First Problem with Presto

I have read of some problems that people have had with Presto and, for the most part, they mainly had to do with applying for and activating the card online. I am also aware of an issue when tapping onto a vehicle when another RFID card is near the Presto card, such as a credit card equipped with this technology. Until now, I have never run into a real problem.

All that changed last week when my daughter returned to school after the break. We didn’t think to check her Presto balance until the evening of Sunday January 8. At that time, it was $2.90 and I did a $20 I-POS transfer, knowing it would take about 24 hours to get to her card. With the continuing strike at YRT, she would be getting a ride to school in the morning and wouldn’t need to use the card until the afternoon. The new ticket price for student fare is $2.10, so there would be enough to cover her until the e-purse load occurs.

At the end of Monday January 9, her e-purse balance was $0.80, still awaiting the $20 load. She did not need to use transit until Wednesday afternoon and boarded as usual. The bus she boarded had a non-working Presto terminal, so there was no need to top on. Her next use of transit was not until Friday after school, when she again tapped on without her nor the operator noticing an error, though one of her friends indicated she thought she saw a red light on the terminal. She needed a second fare a few hours later on Friday and when she tapped on, the operator indicated that there were insufficient funds on the Presto card, so she had to pay the cash fare of $3.50.

Looking at her card online Friday evening, it only showed a balance of $0.80 and the transaction from the Monday that brought it down to that balance. I called Presto’s customer service line and they could see that the card went into a negative balance and could see the load but could offer no explanation as to why the load was not there by the Wednesday. They also could not do anything about bringing it “out of a negative balance” over the phone, and that I would have to either go to a GO station or a transit operator’s customer service office.

This will cost me $2.80 (plus my time), and since I have my daughter’s Presto card, she is using my wife’s card to get to school, which will charge us $0.70 more than necessary (adult ticket/Presto fare is $2.80 and student ticket/Presto fare is $2.10).

Will they be able to restore her Presto card balance and reimburse today’s costs plus the extra amount paid on Friday ($1.40 - $3.50 cash fare was paid instead of $2.10)?

Stay tuned…

Update at 10:45 am: I am reasonably happy with the results of this, but that may only be because my daughter received a “free” trip last week. I do have some new understanding into the workings of Presto.

When there is not enough balance on the card when it is tapped, one of two things will occur. If your card is not registered, it will be denied. If your card is registered, it will be allowed to enter into having a negative balance. I suspect this occurred with my daughter tapped on the first trip on Friday. The terminal probably did display a red light, but the operator likely did not receive a message that the fare was invalid.

When this occurs, the card is locked. At this point, nothing can be done with the card until the negative balance plus a 25 cent service charge is paid. This can only be done at a GO station or at a transit operator’s customer service centre. This wasn’t totally made clear by the Presto representative I spoke with on Friday. They did say that the card could only be unlocked, but mentioned nothing about what was needed. It doesn’t matter if there is a new balance to be loaded onto the card, because it can’t be loaded while the card is locked. Ergo, that balance cannot be used to pay what is needed to unlock the card. Oddly, in looking at the transactions on my daughter’s card, there is no transaction that deducted $2.10 from the balance of $0.80. There were two attempts to load the $20.00 when it was locked, so the balance remained at -$1.10. Why it wasn’t -$1.30 is a mystery.

I was hoping to leave YRT’s office with a $19.40 balance on my daughter’s card, which was $20 less the trips she took last week, plus the costs of all this mess. I had to pay $1.35 ($1.10 negative balance plus $0.25 service charge) to get the card unlocked, leaving it’s balance at zero. The load would not take place until a balance check was done on the card, though why they could not perform that operation at the YRT office is another mystery. If one goes there to pay and add a balance on the card, it is loaded immediately. I suspect there is a way the office can do a balance check, but lack of training prevents them from doing so. Since Richmond Hill Centre terminal is a five minute walk from the offices, I immediately went there to perform a balance check. The balance now showed $20. Given that I had to pay $1.35, the net effect is $18.65.

5 Responses to “First Problem with Presto”

  1. W. K. Lis Says:

    I would not like to see the chaos that would happen when Presto is put network wide on the TTC. Novices galore and with those who “think” they know it should work, and glitches all around. Hopefully, most of the “problems” will be ironed out before then.

    Cal’s comment: I hope so. The issue I had makes me wonder how the system will handle the numbers once the TTC is fully on board. The problem started with needing to load more value on my daughter’s card which I should have done a few days sooner. I did the online load on the Sunday night, but knew she had enough on the card already to cover a fare home on Monday if the load didn’t reach the card by then. In order for the load to reach the card, knowledge of it must first reach a terminal that the card will tap onto. The propagation of this information can take up to 24 hours. In this case, the load hadn’t reached the terminal she used on Friday!

