A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] Chris Selley on the National Post on the upcoming Presto nightmare

Chris Selley’s National Post article makes for dispiriting reading.

What’s green, about six feet tall, costs as much as a subcompact car, has almost no moving parts and can’t perform its simple task roughly 40 per cent of the time? Metrolinx’s 75 self-service Presto card reloaders, that’s what. They take money from your debit or credit card and put it on your Presto card. That is all they do. They are such unusually simple components of an automated fare system, in fact, that manufacturers Scheidt & Bachmann had to custom-design them, according to Robert Hollis, Metrolinx’s executive vice-president in charge of Presto.

As simple as they are, however, they suck. In a recent nine-day period I visited 54 of them across the subway network, testing a theory — and proving it well beyond my expectations. Six of the machines were signed out of order. And a further 14 of them appeared to be in working order, but simply wouldn’t acknowledge the presence of a Presto card. That’s a failure rate of 37 per cent.

To make matters worse, Hollis told me, system monitoring can’t even tell when the latter problem occurs. So the machines just sit there, useless, waiting to infuriate the next customer who will shortly thereafter have to suffer the indignity of paying cash for a train ride in 2016.

“We know that customers aren’t happy. We know the issues are out there,” Hollis told me in the GO concourse at Union Station, where we observed commuters recharging their cards (mostly) without incident. (In the TTC concourse it was 0-for-2: one was signed out of order; the other wouldn’t read cards.)

Metrolinx is already testing the “next generation” of these machines, said Hollis, which among other things have more computing “horsepower.” But “lack of horsepower” is only a suspected cause of the problem. “It could be the complex interaction between the machine and the credit card company and the network,” suggested Hollis, but “the vendor doesn’t have the data to understand what’s going on yet.”

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Written by Randy McDonald

December 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm

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