Steve Munro reports that as part of a larger deal between the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto (which controls the TTC), the TTC will abandon its controversial effort to implement open payment, and instead adopt the PRESTO system, which was commissioned by the province, and is being managed by Accenture with equipment from Thales.
PRESTO is a sort of curious system; as far as I can tell there are no ticket vending machines (although online reload is offered), and the rollout has been sluggish so far. That said, it represents the best shot the TTC has at modernizing a fare collection system where the state of the art is considered to be a monthly pass with a fancy hologram and a bus farebox designed to detect counterfeit tokens. All of the engineering work for PRESTO has been done already—even the work necessary to deploy PRESTO at TTC stations. All that was lacking before was the money to actually purchase and install the hardware. Now, though, thanks to the new agreement, someone will foot the bill (it’s not clear if it’s the TTC or the province) and get the work done. With luck, in a few years’ time, this will mean the end of the token in one more city.
I consider this to be of particular interest because the situation in Toronto has been one of the few in which there has been an opportunity for real debate about the merits and drawbacks of open payment. Torontonians raised many concerns over the TTC’s push for open payment. The province, having already invested heavily in PRESTO, pushed for the TTC to adopt PRESTO system-wide, sometimes using forceful language to that end. In other cities, open payment has simply been presented by transit agencies as a fait accompli, even as they are themselves unable to provide any real details. As David Smith, director of program services for PRESTO, put it in an interview:
New York has been in a pilot since 2006 and still there’s no firm time for them to roll out an open payment. They’ve not in any way been able to articulate a cost. Currently Mastercard is funding all of it.
That said, I would be hesitant to treat this as a wholesale condemnation of open payment; the architecture of the PRESTO system is such that it could be adapted to accomodate open payment at some time in the future. Moreover, the argument in favor of PRESTO (and against the TTC’s open payment system) was never that it wasn’t open payment, but rather simply that PRESTO was already there—in short, that there was no need to deploy two new fare collection systems in the same city at the same time.
Speaking to CBC’s Metro Morning, Giambrone said transit systems in cities like London, England, use both a Presto-style smart card service and an open payment system that accepts credit and debit cards.
That was in August 2010, and at the time it was patently false. In fact, it’s still false today. TfL has only just released its plan for open payment, and there is not yet a single city with an existing electronic fare collection system which has also deployed open payment in a non-pilot system. New York has come the closest; the UTA‘s system, though fully deployed, doesn’t count because it was a greenfield project.