    If glitches like this occur now, what will happen when the TTC comes on board? I suspect that the total number of TTC users is likely an order of magnitude greater than all the other GTHA (and OC Transpo users!) users combined.

  2. Ben Smith Says:

    So let me get this straight: You loaded the card on Sunday, yet by Friday it still hadn’t updated the balance?! I’d call their customer support line and ask to speak to a manager, at least to get them to wave the 25c unlocking fee if not credit you for your time and extra fares. It is THEIR fault that the card locked, not yours! You did everything right on your part, you loaded the card and gave well more than 24 hours for the balance to update. To charge you for their screw up is asinine, and just terrible customer service.

    Cal’s comment: I agree with this. In the end, I received the credit I expected, though most of it was in the form of free transit service rather than actually crediting the card directly.

    Unfortunately, the value is so small that it would be laughable to take it up to a higher level, such as filling a lawsuit or contacting the media (granted, the Sun does publish pretty much anything…). Still, people should know that they are still responsible for the unlocking fee and any subsequent charges if they hold up all ends of their contractual obligation and THEIR system fails to update the balance properly.

    Really, they need to get people to set the thing up for auto-load when getting the card. With auto-load the thing is great as you completely avoid situations like this, and overall it works flawlessly.

    My issue with auto-load is that your load threshold has to be between $20 and $60 and the minimum load is $20. That means, using the minimums, the moment the card’s balance drops below $20, it adds $20. Those numbers are great for GO users, where a single adult fare from Barrie to Union is $15.08. A card with $20 on it would drop to below $5 on the trip in and an auto-load would add $20 for the trip home. For a local transit user, using YRT as an example, if my card has $20 on it and I head out somewhere, the fare is $2.80 and that triggers an auto-load. If my return trip is within 2 hours, there is no further fare needed, but I now have a card with over $37 on it. My experience since using Presto since last summer is that I will usually get a top-up when the card drops below $10. The top-up is often $20-25 but there have been times when I knew that adding only $10 (the minimum for a manual load) was sufficient.

    The other major issue is that if one calls Presto, they cannot do anything with the account if it is locked. I believe that is a major problem with the system. To unlock it, you have to go to a place where it is possible to pay in person to put money on the card. Most, if not all, GO stations can do this, but for other transit agencies, you have to go to their head office. Here in York Region, that is the office at 50 High Tech. I would like to see the ability to do in person card loads at the same places where one can purchase tickets or passes, including the Multi-ride VIVA TVMs at terminals like Richmond Hill Centre and Finch Station. I suspect that with a full roll-out on the TTC, at least all subway stations will be places where this can be done as well.

  3. Ben Smith Says:

    I actually live in Richmond Hill myself (howdy neighbour :D), so I know about the auto-load threshold being so high for local trips, and that the only customer service desk for Presto is at the York Region offices.

    Cal’s comment: Sorry if that sounded like a lecture to you. It was meant as general background information for readers that are not so familiar with the works of Presto. In the context of the TTC, when a fare increase was in the works a few months back, there were cries that low income users would have difficulty as they now could not afford to purchase tokens. I didn’t buy that argument because at the time cash fare required scraping up $6 per day, while one could purchase 4 tokens for $10 every two days. In most of the rest of the GTA, one must purchase 10 tickets at a time, but adding only $10 at a time is possible with Presto, though not automatically.

    While a high threshold, I’ve come to terms with it. The reason I got the Presto card was because I wanted to be able to buy my fare with my credit card, and without having to make extra trips to do so. The reason I setup the auto-load was because I didn’t trust myself to be disciplined enough to update the balance regularly and didn’t want it to lock. So far, it has worked pretty well. The only issue I’ve had was once I forgot to tap off of a GO bus, and on the return trip the driver had to unlock it. Everything was fine, but with the unlock it didn’t refund the university student discount on my trip to school. Could have called and got the credit back, but decided it wasn’t worth it.

    While I can understand not raising hell of a quarter, I would be interested to see what would happen if you went to Union with a printout of your Presto and bank records to show them that you did everything right and that you were charged the unlocking fee because their system failed to update properly.

    I suspect that the definition of “update properly” might be an issue. The Presto representative couldn’t understand why the load did not occur, while YRT was of the opinion that a manual load could take up to five business days. I’m not trying to make excuses for them - I’m the one who generally goes after the smallest overcharges on things!

