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PRESTO Projects

PRESTO began as a pilot project under the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in 2006 and has now expanded to an operating division of Metrolinx. An initiative of Metrolinx’s The Big Move, PRESTO plays an important role in supporting greater integration of the region’s transit systems and in making the customer experience easier. While originally contemplated as a smartcard or e-Purse to integrate the regional transit systems of the GTHA, the success of PRESTO has meant a growing mandate and reach as the program has matured and the technology advanced.

With nine transit systems using multiple fare systems serving a population of more than six million people, implementing PRESTO is one of the most complex fare card projects currently underway globally. Research conducted by Grant Thornton confirms that at maturity, on a per rider basis, PRESTO will have the lowest cost when compared with three other similar fare card systems - London’s Oyster card, the Netherlands OC-chipkaart and the Chicago card. PRESTO is a world class system that is replacing aging fare collection systems that have existed for decades, with the industry best practice of integrated automatic fare collection.

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PRESTO in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

Transit riders want to get where they are going and not worry about municipal boundaries. With nine transit systems throughout the GTHA, all with various methods of payment, introducing a new fare payment system means introducing an approach that fundamentally changes the customer experience. PRESTO payment system lets riders travel within the GTHA seamlessly and allows transit partners to provide higher levels of convenience.

Today, PRESTO is fully deployed among nine transit systems including Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, York Region, Brampton, Mississauga, Durham Region, Ottawa and GO Transit, as well as on 14 TTC subway stations in Toronto. As of November 2013, more than 935,000 PRESTO card holders travel throughout these systems with the simple “tap” of their distinct green PRESTO card. The card contains an embedded wireless (RFID) chip that is detected and read when boarding their bus or train. The reader will then check for either a valid transit pass, or automatically deduct the lowest available fare from the e-Purse (the balance on the card). For frequent riders, loyalty programs are also available on some transit systems. These loyalty programs are at the discretion of the transit partners.

PRESTO usage has been steadily increasing from August 2011 to October 2012


Some of the key features of the PRESTO card include:

  • Convenience – PRESTO card holders can register online and manage their account according to their schedules at a time and place most convenient for them. No more lining up to purchase passes or paper tickets.
  • Autoload – If your card is registered online at the PRESTO website, you can set up a payment agreement to automatically reload your e-Purse from your bank account or credit card when it reaches a certain dollar amount, chosen by you.
  • Card replacement and balance protection – Customers can protect their card balance by registering it online or by mail-in form. If their card is lost, stolen or damaged, PRESTO can transfer the balance to a new card.
  • Federal Tax Credit for Public Transit made easier – Registered card holders are eligible for the federal income tax credit for public transit. For additional information, visit the Canada Revenue Agency website.

Delivering PRESTO throughout the GTHA and Ottawa is an investment by the Province to integrate nine separate payment systems into one common and convenient technology. The PRESTO system was designed and delivered by global technology firm, Accenture, through a transparent and competitive procurement process overseen by a Fairness Commissioner, with a capital budget of $189 million. This investment is part of Metrolinx’s overall 10-point strategy to enhance Ontario’s prosperity, sustainability and quality of life through the delivery of a superior integrated transportation system.

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The Next Generation of PRESTO

Systems such as PRESTO are complex to build and operate, and technology advances quickly. That’s why we’re already working on the next generation of PRESTO – this will add additional functionality and conveniences for our customers including the introduction of “open payment”.

When PRESTO development began, smart phones were only in their infancy. Today, they are everywhere. To keep pace with the needs of our transit partnersand riders, and based on an ongoing evaluation of industry best practices, enhancements were made to the original 2006 Accenture engagement. These enhancements were intended to enable the development of the next generation of PRESTO in a thoughtful and strategic way.

The next generation of PRESTO is intended to support requirements today, and the future, so that customers have more choice about how they pay for transit: PRESTO card, credit or debit card. PRESTO has technological releases planned over the next three years to continue to modernize the hosting and operating systems, incorporate feedback from customers and service providers, and based on ongoing research and evaluations.

Key feature of the Next Generation of PRESTO includes:

  • For riders – Open payment (ability to pay transit fares using contactless credit card technology), mobile payment (using smart phones), universal e-Purse (for use in all current and future systems across Ontario) self-service kiosks, and more website services. These enhancements will provide riders with an ever expanding degree of choice and convenience based on their distinct personal preferences.
  • For transit partners – Open architecture (vendor independence), enhanced business intelligence component and enhanced back office capability. These new capabilities will allow transit providers to offer new services and enhance their operations.

