Presto Woes

I’m finally getting my money’s worth on my daily commute. I am riding for free.

My schedule this month has me not going into the office as much as usual. It didn’t make financial sense to purchase my usual monthly transit pass. I decided to “pay as you go.”

Ottawa, like many cities, offers a loadable card you can use instead of cash for transit fares. The cost per ride is a bit less, and you don’t have to carry the cash. I go online, enter my credit card number and whatever amount I specify is credited to my account and shows up on my Presto card.

Presto is administered by a provincial government agency, which means that its implementation was a year later than scheduled and glitches are a regular occurrence. At one point Ottawa tried to look at other options, but the provincial government strongly discouraged that. Which is a polite way of describing blackmail: Ottawa was told if it switched there would be no more provincial transit subsidies. It’s a sordid tale of mismanagement, and much too long to describe here.

As a pass holder glitches usually don’t affect me. I’ve paid for the month, so it doesn’t matter if the electronic card reader on the bus doesn’t recognize my card. This week though I’ve been getting free rides, five of my past seven trips.

I suppose I could pay in cash. There is still a fare box, but the driver can’t make change and I only carry bills, not coins. I’m not interested in donating to an inefficient system.

The first time my card didn’t work, a message came on the screen telling me to call customer service. I thought there might be a problem with my card, maybe it had become de-magnetized or whatever it is that makes it work. So I called.

I won’t be doing that again.

I am not convinced automated answering systems are as efficient as a human operator. Yes, they are cheaper, but I’m not sure the savings offset the damage to customer relations. It took five minutes for me to navigate the various menu options to finally be able to speak with a human being. Five exceedingly long minutes.

I had to sit through the spiel about how I could look up my information online. Yes, I knew that, that’s where I got the phone number. I would have sent an email, but the response time was advertised as five working days. Yes, it definitely is a government agency.

Every time I pressed a menu option I got another commercial about the joys of Presto. I was told my balance (which I could see on my computer screen already), I was told how much more efficient it would be if I loaded funds onto the card automatically each month. What I wasn’t told was the number to press to reach customer service. Pressing “zero,” which in some automated systems will bring you to an operator, didn’t work.

When the five minutes were up, and the machine had told me all it could think to sell, I was finally connected to Rocco, who was able to tell me there was nothing wrong with my card. The problem must be with Ottawa’s buses.

And indeed, I did hear on the news yesterday morning that recent schedule changes have thrown off the buses’ onboard computers that regulate the Presto system. Makes no sense to me at all, those changes were Christmas Day (and don’t get me started on why route changes are always made on holidays). Those schedule changes shouldn’t be causing problems now. And why did it take so long for problems to show up?

It’s been several days of glitches now. The cost to the transit system must be considerable. Fixing it should be a priority. And if it isn’t, I’ll enjoy the free ride.


One comment

  1. Used to be $2.70 for a ride on the bus using Presto. Now $3.35. 5 cents cheaper than a fare.
    Why has it risen faster than inflation? Also, all that Presto data of where people get on and off means they have data to mine…find out where the demand is and optimize routes, meaning cutting back on costs…

    Someone told me it cost an extra $1.25 to take Uber.

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