by Marianne Van der Wel
PRESTO is an electronic fare system that allows transit users in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) to use a single fare card to move between and within participating transit systems. Fare savings can be significant, particularly for seniors. Participating transit systems within the GTHA include GO Transit, Hamilton's HSR and Burlington Transit. For a complete list of participating transit companies, see the PRESTO web site listed at the end of this article. Please note that although the Toronto Transit System is not yet a full participant, you can use the Presto card at some subway stations.
The PRESTO card integrates the various fares, rules and policies of several transit systems. Hence it is important to check with the systems you use most to determine what will work best for you, and to obtain the most current information. For instance if you use the HSR system, you can use the PRESTO card to buy monthly or annual HSR passes at discounted prices, and also use it as an e-purse that you fill up with funds for use on any participating transit system. An e-purse works much like a debit card. Each time you use the card, PRESTO calculates the proper amount to debit your e-purse to cover the journey.
Ordering and Activating Your PRESTO card
You can order your PRESTO card and load money onto it online with a credit card (minimum load is $10), or do it in person at a Customer Service Outlet using cash, debit and - at some service outlets - a credit card. The PRESTO card will be sent to you within 30 days after ordering online. If you buy your card at a customer service outlet, you can use it immediately. Depending on which transit system you obtain your card through and whether or not you are a senior, there may be an initial fee of $6.00. You will need to activate your PRESTO card within a specified time period by using the PRESTO card to pay a fare or by tapping it at a balance station found at some Customer Service Outlets and most GO stations. If you miss the activation period you will need to phone PRESTO before you can activate the card. Preloaded PRESTO cards, available at select HSR outlets, may already be “active”.
Registering Your PRESTO Card
Though not compulsory, it is recommended that you register your card with PRESTO, either on-line or by phone, before you use it. There are a number of advantages to having a registered card:
- Your balance is protected if the card is stolen or lost, although there is a replacement cost of $6.00.
- Online refills and automatic refills are available only for registered cards. This is discussed below under ‘Reloading Your PRESTO Card’.
- For those who can claim a public transit tax credit, information is automatically tabulated for registered users and made available in February/March for the preceding year.
- There are some frequent-use discounts in the PRESTO system. For seniors (ages 65 and over), discounts are significant and are available only through a PRESTO card registered in your name.
The Tap On, Tap Off Experience
At first the experience of using your PRESTO card may seem awkward but the transit staff is generally most helpful. When you use GO Transit, you tap on when you board and must tap off when you disembark, else you will be charged the price of the longest trip possible (which could be as far away as Oshawa from Hamilton). For instance, if you take a GO bus from McMaster to the Aldershot Go Station, tap on when boarding the bus and tap off when leaving. In Aldershot look for the tapping stations near the entrance to the GO station and tap on again. When disembarking from the train, again look for tapping stations in the GO train station and tap off. If you take the same journey often, you can set it as a default trip eliminating the need to tap off.
In Hamilton, when using the bus, one only taps on when boarding. There is no tap off. The PRESTO program automatically keeps track of how much time you have used for your trip, eliminating the need for transfers when using multiple buses over a period of less than 2 hours.
Checking the Balance on Your Card
Your balance will show briefly on the PRESTO tapping station each time you use it. You can also check your balance on-line (if you registered with PRESTO) or you can go to a balance tapping station. These are located at most GO stations and at the Dundas Municipal Service Centre and Hamilton City Hall.
Reloading Your PRESTO Card
You can reload i.e. add money to, your PRESTO card at Service Customer outlets. In the Hamilton area these are located at:
- GO Stations in Aldershot, Burlington and downtown Hamilton (36 Hunter Street East)
- COMPASS Station, Student Centre, McMaster University
- HSR Service Centre at 36 Hunter Street East.
You may also obtain $20 preloaded PRESTO cards at the Dundas Municipal Service Centre and/or Hamilton City Hall as well as re-load your card or Month Pass, check PRESTO balances, and settle monthly PRESTO overdrafts.
If your card is registered you may reload it online or you can set it up to reload automatically. With automatic reloads, an amount specified by you is added to your card when your balance falls below a set limit. Without automatic reloads, your balance may fall below zero. In this case, you can complete your journey and go into overdraft that you can settle before your next trip. There is a small service charge for this overdraft protection
Senior Passes and Fares
To take advantage of senior fares, available to people 65 and over, you need a registered, activated PRESTO card. You must then go to the HSR Service Centre at 36 Hunter Street East, a GO Station Service Counter or the COMPASS at the Student Centre, McMaster University and show 2 pieces of Government ID to change your adult PRESTO card into a Senior PRESTO card. From that point on, all fares are calculated at the senior discounted rates.
Some examples of senior savings are:
- GO Transit: Half price of the adult fare for single trips
- HSR Single Trip: $1.65 instead of the adult fare of $2.55 cash or $2.00 per bus ticket (good for 2 hours from initial boarding)
- Monthly Pass: $20.50 instead of the adult pass for $87 (not available for purchase from the 14th-16th of each month)
- Yearly Pass: $205 (not available in adult fare and not available for purchase from the 4th-7th of each month)
Senior Identification: Be prepared to show proof of age when asked on pubic transit. If you do not have this, you can get a senior identification card at the downtown HSR station for $3.00
Web Links and Phone Numbers
PRESTO or 1-877-378-6123
HSR or 905-546-2424 x1882 (905 527 4441 for automated information)
McMaster COMPASS or 905-525-9140 x21000
GO TRANSITor 1-888-438- 6646
Personal Note: As a senior, I found the setting up of the PRESTO awkward and inconvenient and using it did take getting used to but I am glad I switched as I find using PRESTO much more convenient and I save a lot of money.