December 8, 2014 5:36 pm
Updated: December 8, 2014 8:47 pm

Token progress: Why Toronto’s so behind on fare-card technology

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WATCH: Former TTC Chair Karen Stintz explains why Toronto is so far behind other systems when it comes to fare-card technology.

TORONTO – Toronto is now one of the few remaining major North American cities to still be using tokens and fare cards as Philadelphia has started implementing smart card technology across their public transit system.

Toronto is working on it – and has been for awhile. So what’s taking so long? Well, the TTC is big and complex.

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“We’ve been working diligently with them to get it rolled out. It’s the biggest roll out, given that the TTC is the largest system in Canada, and also the most complex system,” Metrolinx spokesperson Anne-Marie Aikins said in an interview Monday. “Not only do you have streetcars, but you have old ones and new ones. So you have to design machines for legacy vehicles and new ones.”

Philadelphia awarded the $130 million contract to install the smart card technology in 2011.

Chicago stopped selling tokens in 1999, New York stopped in 2003 and Boston followed suit in 2006.

“It’s not behind schedule, per se. it has taken longer of course to implement, than people wanted,” Aikins said.

Fourteen TTC stations took part in a Presto pilot program in 2009. In November, 2012 transit officials announced Presto would be implemented across the TTC’s streetcars, buses and subways by 2016. That’s been moved to 2017 now.

The TTC has implemented Presto sporadically across the network thus far: at Union Station, 15 subway stations, and on the new Spadina streetcars. Metrolinx wants to increase Presto implementation to 26 subway stations, four streetcars (Spadina as well as Harbourfront, Dundas and Bathurst) by next year.

Metrolinx is working to speed up the process. Aikins said the transit agency is currently in talks with the TTC and Presto to speed up the implementation of the smart-card but nothing yet has been decided.

While the Presto implementation is on schedule, it could have happened sooner, according to former TTC Chair Karen Stintz.

“When Adam Giambrone was chair, he didn’t support Presto, so he actually moved the TTC in a different direction,” she said.

“When I became chair, I moved us back to Presto, but we had lost four years in that implementation, so while others cities, like Ottawa, Vaughan, Mississauga were already busy implementing Presto, we were just getting started.”

But not only that, Stintz said the process of getting Presto through the heaping bureaucracies of both the TTC and Metrolinx slowed the implementation further.

“Well there wasn’t really an innovative spirit that was customer focused until Andy [Byford] and Chris Upfold were hired.  And once those changes were in the bureaucracy, we started to see some movement,” she said. “I think the TTC is more customer-focused now than it was six years ago but I still think there is a long way to go.”

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