Sunday, August 28, 2011

YRT's Problems with Presto

After much delay and marketing, on July 18th York Region Transit (YRT) rolled out the Presto Card payment system. There were free Presto Card campaigns where the card issuance fee was waived at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal, Finch Station and Newmarket Terminal.
From travelings on Yonge Street there has not been that many passengers using the card.  Since the roll out, I have only seen one person use their Presto Card to pay a fare.   But, YRT has only rolled out the Presto Card to those that regularly use tickets.  Hopefully once all the kinks are worked out YRT will roll them out to the monthly pass holders to use.   But this will take a while as there are several issues that need to be ironed out.

Yorkregion.com is reporting several customer complaints that YRT seems to be unreasonably attempting to resolve.  The first has the been the distribution of the card.  Kevin Ball says it best about this experience:

"All in all, it has been only a frustrating and disappointing experience,” he said. “I was dumbfounded that any system could be run this poorly.” -Yorkregion.com article.

Kevin had issues finding the card distribution in the first place.  He lives in Newmarket and attended the Newmarket Terminal where he was told he could obtain it.  The card was not there.  He was told the York Region Transit Office in Richmond Hill has the card.  A couple of issues here for Mr. Ball, the Richmond Hill Transit Office is only open between 8:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Now let's ask a very poignant question, what might the average transit user be doing between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 during a regular weekday?  Working full time or attempting to navigate the transit system just like Kevin Ball!  Mr. Ball even tried the local GO Train stations, sure they have the cards but they are only open in the mornings for a couple of hours to sell GO Fares.  In the end Mr. Ball returned his card after having the Presto system reject his card and being unable to refill the card.  To further aggravate the situation, Mr. Ball was unable to get a live operator on the phone when calling Presto itself and e-mailing  about the issues.

Next up is Jo-anne Brown who ordered the Presto card online and had it delivered for her teenage daughter.  Ms. Brown then inquired with York Region Transit as to how to ensure only student fares were deducted as her daughter fits into that fare category.  The rocket scientists at YRT said the only way to do this is to come down to the Richmond Hill YRT Office to have the card set correctly.  And the hours again on that office: 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Ms. Brown was also told the Newmarket Terminal would be able to do this as well.  But, the Newmarket Terminal, like Mr. Ball above found out, did not do this.  She visited the Richmond Hill Transit office during her work hours to get the card activated.  But that was not all to finish activating the student card: "Ms Brown had to tap the card within seven days to complete activation, but was told that, since she didn’t want to actually board a bus, she could have the fare refunded by pushing the cancel button. There was no cancel button, however, and instead she had $2.75 deducted,..." Ms. Brown has since turned the Presto card into an very expensive, yet, decorative coaster for her coffee table.

Two weeks ago on CBC Radio's Metro Morning with Matt Galloway, a freelance reporter reported that he tapped his Presto Card at Finch Station and boarded a northbound VIVA Blue bus. YRT's Transit Enforcement was on the VIVA bus checking fares.  They tapped the reporter's card and the reader said he hadn't paid.  The reporter embarrassingly disembarked the bus with the transit enforcement team and tapped the Presto Machine he used and it showed he paid.  In the meantime, the VIVA Blue bus pulled out without the reporter on the bus for which he duly paid his fare and he was made to look like a fare evading scofflaw when in fact the reporter had fully paid his fare and was entitled to board the bus.  There was no word of an apology from York Region Transit or Presto in this case. The next guest on CBC's Metro Morning was the head of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig, who did not offer an apology but pointed out Presto was a new system and there were technical glitches being worked out across the system.

So with this in mind the Yorkregion.com reporter followed up with the head of York Region Transit, Richard Leary.  Mr. Leary however stayed on YRT's carefully written script just like a seasoned politician in a political campaign in response to the Yorkregion.com reporter's questioning.  Unfortunately the Mr. Leary's published comments in the article only make him seem totally out of touch with what has gone on in YRT's failed attempt at rolling out Presto: 

YRT general manager Rick Leary said the rollout has gone better than expected and the transit service has registered only eight complaints.

Really?  Then why was the Presto roll out delayed from March 2011, as written in a staff report to the Region of York's transportation comittee, to July 2011.  According to my sources at YRT there were significant technical issues that needed to be worked out and that is why there was a delay.  From Mr. Ball's and Ms. Brown's experiences and Mr. McQuaig's own admissions, it appears that there are still technical issues to be worked out.  Thus, Mr. Leary's contention that the "rollout has gone better than expected" is simply not true. 

