The weekend of May 26-27 in Toronto was a lovely one. My fiancée and I spent the Saturday and Sunday walking around Toronto, visiting some of the Doors Open sites and Harbourfront. Among the highlights were the new Daniels School of Architecture at 1 Spadina Crescent, a beautiful heritage re-use of the original Knox College (the neo-gothic building that looms over Spadina Avenue), and the Toronto Railway Museum, located at Toronto’s Roundhouse.
After the Doors Open sites closed at 5:00 PM, we walked along the waterfront as far east as Sugar Beach, before heading west to the High Park neighbourhood for dinner. With the Bloor-Danforth Subway (Line 2) closed for maintenance between Broadview and St. George Stations, we opted to take a local bus on Queen’s Quay to Union Station, transfer to the subway there, and transfer again at St. George to Keele.
Route 72B Pape operates between Pape Station and Union Station via Commissioners Street and Queen’s Quay, a valid and long-standing transfer with the subway at Union. The 509 and 510 streetcars serve Union via a direct, underground connection, but buses — the 6 Bay, the 72 Pape, and the 121 Fort York-Esplanade — have on-street stops at Front and Bay Streets; a transfer is required.
The surface route network at Union Station, from the 2017 TTC system map
I made the assumption that the transfer would be recognized by Presto when we tapped on the 72B Pape bus, and again when we got into the station. That turned out to be a mistake, as I found out a few days later when I checked my Presto activity online. At 6:27 PM, the TTC $3.00 Presto fare was paid on the bus (Queen’s Quay East at Jarvis Street West Side), and again at 6:41 PM at Union Station.
Charged for a transfer between the 72B Pape bus and the subway at Union Station
As soon as I found out about this charge, I complained on Twitter, and I called the TTC customer service number. The customer service agent took my information and promised a refund of the double fare (the TTC no longer mails out tokens, at least). Presto contacted me as well via Twitter, even though I did not complain to them. I came away impressed by Presto’s customer service.
But two days later, the TTC’s website featured a new notice on its buses page, unlikely to be seen by many customers:
PRESTO card customers require a paper transfer on the following routes. Transfers must be shown to station staff when entering Union or Royal York stations and to operators when boarding these buses. Please make sure you obtain a paper transfer at the start of your trip.
- 15 Evans
- 48 Rathburn
- 121 Fort York [sic]
- 73 Royal York
- 72 Pape
- 76 Royal York South
It’s clear that Presto transfers between 72B Pape and 121 Fort York-Esplanade and the subway are not programmed by the TTC as valid transfers, which is odd, given that this is a valid and marked transfer point. Connections at Royal York Station (routes 15, 48, 73, and 76) are listed as well as the TTC is currently rebuilding that station, with the bus terminal closed off until 2018.
Screenshot of the TTC’s bus page on its website as of Friday, June 2
Presto is now officially accepted on all TTC buses, streetcars, and at all subway stations, with few exceptions (it does not work for paying additional fares on the 140-series downtown express routes, or on bus routes outside the City of Toronto, where York Region or Miway fares apply; some subway entrances do not yet accept Presto.) By the end of 2018, the TTC will stop selling or accepting tokens and passes, requiring its customers to use Presto or limited-use RFID paper cards.
The problem is that surface routes can and do change; streetcars and buses can be short-turned or diverted around road closures, customers often change to subway and streetcar shuttle buses, and these may not be recognized as valid transfers. (The TTC double-charged me before, when I transferred from a 509 shuttle bus to the subway at Union Station.) It should not be up to customers to remember to keep track of every time the TTC tells them to ask for paper transfers. Riding transit needs to be kept as simple as possible.
I have never had a problem with Presto overcharges on GO Transit (for which Presto was originally designed for), or on other GTHA transit agencies like Miway, Brampton Transit, or the Hamilton Street Railway. Each of these 905 transit operators adopted a two-hour transfer either before, or coincident with, the adoption of Presto. As I’ve argued before, the if the TTC is moving its customers to Presto, the best solution is an unlimited time-based fare that doesn’t require programming valid transfers.
This isn’t a problem with the Presto fare card, it’s a problem of the TTC trying to fit a 19th-century transfer system on a 21st-century technology. The TTC remains reluctant; the TTC considered time-based transfers in 2014, but the Commission estimated it would cost $20 million in annual revenue. I’m skeptical of that figure, but with the Mayor Tory’s austerity agenda at city hall, any potential reduction in fare revenue is a hard sell.
But until the TTC ensures that every valid transfer will be accepted by Presto (or better yet, a two-hour transfer is adopted), it is wise to regularly check your Presto account online to check for any double fares, and get refunded for those.