Updated December 19.
It is possible to have and use a Presto card without registering it, but there are a number of benefits to registration. For one, if your card is lost or stolen, you can get its balance transferred to a new card, and for another, you are entitled to the Transit Tax Credit provided you use it for at least 32 fares with one transit operator in a calendar month (something only available with monthly passes or with four or more consecutive weekly passes!).
I recently came across someone who uses an unregistered card and always adds value using cash at a GO station. His reason: he doesn’t want his movements to be “tracked”. This is not a discussion on privacy issues and such, though I will say that there is not a staff of people creating files on each Presto user, or any for that matter. We can’t afford to do it, and nobody is that important. If you are nearly that important, then you will have paparazzi following you around and they will be disclosing your movements far sooner than Presto’s back end database gets updated. From my experience, Presto’s back end is usually updated overnight, but frequently requires a second overnight period to capture everything.
To be sure, a subpoena could be issued that would force Presto to reveal a user’s transaction history, but don’t forget that this can work in favour of the user by providing an alibi. For instance, I can prove that I was at Finch Station on December 11 at 10:07 a.m. - well, at least I can prove that my Presto card was there.
The accuracy of that tracking works well when a card is tapped at a TTC subway station or a VIVAstation, but not so accurate when one taps on a moving vehicle. I would have thought that Presto terminals on board buses would somehow be tied to the GPS system that makes the stop announcement system function. It isn’t, and if Presto’s ability to know where the bus is were used to announce stops, people would be in an uproar. That is, if they were on a bus where the announcement system is set loud enough to hear. To be fair, I suspect that some YRT operators turn down the volume to avoid the waterboard torture-like effects of a system that announces the road you are on over and over again (i.e.: a bus travelling on Yonge has each and every stop announcement end in “at Yonge” or “on Yonge”), but I digress.
If you board a bus that has been sitting in one location for a while, such as at a route terminus, there is a very good chance that the transaction record will correctly show the stop where you tapped. Otherwise, it will show you boarding either several stops before where you actually boarded, or perhaps even several stops after you have boarded. I have seen records showing that I tapped on at the stop that I actually exited.
Better accuracy probably isn’t necessary, most of the time. What if you board a bus that crosses a zone boundary? Only YRT has fare zones, so this does not apply to other GTHA systems. (more…)