And Presto is out, Ready or not …

After repeating ad-nausea that the new and revolutionary Presto payment system is ready,  that the distribution of 200,000 cards would start on Sunday, and that the system would be operational by July 1st. hail or high water; today “Teflon and always ambiguous” councilor and head of the public transit committee Diane Deans admitted that there are glitches in the system being piloted with just 1000 cards (0.5% of the original deployment), and that the launch would be postponed for a month.

Yes we know that any new system, where Ottawa is the Guinea Pig for the second generation of Presto Technology, has glitches and that’s what pilots are for, but only to admit it after media pressure for a week, is something else. Also it’s costing us 25 million in a deal imposed by the province to the city, and now the city has to save face.

In any new system, a pilot with just 0.5% of the intended deployment is too small, and it should be named a Proof of Concept, a real pilot is with 10% and growing in predictable increments.  A complex system with a pilot covering such small base, is an invitation to disaster. Fortunately the brakes were on time.

But unless the glitches are completely fixed with the Proof of Concept, and  then deploying in 15% or 20% increments over a period of time, I highly doubt the system will be ready in August. Time will tell.

And also I say that hackers have to wait, because I have imagined this scenario. In order to control if a Presto card has been tapped, it has to store in the card the time / date / and bus number.  Also, the system has to keep which card has been tapped on the scanner on board of the bus, in order to generate usage data. All this information would be kept in a database. If I can make a link between a credit card payment, user information and a presto card, now I have the ability to learn where is any user of the system at any time.  Also, let’s remember that the RFID technology used in the Presto card can be read as 6 cm. apart, so it is easy to read all the information on a card (trip log) just by being near to it.

Would I like this kind of information in the open, maybe not.  And so far no one has given any warranties on the security of this information, or the encryption mechanism used in the card, but my guess is that is not encrypted.

Happy commuting .. the Presto way .. 🙂

P.S: After a public relations nightmare, the launch scheduled for July 1st,  was initially delayed 10 days, then a month until August 1st., and now definitely postponed until February 1st, 2013. They have now 7 months to figure out how the system works. Another development, is that no one really knew how or why the project began, or how Presto was chosen.  After some digging, it was revealed that the Presto Contract was tied to the Province funding for the LRT, nice, two very controversial projects, both big failures, tied under one bill. Nice, really nice.

P.S.2: Well, now we know that Presto won’t roll out on February 2003. The city council and the transportaion committee are not fixing any dates, saying only that if by April the system is not proven (and I don’t think it will be) then they want their money back. Maybe Summer 2013. Eventhough, if you keep asking, the city of Ottawa remains committed to the Presto system, as failed and obtuse as this can be.

P.S.3: October 2013, I have been finally migrated from my employers EcoPass to a Presto Card. I register it on the web site without any issues. The card came pre-loaded for the month of October and after the 18th, I could purchase the november monthly pass, and set up the auto re-load. I did that no problem on the webiste, until a couple of days later I notice that my credit card was charged two times with the value of the monthly pass. I went to the website, filled up the contact form and sent it. No answer for a week. I called the call center and after a wait, my call was logged. The best was what the customer service representative told me “I am going to fill up the form, print it, and fax it to the back desk, who will solve your issue … ” … hmm … still waiting.

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