“It’s been nearly seamless because everyone else has gone first.”

No things have not been "seamless" for York Region Transit.  If the system roll out was "seamless" the Presto program would have been rolled out as promised by Regional Transportation staff of March 2011 instead of July 2011.  "Seamless" also does not mean having distribution network issues requiring people to have to take off work to visit the transit office during work hours.  "Seamless" also does not mean Presto card fare payment issues where users are accused of not paying their fares properly (CBC Reporter) or not being able to use the duly payed for card itself (Mr. Brown).

As for the issues raised by Mr. Brown and Ms Ball, he conceded the distribution network is not fully in place, but said it will change in 2012 as the system expands. Right now, the focus is on education and attracting riders who typically use a cash fare or 10-ticket packages. By the middle of next year, YRT hope to also sell monthly passes via Presto.

"Education and attracting riders"? The only thing the Presto experience so far has shown is YRT can not handle a roll out of a new fare system that is properly tested and easy for the customer to use.  Presto has had technical issues as Bruce McQuaig, the head of Metrolinx pointed out on CBC Radio. So if there were so many technical issues, why was the Presto system not delayed by YRT and a proper explanation in staff report presented to the Region's Transportation committee. This report would have said there had been issues in other jurisdictions that need to be ironed out and, thus, a one year delay would save the Region and it's transit customers time, money and frustration.  But then again, Mr. Leary would not be able to contend that the roll out has been "seamless" and would be forced to admit the failure of Presto.

“What we have is working very well,” Mr. Leary said.   

Really?  After reading and hearing about the issue of Presto, I don't think this statement by Mr. Leary is believable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Decent Wimpy's Diner with a Big Burger with It

Wimpy's Diner on Urbanspoon Friday night my wife and I headed down to Wimpy's Diner (8123 Yonge Street, Markham) for a burger and some greasy breakfast food.  We had been to the Aurora location before and liked the burgers and food.  Now we thought we would try a sister location of this Toronto area chain.  

 We originally came to Wimpy's looking for a new breakfast greasy spoon restaurant.  Last weekend we visited Three Coins in downtown Richmond Hill to find the big breakfast portions had shrunken a little. So we turned to Wimpy's to see if they could fulfill the role of being the tastly local greasy spoon breakfast location.

We entered and immediately noticed this location looked slightly smaller than the Aurora location.  There were only two tables open when we arrived, but while we ate our meal there seemed to be a steady stream coming into the restaurant to replace those that had just vacated. 

There were two harried waitresses on the floor.  One looked experienced while the other seemed a little dazed at times at what to do next.  We were greated by the experienced one and told to choose between the front table and a table further in the back. We selected the front table and reviewed the menus. 

The Order: Wimpy's Famous Burger combo with fries and a Coke. Wimpy's Five Star Combo (breakfast combo).

Unfortunately we could not find the "Wimpy's Big Breakfast" and had to settle for the smaller brakfast combo on the menu.  As an aside, this is a little puzzling as today I review Wimpy's website the big breakfast is still listed there.  So is the breakfast being discontinued or just not offered at the Thornhill location.

The food came within ten minutes of ordering.  My wife's big breakfast came first and sat on our table for about two minutes until my burger was topped and brought to the table.  No big deal really about the small gap between the food plates, I have experienced worse.

The breakfast seemed to dissapear courtesy of my wife. But again the portions just were not there like the big breakfast portions provided previously at the Aurora location.  The breakfast food itself was nothing really special or to write home about. The sausages, which I had one, was a little dry and not really bursting with flavour.  The home fries were decent and well matched with a little ketchup but also stood on their own if need be. 

The burger combo itself was the usual oversized steak like patty that Wimpy's is famous for.  The burger comes with whatever toppings you wish and was, as usual, well cooked and delicious.  The fries were well done as well taste wise.  However, quantity wise it was stretch to have them cover the rest of the plate the burger did not.  

Wimpy's is a decent spot for their burger and fries.  The demise of the big breakfast is a little cocerning though and may lose some of their loyal customers.  Overall this greasy spoon needs to watch that they do not merely become like their competitors by lowering the portion sizes and starting to do away with the large hearty breakfasts.  This is how Wimpy's will retain their customers, by offering their customers old fashioned large portioned heartwarming greasy spoon breakfasts while also grilling up their famous steak like burgers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In the Blogosphere Recently...

Lately, I have been mentioned in the local Aurora blogosphere a couple of times in August.  The topics of Town of Aurora history and politics are where I am being quoted as both a helper and a well reasoned opinionator of local Aurora issues. 

