Riders have a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to paying to use OCTranspo. These options include cash, tickets, and the presto card. Each offers of these three options offer riders different ways to pay for their transit use. Unfortunately there is one powerful option that is missing from the system which would make Presto a nearly unbeatable way to pay for public transit.
Cash and ticket options have been available to riders for many years, where as Presto is a relatively new and untested way to pay for rides on OCTranspo. The main advantage of using presto is that customers are given a significant monetary incentive to chose Presto. As of writing this a ride costs $3.55 using cash, $3.20 using tickets, and $2.84 using Presto.
There are, unfortunately, still some limitations to the Presto system that make it a less than seamless way to pay for rides (even though it can sometimes be the most economical).
There are currently three ways to use your Presto Card: manual top-up, Autoload, and Monthly/Weekly passes. For users that take the bus every day too and from work or school (at least 19 days a month), the pass is the simplest and cheapest option. The manual and auto-load payment methods are better suited for those that use Presto less frequently.
The manual top-up option allows riders to add money to their card online which can then be used to pay for individual rides. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the system connecting buses and the online top-up, the system is only guaranteed to correctly reflect a recent top up after a minimum of 4 hours. Riders can skip the waiting period by loading money directly onto the cards at any one of three major transitway stations (St Laurent, Rideau, and Lincoln Fields) but this is hardly practical for all but a select few riders within walking distance. This leaves riders with having to plan any use of the bus at least 4 hours in advance should they be worried about not having enough money to pay for a ride.
The problem of constantly having to check ones account for sufficient funds seems to be solved by the Autoload option which will top-up your account when it drops bellow a certain value. Unfortunately, with the minimum top-up value at $20, riders are constantly left with cash just sitting around in your account waiting to be used. This makes this payment method impractical for anyone unable to, or uncomfortable with having money just sitting in OCTranspo’s payment system. Along with the fact that you will probably end up with an odd amount of money in your account makes this option a potential but not ideal solution.
These three Presto payment methods are all very usable options, but still fail to take full advantage of the power of a digital payment system.
With Presto having been designed to make paying for, and using, OCTranspo easier for riders there is only one payment method that is simple enough to make riding seamless while simultaneously being able to cater to both frequent and infrequent non-pass users. This payment method would be a post-paid top-up system. Users would input their credit card information to Presto, the system would keep track of how many rides a user makes in a month, and then send them a bill for the rides they took at the end of the month. This system is not unlike nearly every cell phone contract, making it a familiar payment process for customers, and works well with very little user interaction. Users would still be able to use the system as few or as many times a month as they want, but now without having to keep track of how their usage will impact the credit balance in their account.
A pay-after billing system for Presto would simplify the lives of many of the systems users by allowing them to focus on getting where they need to go rather than worrying about making sure they can pay to get there.