30 Minutes or Free

Image of hand holding Presto card The City of Ottawa's implementation of the Presto Smart Card payment system is beleaguered in controversy. Presto's introduction, originally slated for July 2012, has been plagued by delays and glitches and, though its evaluation period continues, its full integration is now rumoured to be sometime between May and July of this year. Notwithstanding the criticism city council has faced, in light of the significant delay in the system's implementation, the Ontario Auditor General, Jim McCarter, raised additional concerns in a report on government expenditure wherein he referred to the cost of the Presto system as "among the most expensive transit pass-cards in the world".

The good news for taxpayers, according to city officials, was the negotiation of a $3-million reduction of its $23.5-million obligation to Metrolinx: a form of compensation to the city for the significant delay. The revised contract also contains "a clause that would allow either OC Transpo or Metrolinx to withdraw from the deal before June 1". Should that occur, Metrolinx would absorb the costs associated with setting up the equipment though it is unclear at this point what would become of the province's commitment to Presto: a mere $9.2 million.

Many transit users are puzzled by the city's decision to spend $31.2-million on a fare collection system on the heels of a $19.5-million system-wide reduction in service otherwise known as the 2011 Route Optimization Plan. Quelle surprise... following the massive reductions in service, OC Transpo ridership experienced a 4% decline when compared to figures for the same period one year earlier. In an effort to rationalize the drop in ridership, OC Transpo's general manager, John Manconi, suggested the decline "may have been caused by more reasonable gas prices, warm and dry weather or the looming federal public service job cuts". Not to be outdone by Manconi's ability to establish a causal link, Diane Deans, chair of the transit commission, concluded the decline in ridership constituted a "natural correction" following what was considered a banner year for ridership the previous year. Clearly, John and Diane have never tried to make a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich when they've run out of bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and bread. If they had, they'd have quickly realized that it just can't be done. Perhaps that's why they seem to overlook the most obvious explanation for a decline in transit ridership: FEWER BUSES TRANSLATES INTO FEWER PASSENGERS!

Anyone who actually uses public transit on a regular basis, which in all likelihood excludes Manconi and Deans, recognizes the two most important qualities of transit: it must be convenient and it must be reliable. When a transit system becomes excessively inconvenient or unreliable it will be abandoned faster than Oprah on a baked ham. Manconi and Deans might wish to consider approaching transit from a slightly different perspective. Have the 2011 Route optimization service reductions fostered convenience? Does the introduction of Presto make the system any more reliable? The questions are, of course, rhetorical.

Frostbite advisories and wind chill warnings were issued for Ottawa on January 23rd as the mercury plummeted below -22C: "the coldest in eight years" according to CBC climatologist Ian Black. What happens when you combine record setting low temperatures with an unreliable transit system? Just ask any commuter who might have been waiting for the 148 Hurdman in the marrow-chilling temperature at 07:50 Wednesday morning along Canterbury Avenue. What you'd discover is a unified and unequivocal disdain for a transit system that would leave them waiting for a bus in such extreme conditions when they should be receiving 15-minute service at that time of day. Certainly, a Contact Customer Relations link does exist on the OC Transpo website and transit users may provide feedback, however, my experience suggests that little more than lip-service will be provided and nothing of substance with respect to redress. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but "Yes Mr. Dubois, you're correct. You did wait 50 minutes for a bus on the coldest day on record in a decade despite the fact that a bus should have come every 15 minutes." just doesn't cut it. WTF?

Here's a novel concept for the OC Transpo Elf Lords to consider. How about implementing a "Commitment to Service Policy" and backing it up by putting MY money where YOUR mouth is? If Pizza Pizza fails to deliver your pizza according to the terms of its Time Guarantee, then your grease-wheel is free! It's that simple. It would seem to me that Presto, a system touted as "among the most expensive transit pass-cards in the world" should be capable of incorporating some sort of CREDIT mechanism through which cardholders, including monthly pass holders, would receive a credit for those instances when a particular bus failed to meet the established Commitment to Service Policy.

The lip-service just doesn't cut it anymore.

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 24 January 2013