  4. Ben Smith Says:

    The Presto website makes absolutely no mention that it can take up to 5 business days for it to update your balance. In fact, it should update overnight without issue. If you don’t mind fighting small overcharges and happen to be downtown (or just go based on the principle of the whole thing), I would definitely make a stop at the Presto customer service desk with a printout of your bank and Presto statements to show that the error was at their end, not yours, and that you shouldn’t be charged for their screw ups. I would even try and find something from the Ministry of Consumer Services that would argue that charging you for their error is illegal.

    I’ve posted this on the Urban Toronto Presto card thread, if you are interested in seeing how it plays out:

    Cal’s comment: I will likely still contact Presto over this. For those not familiar with how this works, it is not the same as your Tim’s card. Using your Tim’s card to buy a coffee involves a terminal that must communicate with a central system to see if you have enough on the card and deduct the purchase. This would take too long for boarding a transit vehicle. The actual balance, or “e-purse” as they call it, is on your card. When you tap on (and tap off, on GO) a short “conversation” takes place between the terminal and your card. Oversimplifying a bit, the terminal basically asks for the card’s balance, subtracts the cost of the fare, and tells the card how what the new balance should be. Obviously, there is a bit more than that, since the system will know if there was a recent tap on for a system that has time-based transfers, or in the case of tapping on and off of GO. When a load is done, ALL the terminals in the system have to be told about this, but the loading of your card will take place the very next time your card has a “conversation” with a terminal that is aware of your load. The load has an identifier, so that the next time you tap at another terminal you won’t get the load again (darn!).

    It can take up to 24 hours to reach all the terminals, but in my experience, I have seen the load appear on a card sooner since I happened to tap at a terminal that may have got the information in less time. I am not sure if the terminals on buses get updates when they are on the move, or only when the bus is back at the garage. In addition to the information about card loads that has to be fed into the terminal, the terminal also feeds information about card transactions back up to the back-end system. This is why you won’t see today’s use until tomorrow if you log onto your account.

  5. Dylan Says:

    I had nice learning pains with Presto too. I have a default trip on my card, but my very first trip on the card, I was using a different trip. I did the necessary hoops (hitting the right button on the terminal) at the source to board a trip to Cooksville. When I got off, I tapped off and then proceeded to then transfer to a Mississauga Transit bus with the co-fare. But I noticed my $20 initial load was now down to $4 after a single $4.46 trip with $0.70 co-fare. When I phoned Presto, got the runaround and was told to call back 48 hours later. Finally when they were willing to speak to me, they indicated that when I tapped off at Cooksville, it “double tapped” and considered it a “tap off” and “tap on”.

    Cal’s comment: This is bizarre! On other transit systems, YRT for sure, double-taps are impossible because the system blocks double-taps for about 15 minutes in order to prevent pass-backs. I have noticed that the terminals at GO stations have a “cancel” button. If this is pressed before tapping, then it will cancel the last tap-on (I have used this feature to just check my balance on occasion). The trouble with that is that you have to know the double-tap occurred and that requires looking at the display for the brief few seconds it displays what just took place - not something that is always easy to do.

    So I was charged a fare for union->cooksville and cooksville->end-of-line even though minutes after the tap off, I had transferred to a Mississauga Transit bus (and was charged the right 0.70 co-fare). If the system has holes like this in it, there should be enough logic in itself to make corrections. I clearly only tapped off but it counted it as a tap off and tap on. By registering that I had transferred to a Mississauga Transit bus, it should have self-corrected.

    The only reason I could think of for it not self-correcting is the question, “Which trip was not correct?” Should it cancel the GO trip, or should it cancel the MiWay co-fare trip? The simple answer is likely that the last tap-on was the one you took, and why would anyone tap-on the same place they just tapped-off? Auto-correcting opens the system up to a way to get an expensive trip for a low price. As obscure as it is, people will eventually figure it out and spread the word. The real solution is to block out double-taps for a time period, or at the very least, block out a tap-on within a time period at the same terminal after a tap-off.

    Instead I needed to wait 48 hours until they could see the transactions, and they couldn’t do anything about it (and I might add, the card was also locked, so I couldn’t use it on GO anymore until I made a trip to Union Station [using some other payment]). When I got to Union Station I had to explain again the whole situation. They didn’t charge me any administration charges but they said it’s always the customer’s fault and they were doing me a favour not charging me to re-activate (despite a fare to Union Station to make the correction). The system needs improvements.