Is a PRESTO Transit Fare Card Worth It?

I don’t commute to work using public transit because I can walk to work. In fact, aside from one job in Toronto where I lived within a block of a subway stop and worked within a block of another subway stop on the same line, I have never lived where I can’t walk to work. So although I had heard about the PRESTO transit fare card system I hadn’t ever considered buying one because I didn’t think it was worth it: until recently.

Why Would a Non-Commuter Buy a PRESTO card?

What swayed me to buy a PRESTO card was its use for GO Transit. I use the GO train several times a year to get to Union station in Toronto or to the Exhibition grounds. While I have always been able to buy a GO ticket without much hassle it does slow the process down because sometimes there is a line. That means I have to allow some extra time when arriving for a train which isn’t earth-shatteringly important but it does mean more time waiting on a windy platform if there is no need to wait in line.

What I hadn’t realized is that there is also a discount for using a PRESTO card instead of paying a cash fare. In particular, if I take local transit using my PRESTO card to the GO station and use my PRESTO card for the train, my local transit fare is reduced significantly. There is also a saving for using PRESTO for my GO fare.

What Does It Cost to Use a PRESTO Card?

There is an actual cost to using a PRESTO card. You have to pay a one-time fee of $6 to buy a card.

If you lose it, while you can salvage any cash value left on your card (if you registered it online before you lost it), you can’t get a replacement card for free; a replacement card also costs $6.

Is It Worth $6 for a PRESTO Card?

I wondered how long it would take me to save $6 in fares to pay out the initial cost of the PRESTO card.

It didn’t take long! On my first journey I saved

  • $2.65 on my local transit bus fare because I used the bus to get to the GO train
  • $0.74 on my GO fare
  • $0.74 on my GO fare returning home
  • $2.65 again on my local transit returning home

$6.78 total

So in my first use, I paid off the card and saved $0.78.

What Really Made my PRESTO Card Valuable

What really pleased me most about having my PRESTO card though wasn’t the cost savings. It was arriving at Union Station late in the day on my VIA Rail train, coming up to the GO wing, seeing a train departing for my stop that was already loading, tapping the card quickly against the PRESTO reader at the base of the stairs, walking briskly up and onto the train, and sitting down just as the doors closed and the train started rolling. I saved a bit over a half-hour of waiting at Union station by not having to line up for a ticket or find enough coins to feed the machine for one. Yay for PRESTO!

Using PRESTO Means No Hoarding Coins

The other obvious advantage to the card is you don’t have to lug around change to pay exact fares on city transit.

Where Is PRESTO Used?

PRESTO cards are used on many transit systems in Ontario including those in

  • Brampton
  • Burlington
  • Durham
  • Hamilton
  • Mississauga
  • Oakville
  • Ottawa
  • Toronto (some locations only so far)
  • York

In addition, it’s the transit fare system used by GO Transit for all GO trains and buses, and the UP Express from Pearson airport to Union Station in Toronto.

So they are in use in four cities I visit on a fairly frequent basis where I could put the card to use.

Would I Recommend PRESTO?

Yes. It has already paid itself out and it worked efficiently and well.

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Do you use PRESTO or a similar fare card system for your adventures on transit? Do you save money or is it just convenient? Please share your views with a comment.

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