Anyone using the TTC or GO will, at some time or another, need to use an automated fare dispenser. To avoid losing one’s money or temper, here are some tips.

When a TTC token machine is out of service, a small red light is supposed to flash. Alas, there may be no indication when the coin acceptor is jammed. If you must buy a single token, put in a quarter and wait. As long as it is automatically returned within 10 seconds, the device is likely fine. Otherwise, I’d pay at the collector booth. If coins jam while at unstaffed entrances, use paper money to buy multiple tokens from the machine — it’s a better deal than coins anyway.

But the bill acceptors can be temperamental, too. Worn out notes can gum up the works and five dollar bills are not allowed at all.

TTC chair Adam Giambrone says, “We may purchase more token machines because it may actually take five years to do all the work on automatic fare payments.”

The TTC has been criticized for not embracing the provincial “smart card,” Presto. One sticking point during the negotiation process has been an implementation cost of more than $200 million for TTC alone. Giambrone also warns that Presto is already “old technology” and a modern system needs to allow fare payment from bank cards or even cellphones — without requiring a special fare card.

For those anxious to use Presto, the province reports, “The full roll out (across GTA and Hamilton) will begin spring 2010 and continue until winter 2011.” Some subway stations are included, and details can be found at

One of many reasons I like my Metropass subscription is not having to line up at a booth or use the TTC’s automated pass dispensers. To me, they are not very customer friendly, I have found both the graphics and the angle of the screen to be awkward.

Similarly, I suspect new riders have trouble with GO Transit’s current ticket vending machines, particularly the busy screen images and missing prompts (yes, you do have to press OK after your PIN.). Despite these drawbacks, GO reports a transaction is “completed every 30-40 seconds during rush hour.”

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