PrestoCard: What’s causing the most pain?

Presto users want an easy and convenient way to pay their fare.

We’d be willing to bet that this is exactly what Metrolinx wants for them too. In fact, the success of the Presto card is dependent on users adopting it, and adoption rates will be low if users’ needs aren’t met.

So let us just ask you a question: Where do you think most people are when they need to check their balance or top up their Presto card? Are they at home, in front of a desktop computer?

Nope. They’re either sitting on or waiting for a bus.

Unless you happen to be at an open OC Transpo kiosk (there are 4 in Ottawa), the only way to top up your card or check your balance is to log in to the Presto website. There is no app (although it sounds like one is in the works, which is promising). Technically, one can do this over phone, but reports on using Presto’s phone system are dismal.

So while they’re out and about, Presto users need to use the website on a mobile device.

Unfortunately, the Presto website isn’t designed or optimized for mobile devices. In fact it’s very mobile-unfriendly. It doesn’t even scale to fit small screens. People find the website difficult to understand and navigate. The terminology used is odd and hard to understand; “period pass” instead of “monthly pass”, and “e-purse” instead of “balance”, “concession fare” instead of “discounted fare”.

Once you have your card (in about 5 business days if you order online) you need to go online again to activate it. Then you need to wait another 24 hours before you can use it.

To login to Presto you have to enter in a 17 character card number that is virtually impossible to memorize.

Once in, you have to navigate through a few pages and enter your credit card number in order to top up your card. It then takes 24 to 48 hours for the credit to show up on your card. This is not a glitch, it’s the intended design of the system.

And it’s the biggest pain point. It’s not what people expect of a card they put money on. People expect – and in most cases, need their money to be added to the card immediately. This expectation is deeply engrained because it’s how every other payment card works. Gift cards, bank cards, credit cards, coffee cards and other transit cards like Oyster.

Presto cards need to be tapped on a Presto card reader on a bus in order to activate them. This causes problems because people can’t be sure their Presto card is loaded with money and working until they’re actually on a bus and tapping a reader. Unless they’ve got bus tickets or change as a backup to pay for the bus trip, many people report being kicked off the bus because they can’t pay.

Beyond many reports of system and technical glitches, the 24-48 hour lag time and the process of tapping a card on a bus to activate it account for the most PrestoPain because they can and do result in people being kicked off a bus when the reader indicates there are no funds on their card.

Whether this is because the funds haven’t been loaded due to the intended 24-48 hour delay, or whether it’s because the load failed for other reasons, it’s a critical issue that needs to be resolved.

Oh – and if you’ve successfully loaded your card, it won’t get activated properly unless it’s used within 30 days.

This is how people expect their Presto cards to work:

  1. Buy a card.
  2. Put money on it. The money is loaded immediately. As soon as they’ve put money on it, the card is active.OC Transpo Bus Tickets
  3. Login to a user friendly, mobile-friendly website or app with an email address and a password to quickly and easily check or top up their card balance.

This is what happens when users get frustrated:

“There is a corner store 6 blocks from where I live where the ‘old’ paper tickets are sold. There is NEVER a line up and the tickets don’t require 24 to 48 hours to be recognized by the system or a bus driver. I am no longer a Presto user.”

These issues are causing enormous frustration with Presto users, and they are all fixable. We’d like to see Presto become more user-centric. More user friendly. More usable, easy and successful. Fixing these issues is an excellent place to start.