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 Regional Transportation Plan, PRESTO plays an important role in supporting greater integration of the region’s transit systems and in making the customer experience more convenient. While originally contemplated as a smartcard 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 11 transit systems across the GTHA and Ottawa, each with their own fare structure, 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.
PRESTO in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area
Transit riders want to get where they are going and not worry about municipal boundaries. With 11 transit systems throughout the GTHA and Ottawa, each with their own fare structure, introducing a new fare payment system means introducing an approach that fundamentally changes the customer experience. PRESTO payment system lets riders travel across participating transit agencies seamlessly.
Today, PRESTO is fully deployed among 11 transit systems including Brampton Transit, Burlington Transit, Durham Region Transit, GO Transit, HSR, MiWay, Oakville Transit, OC Transpo, UP Express, York Region Transit, and select TTC subway stations and streetcars. Currently, more than 1.85 million 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. The reader will then check for either a valid transit pass, or automatically deduct the lowest available fare from 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 agencies.
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, paper tickets, or tokens.
- Autoload – If your card is registered, you can set up a payment agreement to automatically reload your card from your bank account or credit card when it drops below a specified dollar amount.
- 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 needs to be replaced for any reason, PRESTO can transfer the balance to a new card.
- Federal Tax Credit for Public Transit made easier – Registered card holders can download a Transit Usage Report to help claim 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 11 separate fare structures 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. 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.
The Next Generation of PRESTO
Systems such as PRESTO are complex to build and operate, and technology advances quickly. That’s why we’re working on the next generation of PRESTO, which will add additional functionality and conveniences for our customers including features such as “open payment”.
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 card or debit card. PRESTO has technological releases planned over the next several years to continue to modernize the hosting and operating systems, incorporate feedback from customers and transit agencies, 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 debit card or credit card technology), 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 agencies – Open architecture (vendor independence), enhanced business intelligence component and enhanced back office capability. These new capabilities will allow transit agencies 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 transit agencies potential cost and operational efficiencies.
Ensuring PRESTO provides the best experience for our customers and transit agencies, and supports the overall objectives of the Regional Transportation Plan, requires ongoing investment in its technology platform and development plan.
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 with over 200,000 PRESTO cards 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.
Some additional features include:
- 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.
PRESTO cards in Ottawa can 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. 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.
PRESTO on the TTC
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, buses, and paratransit vehicles. Metrolinx, through PRESTO, is working closely with the TTC, collaborating and consulting on development and delivery.
Today, on average, there are over 1.3 million PRESTO taps per month at the 26 PRESTO-enabled subway stations and streetcars. When PRESTO is fully deployed there will be more than 10,000 PRESTO devices on surface vehicles (streetcars, buses, paratransit vehicles), subway turnstiles and self-service machines 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 was installed on all in-service new and legacy streetcars, and at these 26 subway stations: Bathurst, Bloor-Yonge, Broadview, College, Davisville, Don Mills, Downsview, Dundas, Dundas West, Finch, Islington, King, Kipling, Museum, Osgoode, Queen, Queen's Park, Scarborough Centre, Sheppard-Yonge, Spadina, St. Andrew, St. George, St. Patrick, Union, Yorkdale, and York Mills.
TTC customers currently have access to the following PRESTO devices:
- Fare Payment Devices – PRESTO devices customers use to conveniently tap on to the TTC
- Self-Serve Reload Machines – automated, self-service machines for customers to load value to their PRESTO cards, check their balance, and review their transaction history
- Fares and Transfers Machines – modernized machines available on new streetcars and select platforms for customers to pay their fare with a token, cash or contactless debit/credit cards, and obtain proof of payment for all payment types (e.g. PRESTO, token, cash, etc.)
- Pre-loaded PRESTO cards at TTC Pass Vending Machines – a pilot project at Union and Queen’s Park TTC subway stations for customers to purchase a PRESTO card pre-loaded with funds for adult concessions
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 substantially completed, TTC customers will become the largest group of users.
Serving the largest transit system in Canada means PRESTO expansion will also see the number of customers grow progressively to an estimated 3 million upon completion and is key to achieving Metrolinx’s vision of an integrated payment system throughout the GTHA. Eventually, all TTC riders will be able to use PRESTO to replace tokens, tickets, cash and metropasses.
PRESTO is a key initiative to modernize and build our regional transit systems, and enable greater integration and better customer service.