How might we accelerate the adoption of the PRESTO Card for day-to-day commuters in the City of Toronto?
Consider a tiered payment structure that affords unlimited travel at a fixed price + redesigned PRESTO Self-Serve kiosk screens that reflects this payment structure/method.
An interactive prototype that models transit pass purchases over a PRESTO Self-Serve kiosk (NOTE: This is an ongoing design study).
A few months ago, my parents asked if they should switch to the PRESTO Card.
They heard it on the news: By 2017, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) will be completely free of fare media.
With PRESTO looming large on the TTC, I felt it was time to think about how we pay for our commute. How does PRESTO fit in a TTC rider’s life and is it something Torontonians can get behind with for years to come?
This became the subject of my independent design study.
First Stop: User Research
The TTC is Canada’s most heavily used transit system. It moves around 1.6 to 1.8 million passengers in a given day.
Since it’s impossible to reach out to all 1 million transit customers, I decided to focus my research on daily commuters who are either using PRESTO or those considering PRESTO.
This got me three user types:
- The occasional PRESTO user
- The car-owning PRESTO migrant
- The money-conscious PRESTO skeptic
Each of these customers has a specific story of how they contemplated/moved to PRESTO, and I used this to understand transit’s role in their lives and how payment changes impact them.
As I went on user interviews, there was a nagging sense that PRESTO was seen as an expensive way to pay for transit.
Customers were worried that PRESTO would cost more in the long run, especially with its pay-as-you-go scheme where transit costs depend on how often your travel per month.
This was especially bothersome for those who watch their monthly expenses and appreciate the stability daily, weekly, or monthly passes give in terms of cost.
The challenge, then, becomes clearer:
- What should PRESTO do to become an affordable fare card system for Toronto’s commuters?
- What steps should they take to make PRESTO more manageable and budget-friendly?
- Can the pricing structure work in a way that offers more flexibility and affordability (and if so, how)?
Next Stop: Competitive Research
Since Toronto is a second mover to smart payment systems, I looked at cities that were early adopters of such payment technology.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Boston has pay-as-you-go and fixed fare options (unlimited daily/weekly/monthly travel for X dollars)
- New York also has Pay-Per-Ride and Unlimited Ride options
- London has price caps that set the maximum price that you will pay for that day or week. You will not be charged more than what your price cap is should you exceed it.
The common thread among these transit systems is that you can know, way in advance, the cost of transit way before you pay.
Then there was Mississauga…
On April 6, 2016, Mississauga Transit sent out this blog post:
Go Paperless with PRESTO!
You can now load your PRESTO card with an Adult MiWay Monthly Pass for $130 or a Senior MiWay Monthly Pass for $61.
This is valid for unlimited travel on MiWay during a calendar month. Passes are available 14 days before and after the start of the month.
A two-hour transfer will be applied to your card when you first tap on the bus. Tap your card each time you board a bus to confirm the transfer is automatically issued to your PRESTO card. Click here for more information on transfers.
Not starting you trip on MiWay? Make sure you have ePurse loaded on your card along with your monthly pass.
Paper monthly passes will not be available after April 2016.
Visit miway.ca/presto for more information.
I was skeptical.
“C’mon, Toronto couldn’t even do it. Are you telling me Mississauga did?”
So I went to the municipality’s website to validate MiWay’s claims.
You could. YOU COULD!!! 🙂
This was huge because it meant that customers can have unlimited travel for a fixed price.
So now that we know that unlimited use transit passes are possible with PRESTO, how can we turn this into a reality?
Enter the PRESTO Self-Serve Reload Machine.
Self-serve reload machines help you manage the funds loaded to the PRESTO card. It also make your funds immediately available, doing away with the 24-hour wait just to use the $20 you loaded just now (which happens when you load up through prestocard.ca).
With self-serve machines providing a third way to handle your money, you would wonder why they haven’t been designed to dispense transit passes to an existing card yet.
And then it hit me: What if we sold TTC passes on a self-serve machine?
I decided to try it out.
ROUND 1: User flows + rough sketches + paper prototypes
I started by mapping out the current state, i.e. How are people using the PRESTO card today?
Since we’re interested in introducing pass purchases at the machine level, I decided to split the state map into two streams to account for the existing user flow (i.e. ePurse/pay-as-you-go) and the future state we’re probing (Add a transit pass).
Let’s look at the second use case, add a transit pass, in more detail.
The goal of this use case is to enable transit riders to purchase a daily, weekly, or monthly pass straight out of a self-serve kiosk.
So I sketched some screens that modelled this workflow and took them through some lightweight user testing.
The tests were guided by a simple question: “Does this interface work?”
Testers felt that this prototype seemed simple and intuitive enough for use. Save for some excess screens, unclear labels, and some interface additions (e.g. “I’d appreciate knowing when I can start using the card”) the “kiosk” did what it was supposed to do – load funds and add transit passes to a PRESTO Card.
But there was a problem. The prototype displayed student, postsecondary student, adult, and senior pass prices regardless of whoever is using the kiosk.
“What if an adult tried to buy a cheaper pass for himself (e.g. student or a senior pass)?”, a tester asked.
This was a serious problem. So I went back to the drawing table.
ROUND 2: Customer lifecycle analysis + interactive prototypes
The problem with my prototype was that it did not make a distinction between students, adults, and senior customers.
If you used my kiosk with an adult Presto card and tried to buy, say, a student monthly pass, it will NOT prevent you from doing that.
It was a case that I failed to account for that only became evident during testing.
So I needed to find a way that would plug this payment loophole and prevent ineligible purchases from happening – hence this fare adjustment prompt.
This fare adjustment prompt asks you to consider reprogramming your PRESTO card so it serves up the right fare options for your fare grade (e.g. student rates for a student, adult rates for adults, etc.). Requesting a fare adjustment puts a tag on the card so customer service agents know what to do should you take the card for examination.
This ensures that the PRESTO card has the correct customer information, and the rates appropriate to the rider’s fare grade.
- A tiered payment structure that affords unlimited travel at a fixed price (transit passes)
- An interactive prototype that models transit pass purchases over a PRESTO self-serve reload machine
This is a very hard problem. The kiosk in itself is just one aspect of a larger, broader problem which spans not just the PRESTO card and its customers but TTC, Metrolinx, and PRESTO’s concessionaires. This is essentially a service/systems design problem that deserves to be treated holistically if the goal is to deliver topnotch experiences to transit customers.
It was also sobering to think of the (potentially) lifelong role the TTC and Metrolinx play as transit providers in an urban city. What, indeed, should happen to a customer’s PRESTO card if she turns 20? Graduates from university? Comes back to school or turns 65? With PRESTO set to become a fixture in an Ontario commuter’s life, how will local transit agencies respond to these life transitions and ensure that customers are served the right transit prices according to their fare grade?
These are challenging questions that won’t be solved in a day. But they are crucial in ensuring that transit remains fair and equitable.
This problem made me appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that goes in this PRESTO rollout. As transit is a public good, it is in our best interest to think about how transit can remain fair, equitable, approachable, and affordable.
If you enjoyed this case study as much as I did, tell me what you liked and what could be better!
Author’s Note: A LOT has happened since the publication of this case study! I’ll be writing about this in a separate blog post and aptly call it “Life after PRESTO”. Stay tuned for more details.
This is an independent product design project completed through OCAD University’s Introduction to Design Thinking Class.
This is a living design exploration and can change as developments emerge.