC’s refusal to adopt Presto had become increasingly untenable. Provincial funding for the Eglington cross-town subway contained a condition that Presto would be available on that line. In addition, all new streetcar orders have required Presto-compatible units and much of the TTC’s gas-tax revenue is contingent upon Presto adoption, according to Ms. Stintz.
“The commission has a decision to make: we could continue with open payment and put a number of funding agreements with the province at risk, or we could move with Presto,” she said.
The full TTC report is available. All in all, it’s a rather unenthusiastic endorsement for Presto, and the question of the remaining funding gap is left open.
The weird thing is that both the TTC and the minds behind Presto acknowledge that an open payment system (using a debit card, credit card or cell phone to pay your fare) is the logical end-point. The adoption of the current Presto card, then, is merely a stop-gap measure leading to the more open “Presto Next Generation” project, set for 2014ish. (But, then again, with a provincial election looming, who knows?)
The report also indicates that the TTC had a successful bidder from the private sector, willing to implement an open payment system in return for a percentage of fare revenue. That this option is being set aside in favour of the larger program peddled by the provincial government is kind of funny, given city hall’s preference for all things privatized and low-cost.