The presto bus pass is not an improvement on previous ways to pay your bus fare

By: Rob Hardy, Contributor

Oh, unravelling the mysteries of Presto. With news that the Hamilton Street Railway has finally dropped the axe on paper bus tickets, more local transit riders will be forced to become acquainted with the digital card payment system. Although the public will still have the option to pay with coins, using Presto is the cheaper option.

The HSR has drawn criticism for being more reliant on this ubiquitous green card. Local advocates argue that completely phasing out bus tickets will add unwelcome barriers for those with limited means, who often lack access to reliable internet access or a smartphone. Presto does have options for loading funds at Shoppers Drug Mart and transit offices, but using this system becomes much more complicated whenever a problem arises.

The HSR has drawn criticism for being more reliant on this ubiquitous green card. Local advocates argue that completely phasing out bus tickets will add unwelcome barriers for those with limited means, who often lack access to reliable internet access or a smartphone.

In recent years, McMaster University’s annual HSR student bus pass began to be offered via a Presto card. This was not an improvement on the old system. Previously, we were merely given a sticker to affix onto our student card, making riding the bus as easy as showing your card to the driver. New protocols required loading our pass every school year yet still having to keep showing our student card as well.

Unfortunately, I experienced problems during this transition. After waiting more than 24 hours upon first activating my Presto Card in September, as advised, I tapped my card only to be charged a fare. For whatever reason, the HSR bus pass had not yet been applied to my Presto card, forcing me to pay for a ride that should have been “free” given the fees we pay through the McMaster Students Union.

Here comes the tricky part with the HSR-Presto alliance. Neither entity wished to give me a refund, one referring me to the other, and vice versa. In August, the same thing occurred. The MSU bus pass for 2019-2020 officially ended on Aug. 21, as we were advised to merely show our student card for the final ten days of the month until new passes would be made available. 

However, due to the pandemic turning our school year virtual, the HSR decided to no longer allow students to ride the bus without paying during the last week of August. It is perplexing why the HSR saw fit to change this policy and demand fares from students, especially during such uncertain times, rather than still allowing free transit until September.

Of course, due to inadequate notice of the change, I once again found this out the hard way – by being told to tap my card and seeing it get charged. This was especially troubling since I took the time to previously ask drivers if anything had changed. Once again, no refund, despite being told one would be applied within a week.

Unfortunately, the above accounts only scratch the surface of my troubles with Presto, most of which I haven’t the space to begin detailing. But suffice it to say that multiple phone calls gave me different information on the status of my account, further confused by what drivers and the cashier at Shoppers told me.

This resulted in me being short of funds for not one but two recent out-of-town trips, requiring me to convince all the drivers to let me board without paying four times. 

This resulted in me being short of funds for not one but two recent out-of-town trips, requiring me to convince all the drivers to let me board without paying four times. 

While I appreciate the flexibility and compassion that Presto offers, it’s a system that is not as convenient as it sounds, as it downloads responsibility onto the user. Calling Presto to ask how much I would need to load onto my card and then doing so at the store is all one should need to do.

It’s stressful to have loaded funds onto a card which aren’t showing and to not have a ticket counter at your GO stop. It’s also frustrating that Go Buses no longer accept cash payment while having to call Presto repeatedly because you have no idea what is going on.

Given how our world has changed, contactless payment methods and further online transactions will simply be the new way of things, regardless of whether it is convenient for all members of the public. With regards to the HSR, printing bus tickets simply became too cost-prohibitive, so we can appreciate efforts that phased them out slowly.

Given how our world has changed, contactless payment methods and further online transactions will simply be the new way of things, regardless of whether it is convenient for all members of the public.

For those with no problem loading huge balances onto Presto, using it is not something they have to frequently think about. But even then, no one is immune to all the burdens and glitches attached to managing various online accounts, and the resulting follow-up contact such new platforms inevitably necessitate.

Image courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

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