Presto machines regularly failing because no one is emptying coins from them, city auditor finds

Presto vending devices on the TTC’s new streetcars are often out of service because no one is regularly emptying coins from the machines.

That revelation was among several findings by Toronto’s auditor general in a new report on Presto equipment and lost revenue on the TTC.

“Due to issues, limitations, and a complicated system, the TTC may not be getting all the passenger revenue it should,” according to the report, released Monday morning.

While Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler did not provide an estimate of total lost revenue, she said the TTC’s $3.4-million figure related to Presto problems “does not appear to be overstated.”

Romeo-Beehler is recommending that the TTC and Metrolinx work together to identify when Presto machines are failing or frozen, and to develop a new system to detect errors.

“I would describe it as a work-in-progress,” said Mayor John Tory at a news conference Friday.

He said Toronto and the TTC are already taking steps to improve their working relationship with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that oversees the Presto system.

“[The numbers] are getting better, but they’re not where they need to be. They need to be at very, very high level of reliability both so that we don’t lose money and so that our customers can depend on the system,” Tory added.

The report, and its 35 total recommendations, will be presented to the TTC board and Toronto city council’s audit committee later this week.

Coins not emptied for 7 days

In the case of the malfunctioning vending machines, the auditor general’s office monitored the machines on new model streetcars in August.

Of the machines that stopped working during the month, 56 per cent of the cases were simply because the coin box had become full. That happened 188 times during August.

“From our audit work, it appears that neither TTC, Presto, nor its vendors are currently ensuring that the coin box is emptied on a regular basis for all Presto vending machines on new streetcars,” the report says.

In one instance, auditors say it took seven days before a machine with a “coin box full” warning was emptied.

Further, a machine with a full coin box is not counted as out-of-service by the company that sold the machines and monitors their status because “it is not technically broken.” 

Frozen machines and Indian holidays

The report also points to frozen card readers as an ongoing issue across the system. That error occurs when a reader appears to be in-service when it is not actually working.

To monitor frozen readers, auditors monitored 100 bus drivers, who drove a total of 168 buses over two days in June.

During the period, the drivers reported 330 Presto issues, 300 of which were identified as frozen machines.

Like a vending machine with a full coin box, a frozen reader may not be recognized as out-of-service by software monitoring the system, meaning that the TTC’s reported Presto availability rate of 98.8 per cent may also be inflated.

Statistics on Presto availability are also inconsistently reported because the numbers are not updated on weekends and holidays.

Availability statistics were also previously unavailable during holidays in India, where an offshore team calculates and updates the daily numbers.

That has now been resolved, Romeo-Beehler said, though Presto staff were not aware of the issue when it was happening.

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