Smartcards beat out service with a smile

There are at least two areas of problems associated with the TTC.

First, the weakness in the routes. To put it simply, the TTC (because of a lack of subway lines) is not a hugely efficient way to move around Toronto.

Second, the way the TTC operates with its existing routes – particularly the problem with the subways. It is too difficult to get on the the subways. The reasons are largely related to the difficulty in paying for a ticket/token in any way except cash.

The following article, explains this very well!

March 18, 2010

Jonathan Naymark–smartcards-beat-out-service-with-a-smile#article

At about 9:30 a.m. on March 2, I stood in St. Patrick subway station in a line with six of my fellow Torontonians. I wanted to buy five tokens, which as most frequent TTC users know you can’t do from a token vending machine, assuming you’re lucky enough to find a working one, which is probably out of tokens and, although it only accepts cash, for some odd reason it won’t accept a $5 bill.

The morning was a standard TTC shuffle: the person in front of me wanted to buy a Metropass (which were sold out), while the person behind me just wanted to drop her coins into the fare slot, but couldn’t quite manoeuvre herself around the metal barrier, and instead stood impatiently behind me. It was another typical Toronto morning of near civil unrest in the city’s underground.

The next day the TTC announced members of its customer service advisory panel. The panel, chaired by hotel manager Steve O’Brien, is the TTC’s attempt to respond to what has been an annus horribilis for the commission in terms of customer service. Torontonians have developed a strong disdain for its not so better way. Our dislike for the TTC began in earnest last December with a fair hike, which was followed by immediate token hoarding, none of which mattered as the TTC suffered from a spate of noted and widespread service disruptions.

All of this was punctuated by a well-publicized photograph of a napping TTC worker, which appears to have been the final straw in our collective will. Something had to be done to calm the masses, so the TTC decided to assemble a panel that will help figure out its customer service strategy. The TTC even ran a Twitter contest to fill a spot on the panel. Impressive, considering the TTC still can’t tell you exactly when the next bus is coming.

I don’t have high hopes for these customer service initiatives. Why? Because the TTC doesn’t have a customer service problem. It has an operations problem.

The TTC is a service provider, which bills itself as “the quick, convenient and safe way to get around Toronto.” Yet it fails big time in its ability to actually fulfill this mission, and customer service improvements won’t help. When it comes to moving Torontonians around, the TTC is stuck in the dark ages, and this has little to do with whether employees smile as you board a streetcar.

In a way, however, the TTC’s problems are connected to its fare collectors. They’re tied to the fact that the TTC actually employs fare collectors. Go to Hong Kong, London or Shanghai and count how many times you interact with a transit employee. You can’t. Because you won’t. All of these transit systems use a smartcard as a form of payment. Here in Toronto, the TTC is still relying on gravity as its proof-of-payment system, which, as TTC chair Adam Giambrone is happy to tell you, is still the most reliable.

For Torontonians who haven’t used a smartcard system before, smartcards look like debit cards. Transit users go to a machine and with their debit or credit card (or even cash) purchase a smartcard, which they can then load with currency. It is then swiped or tapped as you get on or off a bus, subway or streetcar. Customer service problem solved.

The lack of a smartcard in Toronto is operationally archaic. What’s even more awkward about the TTC’s reluctance to go the smartcard route is that Canadians love debit cards, and are world leaders in the cashless movement. Of Canadians with ABM cards (which includes 90 per cent of adult Canadians), 45 per cent of transactions are done via debit, while cash accounts for only 22 per cent. Yet the TTC has basically ignored any other form of payment beyond cash. Of the TTC’s 69 subway and RT stations, only the following have automatic Metropass vending machines: Bloor-Yonge, Eglinton, Queen, Scarborough Centre, Union, Islington and Finch. No Metropass vending machines accept credit cards either. How does this make any sense?

What makes the entire situation laughable is that unbeknownst to most Torontonians, the province has developed a provincial smartcard program called Presto. The Presto Card is waiting patiently for mass adoption by the province’s transit operators. When the program launched in 1996, the province agreed to fund Presto’s implementation, which is estimated to cost approximately $140 million, asking only that Ontario’s regional transit systems pay for the cost of Presto machines themselves. The entire project was to be implemented across the Toronto region by 2010. We’re still waiting on that one. Now, full Presto implementation across GO Transit and the nine GTA transportation agencies, excluding the TTC, is expected by 2011; however, only 12 TTC stations and no TTC bus lines will use Presto by the end of its scheduled 2011 rollout.

What’s the holdup? Well, initially the TTC boycotted Presto arguing that the money the province was going to use to pay for Presto would be better spent on new buses. A worthwhile endeavour indeed, although part of me thinks that the TTC shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Recently, there has been a minor mood shift at the TTC, which is now tentatively on board the Presto train to normalcy. However, there is still no firm date for when the TTC, which accounts for 85 per cent of all transit trips taken across the GTA, will fully implement the card.

TTC officials have been concerned over the cost of purchasing and installing Presto machines; understandably, considering the size of the TTC compared to other regional transportation agencies. But the fact that there is no firm schedule for the TTC’s full participation in the program should be worrisome for consumers. Without full implementation by the TTC, the Presto card is doomed to failure.

Toronto’s civic unrest with the transit system has little to do specifically with customer service. The TTC has, however, failed a key customer service test: customer willingness to pay is strongly tied to ease of payment and the TTC just doesn’t make it easy for its users to pay.

It is now 2010 – who needs service with a smile when you’re simply swiping a smartcard? Nobody.

Jonathan Naymark is an MBA candidate at the Rotman School of Management University of Toronto.


1 thought on “Smartcards beat out service with a smile

  1. votejohnrichardson Post author

    Check this out:–presto-transit-smart-card-program-goes-live

    May 11, 2010

    “Presto! Transit smart card program goes live

    More than four years after it began working on the kind of regional fare card already used on transit systems around the world, the GTA’s Presto smartcard has finally gone live at the Oakville GO station, soon to be followed by the rest of GO Transit’s busy Lakeshore West corridor.

    “Electronic cards are already in use — if you’ve been to London, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Seattle, Holland — to great success. So we know this is technology people want, we know it’s technology people need,” Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said yesterday at the launch.

    The 12,000 GO riders who use that station daily can now load a dollar value onto their Presto card and tap on the green readers at stations and on buses to have the correct fare deducted on each leg of their trip, including their municipal bus, GO Transit and some TTC stations.

    Wynne acknowledged the Toronto region lags behind others in embracing the smartcard technology. While traversing municipal borders is supposed to be the great advantage of Presto, Wynne also conceded that the TTC, which carries more than 80 per cent of transit users in the Toronto area, isn’t a full partner in the project.

    Twelve of the TTC’s 69 stations will be installing Presto readers, which are the stations most used by GO commuters, she said.”

    The introduction of “smart cards” is vital to improving the TTC.

    John Richardson – Toronto Danforth Ward 29 Candidate


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