Daily commuters on GO Transit now have the option to use PRESTO electronic fare cards instead of the traditional tickets that riders must punch on each ride. Many cities worldwide have operated smartcard technology for nearly a decade, and we are finally introducing this system to Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

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Suica Card in Japan launched in 2001, the Oyster Card in London, England offered in 2003 and the PRESTO Card in Ontario, Canada introduced in 2010.

At this time, the PRESTO system has begun integration with GO Transit and other select regional networks in the Greater Toronto Area, but the majority of riders still use the traditional ticket system.

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Traditional GO transit ticket cancelling machines with the new PRESTO fare card reader

This is because we are currently in the middle of a technology adoption process — a transition from an older fare media to a newer and more technologically advanced one.

Beginning with a trial period from July 2007 to Sept 2008 using select participants to test the fare system, the PRESTO system is now being introduced in four stages:

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We are constantly being introduced to new technologies such as PRESTO. As consumers, we can choose whether to accept and adopt or reject them until society pressures us to. According to the sociological model developed by Joe M. Bohlen, George M. Beal and Everett M. Rogers at Iowa State University, individuals transition to new technologies based on different demographic and psychographic profiles: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

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In addition to these profiles, many people advance from one technology to the next based on their perception of it. Perception is what will drive makes people to want to transition and while society is what drivesforces people tothe need to adopt. Recurrent factors such as usefulness, ease of use, “wow” factor and affordability influence our perception of a new technology and the factors that move us to adopt it.

Usefulness

People often decide to buy and use a new technology based on its perceived usefulness. Can it save time? How does it fit with daily tasks?

For some travellers, the PRESTO card’s utility resides in the convenience factor. Users can add funds to their PRESTO card through an online portal instead of lining up every month to purchase a new pass. They can also use an auto-reload feature when funds get low. Moreover, the PRESTO card, is designed to work across multiple transit networks, including Toronto Transit Commission, Brampton Transit, Mississauga Transit and other agencies in the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa.

However, since PRESTO is not yet accepted on GO buses, commuters may be reluctant to purchase a PRESTO card for their GO Transit commute. This, in fact, is the main reason why I have not yet adopted PRESTO.

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Ease of Use

Another factor on adoption is how easy it is to use. The members of the laggard group, those who are the last to adopt technology, may be more likely to worry that a new product is difficult to use compared to what they are already know.

A strong feature of PRESTO is that it makes transfers between transit systems much easier. Commuters don’t have to carry different fares or calculate the cost and ensure they have enough change.

If you routinely take a given route, you can set up a default trip, which means you only need to tap it on and not off. However, compared with the traditional monthly GO passes — where travelers don’t have to tap or punch anything — PRESTO adds an extra task to their commute. This is another reason why I prefer the traditional monthly passes over PRESTO cards for my commuting needs.

On the other hand, if you are taking a one-time route, the PRESTO card calculates the fare for you based on where you get on and off. This is great for travellers who are occasional riders and unfamiliar with the fare structure. When I tried London’s Oyster smart card system as a tourist in the city, I found it very easy to use and the learning curve was minimal. It was great not to have to buy new tickets, calculate fares based on my travel distance, or have exact change for every trip.

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‘Wow’ Factor

With any new technology, there is a ‘wow’ factor that attracts the innovators — the people who must have the newest tech gadget and will line up to get it first.

Internationally, PRESTO is not a new concept. Smart fare technology has been in use in many urban regions since 2001. However, PRESTO is definitely new to Ontario and to commuters who have never used electronic fare in other countries.

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Affordability

New technology sometimes comes with a premium price tag and consumers will have to decide if the additional cost can be justified.

With the PRESTO card, people are required to pay a $6 non-refundable issuance fee. Otherwise, the fare prices for traditional tickets and passes and PRESTO fares are the same. However, if a traveler was only taking the GO for a one-time occasion, it adds an additional $6 fee that represents a substantial additional cost on top of the conventional fares.

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These four factors influence an individual’s perceptions of a new technology and drive decisions about whether or not to adopt it. If all four factors have been met successfully, then consumers will likely embrace the new technology. But if one or more of these factors is absent, then potential users may transition more tentatively based on personal preferences. For example, some people care mainly about the wow factor rather than utility. Others may think a new technology is cool, useful and easy to use, but they might not be able to afford it. However, if society accepts the technology as a norm, then most people will feel compelled to adapt their habits accordingly.

The PRESTO card will be fully integrated in 2012 with the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton & Ottawa transit systems with the exception of the TTC. The traditional ticket system will become obsolete on the GO Transit and other regional systems and consumers will be required to use PRESTO even if they prefer the old fare media. In other words, the Presto card and the new fare technology are here to stay and will become the standard by next year… that is, until a new technology emerges, of course.

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