First the interesting historical part.  Growing up in Aurora I have been around many of the long time Aurora residents who know of days gone by, an avid reader of local newspapers and the book Àurora: A History in Pictures (now out of print but can be found at the Aurora Library).   As well, lately I follow several Aurora based blogs including Anna`s Living in Aurora.  One entry that caught my eye was Anna`s recounting of her purchasing the aformentioned Aurora: A History in Pictures only to find an old photograph stuck inside the book.  She wondered about the photo in the book.  Chris Watts' weighed in pointing out that David Heard who regularly attends the Aurora Farmer`s Market may help as he has done quite a bit of historical Aurora research for his gig overseeing A Step in Time  which provides walking tours of historical Aurora as well as pointing out that the man in the photo was possibly a relation to the former Knowles Butcher shop that used to be on Wellington Street in Aurora.

I responded two times.  At first I was thinking of the name "Knowles Crescent" and thought it could be the person the street was named after.  As well, I suggested a few locals who are into history in Aurora who could shed some light on the topic. After clicking the ``submit`` button a thought popped into mind.  I leafed through my copy of Aurora: a History in Pictures and stopped on the photo of old Wells Street School.  There was the man in the photo, J.H. Knowles the principal.  The principal`s face matched the man in the photo perfectly.  I suggested to Anna, in another comment on her blog posting that she contact Bob McRoberts as I remember somehow he was a relation to J.H. Knowles (i.e. a man in the photo) and may be able to shed some light on it. 

In a follow up posting, Anna, thanked myself, Chris Watts and Bob McRoberts for getting the photo returned to it`s rightful place, J.H. Knowles' descendants, Bob McRoberts himself.    I`m glad I could help Anna both experience Aurora history in real life but also help her learn who some of Aurora`s builders were.  As an added bonus, and to drive her crazy a little more about the "Knowles" name in Aurorora, I noted this evening that there are 52 mentions of the Knowles family name in the listings of the Aurora Members of Council on the Town of Aurora history.

Meanwhile, over on Chris Watts' blog I happen to be mentioned two times.  The first was on my blog`s posting on the ongoing debate about some playground equipment at Confederation Park. Chris uses several excerpts from my posting (Note: I`m honoured Chris quoted my posting) to both question the municipalities` communications department and take my side of the issue that the climber needs to stay and parent`s supervising need to shape up and watch their children better. 

Chris Watts` other posting about the arrival of his 2011 edition of the local phone book on his front stoop.  Chris linked to my posting when I attempted to auction off the local edition of Goldbook. Chris ruminates about the usefulness of the printed phone book in the age of the internet before coming to the conclusion that "Phonebooks need to be flushed from our wasteful society once and for all."                       

It has been a very busy couple of weeks in the blogosphere for me lately indeed!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Wobbelling like a Domino at Domino's

Domino's Pizza on UrbanspoonSunday evening my wife and I decided to have a nice pizza and a movie night in.  We thought for a change we would try our local Domino's Pizza (9251 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill). 

We attempted to go online to pick out our pizza and search for deals.  But the Dominos Canada website kept asking us for our local address information and finding our local Domino's Pizza.  The whole idea behind the website was to get to the customer to order online as that was the only way I was lead to seeing the menu.  I can understand choosing the local Domino's location for pricing and product availability issues for the menu, but really must I put in my home address information to even see the menu and/or your specials?   It was a little frustrating and we almost decided to order from another place. But I stuck through it and found a pizza we thought we would try. 

The Order: 1 Medium Deluxe Feast Pizza (toppings: meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms and green pepper).

I placed the order over the phone and was told the pizza would be ready in 15 to 20 minutes.  Fifteen minutes later I walked through the front door for pick-up.  The pizza was just coming out of the oven as the attendent reached for the pizza flipper to put it in the box and cut.  Two minutes later I was paid and out of the store.

I got home five minutes later and we dug in.  The pizza was perfectly sauced and cheesed like any other pizza would be from a chain pizzeria, so no complaints there.  The only real issue were the toppings. The mushrooms and meatballs did not want to be eaten at all as they slid off the pizza slices repeatedly either into the box or onto the floor.  There has to be a better way to keep these type of toppings from sliding off. 

Otherwise the pizza dissappeared pretty quickly as it was finely done and for just over ten dollars a decent price.  Will I go back? Likely but there are other pizzas places out there waiting to be tried, thus Domino's really didn't hook me in as a guarenteed customer.

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