ON: TTC May Need Magic to Fund Presto System

The Toronto Transit Commission is expected to tap into the provincial Presto fare card system this week. But it's not clear how long it will take to roll out the green smart cards across the system or how much it will cost taxpayers to equip hundreds of streetcars, buses and subways with electronic card readers.

A TTC staff report before the city councillors on the transit commission Wednesday recommends the city and the TTC begin negotiating this month with Metrolinx and the province on the financial and operating terms for adopting Presto.

It also recommends the TTC abandon plans to contract an outside provider for an open standards payment system, something that would have put the financial onus of installing and maintaining electronic fare collection on a third party for the next decade.

A memorandum of understanding that the TTC would adopt Presto was part of Mayor Rob Ford's latest transit expansion agreement with the province.

According to the TTC report, the Presto agreement is contingent on the province meeting the TTC's business and operating concerns, including the provision of open payments through Presto.

The plan is a major turnaround for the TTC, which has argued that Presto technology is out-of-date and too expensive to implement.

Open payments allow users to tap a debit card, credit card or cellphone on a reader to deduct the fare. Presto officials have said they will be piloting an open payment system this year but it would be at least another year before that feature is widely available.

There will be $140 million available for the TTC to adopt Presto - shared by the province, Ottawa and the city. But "It is important to note that the $140 million is not sufficient to fully implement the Presto smartcard system at the TTC," says the report.

Some earlier estimates have put the cost of installing Presto on the TTC at more than $300 million, although no official updated figure has been published.

The HSR rolled out the Presto system on Hamilton buses last month. Burlington Transit and Oakville Transit are also using the system, and it is expected to be available on all GO Transit lines by the end of the summer.

All the other municipalities in the GTA have accepted the system, but the advantage of being able to ride across municipal borders on one regional fare card hasn't materialized because 85 per cent of transit trips in the Toronto area include the TTC.

Presto allows commuters to load a dollar value on their cards. When the card is tapped on a reader at the transit station, the fare is automatically deducted from the rider's e-bank.

Copyright 2008 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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