Streetcar riders will be able to use Presto on Toronto's existing fleet this year, instead of waiting for the new ones gradually to arrive, as part of an accelerated rollout of the fare-card system across the city's transit agency.
The Toronto Transit Commission is crafting a faster Presto implementation strategy that would have the system's hardware installed on all streetcars in 2015 and the rest of the TTC by the end of 2016, at least a year ahead of schedule.
This promises a quicker end to the days of fumbling for a fare and lining up to buy tokens. It should mean faster passenger flow. And it will allow smoother transfers between the TTC and other regional transit agencies, a number of which already use Presto.
"We will go hell for leather to have it all implemented, fully implemented, by the end of 2016, not 2017," said TTC head Andy Byford. "That means every bus, every streetcar. Maybe not every door on every streetcar but every streetcar, including the old streetcars, we are going to fit with Presto."
The original idea was to save the cost of installing Presto on the current streetcars, which are slowly being replaced, and put it only on the incoming fleet. Instead, the plan now is to fit all streetcars for Presto by the end of this year.
Also in 2015, the TTC is aiming to install Presto hardware at 12 subway stations, bringing the total to 26. All buses are to accept Presto by the summer of 2016 and the remaining stations by the end of that year. The timelines are subject to successful procurement, which is in the hands of the regional transit agency Metrolinx.
Mr. Byford said the Presto system cannot be installed overnight but that the TTC is keen on "limiting the pain" of the crossover period. While Presto is being installed there will be both old and new fare systems on the the TTC, forcing many people with a smart card to carry as well one of the old types of fares.
The Presto smart-card system has been installed on GO Transit and seven smaller agencies in Southern Ontario. About 1.4 million people now have the card, which carries a balance and allows riders to tap on and off transit without using a ticket or token.
"You're not likely to attract new riders, people that would normally drive for example, unless you give them a really convenient, easy way to get to work," said Anne Marie Aikins, spokeswoman for Metrolinx, which oversees Presto. "It's really important to attracting new ridership and maintaining the riders that you do have."
The TTC has long been the biggest challenge for Presto, though. It carries eight times as many people per day as GO and has thousands of vehicles. According to insiders, some of the transit agency's middle management have not historically been keen on Presto. To date, only a handful of TTC stations accept Presto, reducing the motivation for riders to get the card. As the system becomes ubiquitous, though, it will make more sense to sign up.
The Presto system that will be installed on the TTC is an "open-pay" model that will not require people to carry a physical Presto card as they do now. The system will be able to accept payment from credit or debit cards or riders' phones, though full functionality may not be immediately available.
Most big-city transit agencies have a form of smart card and the absence makes the TTC look old-fashioned. Beyond image, though, a smart fare card has tangible advantages.
Having a smart-card system in place can help service planning.
Ms. Aikins noted that tracking ridership based on the sales of traditional fares reveals only a limited picture. A smart card allows transit agencies to gather much greater detail on the travel patterns of their riders.
"They do give you the data about where your customers are coming from," she said. "If you're just buying one ticket, for example, you'll know where that ticket was sold but you won't know where it originated, perhaps, how often they go. You won't get that kind of rich data and smart cards will give you that."