PRESTO! You’re being unfairly fined

Jess Reyes

The Toronto Transit Commission has announced that this year will be a year of enforcement. New TTC streetcars will now be using an honour system that will be monitored by random fare inspections at different stops.

For people who live in York Region, this isn’t something new. The Viva has been using this system for 11 years and has made it very clear that there will be a $155 penalty fee if a rider doesn’t have a proof of payment.

The PRESTO card is supposed to be an important part of the new system of payment. There is some good news in relation to PRESTO. The card is no longer just used for GO Transit. It’s now a virtual card that can be used to make payment for York Region Transit, Toronto subway stations and the new streetcars along Spadina Avenue.

That’s all fine – if the system is working properly.

Having a PRESTO card is convenient because you just tap-and-go. When you tap your card at the machine you should see your remaining balance, followed by a small noise and a green flash. If there isn’t enough money on the card you will hear a loud alarm-like sound and the machine will flash red.

Which would be pretty embarrassing, no?

Being a PRESTO cardholder for more than three years I have developed a habit of just tapping the card and not looking at the balance, when I know I have enough funds. Many cardholders like myself have their settings to an automatic refill each month so they don’t have to worry about putting money on the card and constantly checking the balance.

But when the system malfunctions, as Toronto press reports indicate it has done with some frequency, the consumers are the ones who pay for it.

Relying on having all our money on one card is a mistake. Technology can be unreliable. Computers freeze and crash all the time.

In the fall of 2015, I was riding the Viva and was accused of not having my proof of purchase, despite having a full PRESTO card (which I had tapped when I entered the station). Waiting at both exit doors of the bus, transit officers who were dressed as security guards took out their notebooks and PRESTO machine readers like they owned the world.

When it was my turn to show my PRESTO card I heard an unusual beeping noise. The transit officer escorted me off the bus. They surrounded me as if I’d committed a crime.

The experience was beyond humiliating. Everyone was staring at me as if I were getting arrested for murder. To avoid an outrageous fine of $155 for an infraction I hadn’t committed, I lost a day in travelling to a courtroom in Newmarket where I was cleared of the fine yet ended up having to pay a $15 court fee.

Most people would not fight the ticket but the incident raised the larger question of what GTA transit users are looking at over the next few years. Thousands of dollars a year are going into machines that are malfunctioning. Until PRESTO works nearly perfectly, we should consider it as not working at all.

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