Thursday, May 24, 2012

PRESTO, A different kind of Smart Card

Smart Cards are coming out all over the world for easy and quick ways to pay their transit fare.  Here in Seattle we have the ORCA card.  ORCA cards are capable of holding either money loaded on, or a Monthly pass.  There are no other products available, or discounts on fare over cash when using the card.

Cue in PRESTO.  PRESTO is the Greater Toronto and Greater Hamiltons fare card.  Like ORCA, it provides transfers betweens transit systems.  A few things it doesn't do, you can not purchase at a TVM, and you MUST tap off distance based fare trips or your card will be blocked.  Unlike ORCA, your fare is calculated like a BART fare card, it notes where you got on, then charges you when you get off, vs. charging the full fare and crediting the difference at the end.  PRESTO also allows a negative balance if you do not have enough, however your card will not work once it goes minus, this includes any transfers.  PRESTO costs $6 to buy.

The reason for this post, is the unique way GO Transit fares are paid with this card.  Monthly Passes are not available for GO Transit.  Instead it is paid as you go.  Over cash fares, you save 7.5% on your first 1 thru 35 trips taken, then on trip 36-40 you save 87.5% off the cash fare, and trip 41+ is free in a calendar month.  For the regular user, or the occasional user, it saves you money, and if you use it a lot, it works out to a monthly pass.  So if you normally use a $2.50 fare, you pay $2.31 your first 35 trips on any bus, 0.31 for the next 5 after 35 is achieved, and then no charge for the rest of the month.  There is a target amount if you use different fares, and the system figures that out after you hit 35 trips.  So if you use $3 fare some days, 2.25 others, the first 35 trips are 7.5% off, then the remaining trips to be charged are based on the total value of trips taken.

Other Transit systems offer similar discounts and/or loyalty programs: TTC is a 40¢ discount off the cash fare, Hamilton Street Railway takes 55¢ off (Monthly Pass available).  Burlington Transit charges you full fare, but after 36 taps in a month it stops charging you for that month.  Brampton & MiWay knocks off 60¢.  Oakville knocks off 60¢ AND only charges you the first 36 times in a month.  The monthly caps are designed to equal the value of a monthly pass over a pay-as-you-go usage system.

PRESTO is still being rolled out, and does not offer Day or weekly passes yet.  But for an e-purse user, not only can they get a discount over the cash fare, but if they end up using it a lot, they still get the benefit of a monthly pass in the end, if your an occasional user, you still save over the cash fare.  I think this is a good idea for ORCA.....we all agree it needs to offer a discount over cash fares, but the monthly cap is a great idea, and benefits anyone who uses it.