A thin crack is all it takes to render a Presto card completely useless and they’re easy to lose as you navigate crowded transit stations, trains and buses.
So why does it cost $6 to replace a Presto card?
A Metrolinx spokesperson said the often-overlooked fee — the same as it costs to buy and set-up a new card — “helps offset the administrative, manufacturing and distribution costs of the cards.”
However, the transit agency refuses to say how much money it makes from selling replacement cards. Nitish Bissonauth said in an email that’s “commercially sensitive information.”
So, does the fee really matter?
Saron Gebresellassi, a Toronto lawyer who ran for mayor in 2018 on a platform that included making the TTC free to ride, said losing $6 can really hurt. For newcomer families working minimum wage, for example, losing or breaking a card can be a huge deal.
“It is such a hit,” she told CBC Toronto.
Gebresellassi calls the fees a “penalty.” It’s a small one that flies under the radar, maybe, but it’s still a penalty that counts.
“You really have to save up your pennies … literally every dollar counts.”
Presto cards have eliminated the risk of losing a $100-plus monthly TTC pass, which is good, Gebresellassi said, but she regularly hears from low-income clients who are unhappy with the new system’s fees.
Other community activists say Metrolinx and the TTC did not do enough to anticipate the needs of riders on low incomes.
“It’s very clear that this was not included in the thought process,” said Najla Nubyanlove, who works with several Toronto organizations serving low-income residents.
She said many community workers, including herself, stocked up on tokens before they were discontinued for sale at the end of 2019. The old fashioned coins were easier to distribute to people taking part in a variety of programs.
“If we’re not able to offer that to participants, they’re not able to attend,” Nubyanlove said.
If you’re looking for proof that Torontonians don’t like paying $6 for a piece of plastic, cast your mind back to last October, when Scotiabank gave away 10,000 pre-loaded Presto cards, prompting huge lines at TTC stations across the city.
Metrolinx itself seems to recognize that the $6 fee is a barrier to accessing transit.
It has waived the new card fee for youth, who get to ride GO Transit and the TTC for free. It’s also given away free Presto cards in the past to Syrian newcomers.
Bissonauth said Metrolinx is working toward allowing transit users to pay with debit and credit cards — which most banks happily replace for free — as well as mobile phones, but didn’t put a timeline on when that would happen.
“We’ll have more details to share on this work soon,” he said in an email.