A union representing TTC workers has written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford highlighting issues with the Presto fare payment system, which they say is malfunctioning on a regular basis.

Commuters will no longer be able to buy physical metropasses as of next month and will instead have to load the passes onto their Presto cards to get around but in the letter sent to Ford on Friday Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 President Frank Grimaldi contended that the TTC “is not ready” for the switchover.

Grimaldi said that Presto “regularly fails at all times of the day” and called on the TTC and the province to take action to fix the problems that have plagued the system, most notably Presto readers on surface vehicles that regularly fail and Presto vending machines and fare gates in subway stations that are often out of order.

“It is critical that Metrolinx, the TTC and the Ontario government take immediate and urgent action to fix the Presto fare card systems’ failures to ensure a smooth transition of metropass users to the Presto fare card system,” he wrote.

In his letter, Grimaldi included numerous anecdotes from TTC employees about some of the issues affecting the Presto system.

He said that a bus driver out of the Malvern garage told him that one of the two Presto readers in his vehicle will shut down at least once during every shift while a driver on the Queen streetcar reported similar problems and estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of riders are not able to pay their fares as a result.

He said that another bus driver who works the overnight shift told him that all the Presto readers on their vehicle routinely shut down at precisely 3:09 a.m.

“We figure this is the time Presto updates their database or something along those lines but when the entire fleet goes down nightly and stays down for 15 minutes to an hour the revenue loss is astronomical,” that driver said.

TTC staff should be allowed to fix Presto issues

Grimaldi said that TTC staff are not currently allowed to fix issues that arise with the Presto system and must wait for Presto to send a technician.

As a result, he said that some vehicles are being pulled from service for “hours to days, and in some cases weeks,” while they await repairs that could take a TTC worker as little as 15 minutes.

“The TTC has a large corps of highly trained, qualified and conscientious staff capable of keeping the fare system running efficiently,” he wrote. “There are maintenance staff at Greenwood and St Clair stations directly on the subway line. Prior to fare collection being taken over by Presto, those workers would have been dispatched immediately to deal with fare machine or fare gate problems. The provincial government should restore maintenance and repair of Presto machines to the TTC, allowing ATU Local 113 members to do this work.”

In a statement provided to CP24, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation said that officials are confident that Presto is “ready for the transition away from metropasses.”

The spokesperson said that Presto readers on buses and streetcars have an in service rate of between 98 and 99 per cent from week to week and that when a reader is down another reader on the same vehicle is usually working.

The spokesperson also pointed out that commuters have been able to purchase a metropass on their Presto cards since June, 2017 with officials noting a “steady increase” in those taking advantage of the program.

“We understand Metrolinx has provided additional staff at stations to assist customers with the transition. Metrolinx has also enhanced their system support processes to help with this phase of the transition,” the statement reads.

ATU Local 113 represents about 11,500 front-line workers, including operators, station attendants and maintenance staff.