PRESTO versus Oyster: London’s poor cousin in Ottawa

PRESTO card and Ottawa transit mapOttawa is the capital of Canada, a member of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations with the second-highest GDP per capita among that group. London is the capital of Great Britain, a member of the G7 with the fourth-highest GDP per capita, similarly compared. You wouldn’t know that or believe it, to judge from the state of public transportation in both capital cities. Pictured is my newly-acquired PRESTO card, a smart card usable on mass transit in Ottawa. The advent of these cards in 2013 brings 20 year old technology to the nation’s capital, at a cost to the taxpayers of the Province of Ontario of some 700 million dollars, according to a report by the Auditor-General. Talk about re-inventing the wheel! Ottawa is trying out the PRESTO card with a trial run of 10,000 participants, but glitches and delays abound.

oyster card and London transit mapHere is my Oyster card for use on London’s mass transit system, which I obtained 10 years ago, when it was introduced in 2003. This little gem is useful for visitors and locals in London alike. One can ride the buses and the tube as much as one likes, and the Oyster card will never be charged more than the equivalent Day Travelcard. More than 43 million Oyster cards have been issued.

I can arrive at Heathrow airport and board the Piccadilly line, waving my Oyster card at the turnstile, and be in central London in 50-60 minutes for as little as £3.00 charged to the card. I’ve been able to do that for a decade. Until this month’s introduction of the PRESTO card, to do the same thing in Ottawa, what I would have to have done is board the one and only bus that goes to the airport, and happened to have $3.30 in Canadian coins in my pocket to pay the fare. The technological, bureaucratic, and political failure of PRESTO is all the more embarrassing to Canada’s capital city when existing and working solutions like Oyster in London were available to us all along.