Published in the Downsview Advocate on December 12, 2019
After multiple false attempts due to public concerns, the TTC retired tokens from general circulation on November 30th. TTC booths no longer sell tokens. Instead the TTC is encouraging the public to “move to a PRESTO card now to avoid potential line ups”. The move was delayed several times due to a myriad of problems with PRESTO. The TTC itself is going after Metrolinx for costs related to PRESTO’s for millions and the troubled pay system has created problems for customers from day one.
Tokens were simple and their functionality is still years away from being replaced by PRESTO. This affects all transit users, but more so those that face barriers to get around. The design of the PRESTO system was never user friendly, from its retrofit of stations that reduced payment points for the sake of efficiency, to cards that take 24 hours to charge online, to the lack of payment points outside of subway stations.
The public paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a system where it is harder to find a place that can charge your card. Whereas before, you could go into a number of small stores that sold tokens and tickets, now only Shoppers Drug Mart carries them and they are not everywhere. In buses and streetcars, every single user of the PRESTO card has run into broken equipment. The problem in development may be the lack of foresight into how people use transit and what their needs are.
Case in point are the criticisms of the change from social and community workers and schools. There were people out there that needed free tokens to bridge gaps that allowed them to go to a job interview, attend school or receive health care services. For someone out of a job, going to 5 interviews with the price of tickets for adults being what it is, can add up quickly and prevent them from trying. Some students sometimes skip school because they cannot afford a bus ticket every day and this can lead to lower grades. Schools know this and always have bus tokens on hand. The new PRESTO system does not allow for an easy exchange of a single trip fare.
This again is a design problem that other transit systems have already figured out. Since we are behind here in Toronto, an exception is being made for some of the social agencies and school boards. They will continue to have access to tokens until the system is more functional. The TTC thinks it has lost $3.4 million in fares due to the pay system. The app itself is still being upgraded and several years into it, there are many functionalities that are still a work in progress.
Needless to say that the consensus is that this was not an improvement, as much as moving towards a regional payment system was necessary. Tokens will be missed.