DRT paper transfers still on hold

·3 min read

Riders using Durham Region Transit buses still don’t have the option of using paper transfers.

The Durham Region Transit Executive Committee (TEC) has decided to continue the temporary pause of paper transfers due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the transmission risk is low, staff have accepted the measures implemented for their safety and relaxing measures at this time during the pandemic may have a negative impact,” says DRT General Manager Bill Holmes.

“While we have taken steps to address some of the risks identified, issuing transfers still requires intervention by the bus operator and compromising the barrier that’s installed.”

He notes the preventative measures of hand hygiene, distancing and regular disinfection of high-touch surfaces remain an “integral component” of public health, COVID communication and messaging, and DRT standards of practice.

“The health and safety of everyone on board our buses is the priority,” says Durham Regional Chair John Henry. “I’d like to thank DRT customers and staff for taking all the necessary steps and precautions while travelling. And especially for following all public health guidance.”

PRESTO incentives will also be extended through March 2021. Specifically, the PRESTO card fee is waived when a customer loads $6.50 onto the card at a DRT point of sale location.

TEC approved the elimination of monthly passes and paper transfers in June 2020 to mitigate the risk of virus transmission between bus operators and customers, as well as the risk of transmission to other DRT employees.

Eliminating paper transfers means riders paying a fare with cash needs to pay on each bus.

Cash-paying customers pay $4 on each bus, whereas customers using PRESTO pay $3.25 for travel within a two-hour window, regardless of the number of bus transfers.

According to Holmes, the percentage of customers paying by cash continues to be the same as pre-COVID – about 10 per cent of ridership, which he says equates to approximately 1,500 to 1,800 people a day.

Holmes notes DRT is exploring with Metrolinx the option of realigning the transfer printers so customers can access printed transfers independently.

In order to support customers, in June 2020, TEC made available 4,000 free PRESTO cards. In total, DRT has issued more than 5,000 free PRESTO cards since July 2020.

“PRESTO remains the easiest way to pay your DRT fare,” says Holmes. “With two convenient options – a physical card and the E-Tickets app, PRESTO provides a safe, touchless option that actually saves customers money every time they ride.”

According to Holmes, at this time, customers save 75 cents per trip, or $10 every 14 trips, by using PRESTO.

While he says customers are hesitant to transition to PRESTO due to privacy concerns, customers can choose to remain anonymous when using PRESTO.

“But we do recommend to register the card to protect the customer should the card be lost or stolen,” he adds.

According to DRT, the PRESTO adoption rate in 2019 was 37.5 per cent, noting a contributing factor in the low rate is the temporary suspension of the Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass), which accounts for approximately 30 per cent of ridership.

DRT says Metrolinx will be collaborating with the region on a transit fare solution for post-secondary students to enhance PRESTO users.

Holmes is expected to report back to TEC in April with an update and next steps, which he says “could include the reimplementation process for paper transfers.”

Courtney Bachar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Oshawa Express