PRESTO is the most ridiculous smart card system I’ve ever used…

In any other system I’ve ever used that involves pre-loading money onto a card for future spending (including other smart card transit systems), the process is very, very, very, simple. You add money either in person somewhere, or online, and all the money is instantaneously added to the card.  You then make purchases, and the money is deducted from the card. Simple!

With PRESTO, if you load the money online, your credit card is charged instantly, but NOTHING is added to your balance until you actually use the card.  You have to wait 24-48 hours, and then tap on to a transit system, and then the amount is added to your balance. And if you don’t do that within 7 days of adding the money, the balance expires.  (This has now been updated to 30 days, but I most recently topped up before the new system, apparently).  Then, the balance sits in limbo for a few weeks.  When you tap on somewhere, it takes 24-48 more hours to tell the system you’ve done so, at which point it reactivates the balance loading process.  But it STILL doesn’t add the balance to your account – it simply sets it up so that it CAN add the balance.  You then have to tap on AGAIN to have that balance added.  In my case, this means travelling for multiple days before my balance actually gets topped up – something I don’t have enough pre-existing balance to do.

Is it just me, or is that the most ridiculous concept ever? My understanding from the agent I just spent many minutes arguing with over this is that this is intentional – it’s designed that way.  “Our systems are more complex than the banks,” she said, as if somehow increased complexity for a very simple function is necessary.  What insane designer thought this made any sense?  She insisted that the information is pushed to the devices periodically for this to happen – which suggests the problem is that the devices on the vehicles don’t have access to real-time balance information.  That can’t be possible, though, as the correct balance usually appears when you take two rides on the same day (i.e. the balance after the second ride is lower than the balance after the first).

Can someone explain to me why a supposedly “smart” card can’t have transactions happen instantly?


One response to this post.

  1. An example of a way of doing this that makes much more sense: when I visited Melbourne, I picked up a Myki card preloaded with a small balance (enough to get me to where I was staying). When I got to where I was staying, I went online, registered the card, and added money to it online. I immediately had that balance available to me, to use on any transit vehicle instantaneously. It can be done.


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