By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton transit riders have so far taken a pass on the provincially-introduced Presto transit fare card.
The latest figures released by the city of Hamilton reveals only 7.72 per cent of all transit trips taken in the city were used by Presto card users. Other municipalities, such as Brampton and Ottawa have seen a 60 per cent transit use by Presto card holders.
City transit officials say get more Hamiltonians interested in the system, they will be ramping up advertising for Presto card users, and introducing three pilot programs at Lime Ridge Mall, Eastgate Square, and the MacNabb Street transit terminal.
Nancy Purser, manager transit support services, said the city will make using the Presto card more accessible to transit users, including introducing a self-service station by spring, and establishing a loyalty system which has proved successful in the city. She acknowledged Hamilton’s “unique” transit system that has made it difficult for residents to use other payment methods for taking the bus.
“How Hamilton people travel is very ingrained,” she said. “Our expectations were significantly higher in 2011 (when Presto was introduced to the city).”
Presto recently introduced an updated version of its software that will provide Hamiltonians with more flexibility in using the card, she said. Currently, the city offers three locations to get the card, or re-load it at the Dundas Municipal Service Centre, the HSR customer service office at 36 Hunter Street, and City Hall. People can also use the card on the city website.
“It will be more accessible to load the card,” said Purser. “(People) want to see (the money) on the card.”
In addition to the three new locations, Purser said a new self-serve system will be operating at the MacNabb Street transit terminal by spring 2014. She also said a new loyalty program will be introduced as part of the pilot program that will run from Monday to Sunday.
The Presto card system was introduced in 2006 by the province and it has, despite problems, has been integrated so people can use it on TTC, GO, and in eight municipal systems from Hamilton to Durham Region. According to Metrolinx more than 400,000 transit users in the Toronto and Hamilton areas are using Presto fare cards.
Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins said the Presto card system hasn’t been welcomed by people in his ward.
“The biggest compliant I had is it’s too inconvenient,” he said. “I don’t get a good feeling (about the program).”
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who hasn’t been a big supporter of the Presto program, was still surprised at the low number of Presto card users by Hamiltonians.
“We need to implement (the program) as best we can,” he said.
Dundas councillor Russ Powers says uses Presto all the time. By using his credit card, he can load up his card at a location, without having to line up.
“It’s safe, and convenient,” he said.
Don Hull, transit manager, said the city will eventually eliminate the paper media, allowing people to better accept the Presto card. “We want (people’s) first experience a good experience,” saidHull.
By having two duplicate systems,Hamiltonis paying an extra $500,000 in operating costs.Hamiltonhas about 150 third-party outlets for residents to get HSR tickets.
It has cost the city about $6.5 million in capital costs to adopt the Presto system on its buses, with most of the money for new fare boxes.
In 2012 provincial auditor-general Jim McCarter identified the Presto card as the most expensive transit pass card system in the world, with about $700 million invested.
Purser said in July, sales of transit trips using the Presto card jumped to 10 per cent, which points to residents willing to use the program.
“We are growing, but slowly,” she said.
Councillors questioned the program, even contemplating opting out of the Presto program.
But Hull said that won’t happen. He said the province understands Hamilton’s transit circumstances, and is providing enough time for city transit operators to implement the system. He said there is no threat from the province it will cut off about $11 million in annual transit funding to Hamilton.
“(The funding) is not in question,” he said. “The system is here to stay.”