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TTC chair and mayoral candidate Karen Stintz has promised a smart-card system in time for the Pan-Am Games in 2015. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
TTC chair and mayoral candidate Karen Stintz has promised a smart-card system in time for the Pan-Am Games in 2015. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Accelerate smart-card rollout, TTC chief says as timing for Pan Am Games looks doubtful Add to ...

Amid warnings that the TTC could still be relying largely on its antiquated fare-payment system during the Pan Am Games, a key international stage, chairwoman Karen Stintz is pushing for a faster smart-card rollout.

Ms. Stintz has repeatedly said that the Presto smart-card system would be “substantially complete” for the games, a pledge that appeared optimistic in the face of a TTC report to the board Thursday.

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Commissioners heard that 50 new streetcars and 23 subway stations would be Presto-equipped beginning next fall. Only then would procurement begin for the second wave of implementation. Under this timeline, it’s unclear how much of the system would have the technology to allow passengers to use the card by the games, in the summer of 2015.

“Based on this schedule, it’s unlikely that we’ll meet our commitments,” Ms. Stintz told reporters after moving a motion to urge quicker work. “I would expect the subway stations to be equipped, I would expect the new buses to be equipped and I would expect Wheel-Trans to be equipped.”

The timeline depends on procurement, which is being done by Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, with input from the TTC. In an e-mail, a Metrolinx spokeswoman said they were “confident” in the current plan and that they expect Presto to be ready “to serve key venues in time for Pan Am games.”

The TTC is already far behind other transit agencies in bringing in a smart-card payment. Many passengers still rely on tokens, a technology that dates back decades.

Andy Byford, the CEO of the TTC, said that he shared with Ms. Stintz the desire to speed up introduction of Presto. But he warned that it is a complex implementation, made more complicated by the fact that it falls in a period during which the TTC is rolling out new streetcars.

“Absolutely we want to have [it] implemented by the Pan-Am Games, but let’s not progress so quickly that the implementation goes wrong,” he said. "I want to get on with it, but no one will thank the TTC if the Presto is system is rushed and if it doesn’t work.”

A report to the TTC board on Presto implementation sparked a series of sharp questions from commissioners. The oversight body for the transit service questioned why off-the-shelf technology couldn't be used, the effect on passengers of having both smart-card-compatible and token-only vehicles in use at once and the timing of the technology's deployment.

Ms. Stintz later introduced a motion – which was modified and then passed – asking that Metrolinx confirm the Pan Am commitment, that the schedule be expedited, that Mr. Byford meet with Metrolinx to speed the process and that the board be updated fortnightly on progress.

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