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TTC to fully switch to Presto cards; will stop accepting tickets, tokens in 2017

The Presto card is already widely used on the GO Transit regional network and suburban transit agencies, and will be used across the TTC system.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's transit agency is promising to have the Presto fare card across the system by the end of next year, and will stop accepting tickets and tokens within months of that milestone.

This rollout in Toronto comes after the Presto card became widely used on the GO Transit regional network and suburban transit agencies.

The long and slow rollout of the ‎smart card on the TTC is finally starting to accelerate, reducing the crossover period in which people using the new card also have to carry old-style fares.‎

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"It's important to customers because buying a ticket or buying a token is a barrier to travel," Toronto Transit Commission deputy CEO Chris Upfold said in an interview Monday after his presentation to the TTC board.

"It's an extra step that means that it is more difficult than it needs to be. And Presto … makes it easy for customers."

About two-fifths of the city's subway stations will accept the Presto card by next month, according to the TTC. The entire fleet of old streetcars will be Presto-enabled ‎by the end of this year. All remaining subway stations and all buses will be fitted for Presto by the end of next year.

The new streetcars, which are slowly arriving and are due all to be here ‎by 2019, will have Presto as they go into service.

Around the end of next year the TTC will stop selling tickets and tokens. Some time in the middle of 2017 the transit agency will stop accepting these old ways to pay the fare. Those who choose not to use a Presto card – which costs $6 to buy – will be able to use cash.

Riders will be able to load money onto the card by phone, online and via terminals in the transit network. They will tap the card when entering the TTC‎, giving access to the system, and probably do so again when they exit.

Although children under 12 don't need to pay to ride the transit, many will need to tap a Presto card, one that need not have money loaded on it.

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The Presto card has long been a favoured target for government critics. Instead of buying a card off the shelf and writing extra code to adapt ‎it to the local situation, the Ontario government chose to develop a proprietary system, hoping to sell it around the world.

The process took years, cost hundreds of millions of dollars and resulted in a card less user-friendly than equivalent cards in cities such as London and Hong Kong. But now that it is finally arriving, the TTC will be able to take advantage of its features to adjust fare policies.

"It gives us full flexibility, we can do all sorts of things that we have never been able to do because we couldn't print that many different kinds of little paper tickets," Mr. Upfold said. ‎

"Time of day, that's a great one. Do we have the ability to even [move] 1 per cent of our customer numbers to a slightly different time frame? We spend a lot of money improving capacity by 1 per cent – maybe there's better ways we can do that."

The adoption of Presto will have a variety of effects on the transit system.

The TTC now spends about 8 per cent of fare revenues collecting fares, and moving to a smart card should reduce that cost. Also, without the need to sell fares, collectors will move out of the booth at subway stations and shift to more of a customer service role. And without the collectors selling fares, the distinction between primary and secondary subway entrances will blur, which could lead to more efficient passenger flow as riders use all access points of stations more evenly.

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