PRESTO passes harder to buy in poorest Toronto neighbourhoods

Apr 13 2021, 7:20 am

Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods are faced with significant barriers to buying PRESTO passes, according to a recent letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commissions (OHRC).

The letter, sent to the Chairs of the TTC and Metrolinx, outlines several barriers in PRESTO’s availability and pricing, the most glaring of which is the lack of physical locations for commuters to purchase fares in neighbourhoods where residents are racialized or living in poverty.

About 136 Shoppers Drug Mart locations in other areas of the city sell PRESTO fares, which allows people without a credit card or internet to make their purchases in cash. Individuals from these neighbourhoods who need to make cash purchases are then required to travel further distances to these locations, the letter says.

Not only is having somewhere to purchase PRESTO passes an issue, but the costs themselves also pose barriers, according to the letter.

“The up-front costs of buying a PRESTO card ($6) and the minimum balance load requirements (as high as $10 online) may make it harder for people with low incomes or experiencing poverty to buy fares,” the letter reads.

“Further, we understand that people who qualify for discounted TTC fare rates – such as youth, seniors and individuals using the City of Toronto’s Fair Pass Program – can only access these reduced fares with a PRESTO card, meaning that they must bear these up-front costs to even access discounted rates in the first place.”

Issues with the inability for community organizations to bulk buy PRESTO fares — as they were able to with TTC tokens — were also raised.

“Another issue is that unlike tokens, PRESTO tickets expire, meaning that these organizations may struggle to manage their ticket inventory or could risk losing money by purchasing PRESTO tickets that expire before they can be used,” the letter says.

The City does offer the Toronto Fair Pass Program, which allows those who live in poverty to receive a discount on PRESTO passes. But according to the OHRC, the process of obtaining the discount is challenging, requiring multiple steps with limited help available from City staff.

Cards bought with this program also emit a distinct light and sound when tapped, which has reportedly caused embarrassment for riders and discourages them from using it.

“Efforts to remove this distinct light and sound should be made as soon as possible,” the letter says.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says they have received the OHRC letter and are committed to creating an accessible and affordable fare system.

“Expanding the availability of PRESTO services so they are more accessible – particularly to those with lower incomes – is an ongoing priority for Metrolinx,” Aikins told Daily Hive. “Very soon, we will expand the availability of PRESTO service locations so we reduce coverage gaps that we know exist in some neighbourhoods.”

Additionally, Metrolinx has already taken steps to address some of the issues raised by the OHRC.

“We have also made it easier and more affordable to purchase and load cards by reducing the minimum load required on online and in-person channels to 5 cents (from $10) and eliminating the 25 cent overdraft fee,” Aikins said.

Metrolinx has also developed a PRESTO card alternative called PRESTO Tickets, and are working with the TTC and community service partners to provide a bulk pricing option.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green says they have likewise reviewed the letter and are working with Metrolinx to address the issues.

“We have seen the OHRC letter and have raised these issues through reports to the TTC Board since 2018,” Green told Daily Hive. “Metrolinx has indicated they are working to resolve them as part of their PRESTO contract with the TTC.

“PRESTO and TTC have made resolving these issues a priority in our settlement negotiations and we are working with them on a new agreement to ensure access to third-party PRESTO vendors is as easy as possible for customers with low income or other barriers.”

Laura HanrahanLaura Hanrahan

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