Over time, PRESTO’s technology is envisioned to potentially enable additional transportation partnerships, acting as a parking pass or bike pass for example. This will offer riders additional convenience and offer partners potential cost and operational efficiencies.

Ensuring PRESTO provides the best experience for our customers and transit partners, and supports the overall objectives of The Big Move, requires ongoing investment in its technology platform and development plan. The Next Generation of PRESTO includes a capital investment of $236 million.

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PRESTO in Ottawa

In December 2007, the City of Ottawa approved participation in PRESTO and related funding for deploying the technology throughout the city’s transit system, OC Transpo. Full PRESTO deployment in Ottawa began in April 2013, and a record rollout of over 200,000 cards were distributed within six months.

PRESTO in Ottawa builds on the functionality of the GTHA system and also introduces new capabilities to serve the unique needs of OC Transpo riders and the region, building on advances in payment technologies since the original GTHA deployment.

In addition to the e-purse and the benefits of PRESTO in the GTHA, Ottawa includes some new additional features including:

  • Online Period Passes - A pass can be loaded online to allow you to travel for a set period of time. For example, if customers load a monthly pass on their card through the website, PRESTO confirms that the pass is valid for the route and current month.
  • Period Pass Auto-renew – If your card is registered, you can set up a payment agreement to automatically renew your pass product each month.

Soon, PRESTO cards in Ottawa will be able to be used in the GTHA and vice-versa, further increasing the use, reach and flexibility of the card for our customers.

Building on the success of PRESTO throughout the GTHA, Ottawa leveraged the proven technology to bring this convenient fare payment technology to their customers. The capital investment to deploy this enhanced PRESTO is expected to be $40 million. Similar to the GTHA, the Ottawa PRESTO program will encourage more public transit participation, reduce congestion, increase sustainability and allow OC Transpo to consider new rider offerings and services.

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In November 2012, Metrolinx and the TTC finalized a master agreement that defines the long-term roles, responsibilities and relationships for the delivery of PRESTO on the TTC – including all subway stations, streetcars and buses. Metrolinx, through PRESTO, is working closely with the TTC, collaborating and consulting on development and delivery.

Today, on average, there are 40,000 weekday rides using PRESTO at 14 subway stations accounting for the second highest use of PRESTO in the GTHA. When PRESTO is fully deployed there will be more than 10,000 PRESTO devices on surface vehicles (streetcars, buses) subway turnstiles and self-service devices for the 1.7 million customers who rely on the TTC every day.

PRESTO rollout on TTC

Given the scale of the project, PRESTO implementation on the TTC has been split into phases. Metrolinx’s objective is to make sure that each phase of the deployment is rigorously tested to ensure a quality customer experience.

As part of the first phase of expansion, PRESTO will be active on new streetcars and off-board platforms starting in November 2014. Streetcar lines included as part of the first phase include Spadina, Bathurst, Dundas and Harbourfront.

PRESTO will also expand to 26 subway stations. Devices at the existing stations will be replaced with updated equipment. The additional new subway stations receiving PRESTO include King, Queen, Sheppard, Broadview, Scarborough Centre, St. Andrew, Osgoode, Museum, Spadina, Bathurst, Dundas West and Davisville. For a current list of the TTC subway stations with PRESTO, please visit prestocard.ca.

The first phase of expansion will also introduce TTC customers to new devices at select TTC subway stations. These include:

  • Self-serve reload machines – a new device enabling instant PRESTO card reloading
  • Fares and transfers machine – A new streetcar device allowing customers to pay fares using tokens, currency/debit/credit, including the validation of transfers
  • New PRESTO card readers on new streetcars
  • New PRESTO card readers on subway station turnstiles
  • Modern integrated faregates – a new, accessible faregate to replace turnstiles at select subway locations, with PRESTO readers fully integrated

PRESTO’s future customer base after TTC rollout

PRESTO’s customer base will be dramatically transformed in the coming years with the fare system adoption on the TTC. Today, GO Transit customers represent our largest group of customers. By 2017, when TTC rollout is anticipated to be substantially completed, as TTC customers adopt PRESTO, this will become the largest group of users. The chart below is for illustrative purposes only.

Serving the largest transit system in Canada means PRESTO expansion will also see the number of customers grow progressively to an estimated 2.5 million upon substantial completion by 2017 and is key to achieving Metrolinx’s vision of an integrated payment system throughout the GTHA. Eventually, all TTC riders will be able to PRESTO to replace tokens, tickets and metropasses.

PRESTO is a key initiative to modernize and build our regional transit systems, and enable greater integration and better customer service.