Presto and Those Other RFID Cards

August 16 update: Rhonda DeBaeremaeker, YRT Customer Service Coordinator responded with the following, confirming the problem:

This issue was recently identified by staff and a memo has been distributed to all Operators informing them a defect has been identified with the Driver’s Control Unit which occurs when the customer has their card in their wallet.  Certain other credit/debit cards are affecting the Presto card.  The cards work properly on the BRT FTP (devices at Viva stops) and on the BFTP (device they tap on the bus) but for some reason the driver will see a “READ ERROR” in red on their display, when there is interference from another card.  The drivers have been instructed to request the customer to take their card out of their wallet and tap again.  This should result in “Already Tapped” message to the customer and “Antipass Back” message to the driver.  If this message comes up, then the 1st tap was a successful transaction. 

The original post continues after the break. 

Presto uses RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification) to communicate between a terminal and your card, which means that it is not necessary for the card to be out and exposed for a scanner or magnetic stripe reader to actually “see” the card. There is a small benefit of convenience when one need not physically take the card out of a wallet or purse. The wallet or purse can be held up to the Presto terminal and it is able to read the card and complete the transaction.

Confirmation that a successful read occurs when the Presto terminal plays its familiar chime and lights up a green light along with details on the display (the amount being taken from your balance, your new balance, and if on a time-based transfer operator, the amount of time remaining). If the terminal has a problem with your card, it will buzz and a red light will be seen. You can test this by tapping a second time within fifteen minutes on the same terminal, as it locks out your card for this period to prevent accidental double-taps.

If you happen to have another RFID card in your wallet or purse, such as a paypass MasterCard or a payWave Visa card, there should be no issue, as the system is able to distinguish between the two.

In the past two weeks since receiving my own Presto card, I have never had a read problem with my card being used while still in my walled. However, when on a YRT bus, the driver has a separate terminal that displays all activity in the onboard Presto system. While the terminal I tap on with displays the ‘everything is OK’ message and plays the chime, the terminal also attempts to talk with either or both of the Visa and MasterCard RFID chips in my wallet. Since it cannot complete a transaction with them, it displays a “card read” error on the operator’s display, and the driver is lead to believe that I may not have paid my fare.

I have managed to convince the operator that everything worked fine. Trying to tap again displays the “already tapped” message. I have no idea if the driver’s display has the ability to scroll back through its history to see that my card was actually read, but if they can do that, YRT (and other agencies) must do a better job of training their operators on how the system works. First and foremost, the operators must be made aware that when someone taps and the Presto terminal plays its chime, then everything is okay. Error messages on their terminal are only relevant when the passenger’s card generates an error on the tap-in terminal.

I am sending messages about this problem to both YRT and Presto, though I suspect that the response will likely suggest that one should take the card out to use it. That is just a lazy solution, as it defeats one of the advantages of using RFID technology. Being a professional trainer, I am sensitive to issues where management fails to do their job by providing proper training to their employees. This is one of those cases.

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