Toronto-Presto, a mass transit project that integrates payments for about ten systems in Ontario, is planning to add more card payment options and mobile technology over the next couple of years.

In 2014, Metrolinx, the agency that oversees Presto, will pilot credit and debit card payments for the mix of buses, subways, trams and commuter rails in the transit network. It also plans to test new mobile services.

"We did a limited test with credit cards that included only staff, but others saw us using the credit cards and wanted to do it themselves," said Rob Hollis, executive vice president of Presto, who also holds an IT position with Metrolinx.

Presto issues a reloadable fare card that can be tapped near readers to pay for mass transit in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Dunham, Halton, Peel, York and other communities that are generally within 100 miles of Toronto. When using the Presto card, riders automatically pay the lowest fare possible for that trip, whether it's a single ride, transfer, or a trip that includes more than one system.

"Customers don't have to know the fare policies of the system they are using in advance," Hollis said, adding the network of transit systems that use Presto cards average about 10 million taps per month.

The entire network of transit systems is still not fully equipped to execute contactless payments via Presto cards—some Toronto subway stations don't have the proper technology, for example—the agency aims to fix this by 2015, the year Toronto hosts the Pan American Games.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "We may be behind London and Hong Kong in transit payments, but we are catching up."

In the next year, Metrolinx will make transit payments more open, testing debit and credit card payments. "We want to work with our partners and card issuers to make sure it's a reliable experience for the riders," Hollis said. Metrolinx was also hoping to offer a way to purchase and load Presto cards from outside of the Toronto area, he said.

Presto cards will likely not be become dual-purpose cards for payments at retailers, a use case that's being tested in the Chicago transit system and is in the pipeline in Philadelphia.  "You have to be a bank here to offer retail payments. We don't see value in moving outside of our space," Hollis said.

Presto's growth will allow for improvements in analysis of rider volume, which the transit agencies will use to guide deployment of resources in the future. The agency will likely not provide incentives to riders to use the system during off-peak hours, Hollis says. Other transit systems, such as Montreal, provide special offers to users who use the system at certain times in an attempt to manage rider volume.

Metrolinx's mobile strategy is still in its investigative stage, Hollis said. The agency is in discussions with Canada's mobile wallet operators to see how Presto and other transit payment options can be managed on mobile apps. However, the use of mobile devices to actually pay for rides, a transit payment method that's being tested in Salt Lake City and Austin as part of Isis' pilot, will not happen in the near term in Ontario, Hollis said.

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