Everything you need to know about PRESTO cards
By Aneesh Chatterjee
Posted on July 26, 2021
While having your own car can be expensive, public transit is very cheap, reliable and extensive, letting you travel great distances at a fraction of the cost. A PRESTO card is the easiest way to use public transit in the Toronto area, spanning buses, underground subways and train networks. Set up your own PRESTO card, and you’ll have easy access to many different transit networks.
Setting up a PRESTO account
PRESTO has an online portal where you can set up an account and pay for public transit fares online (or in person). Once you follow the prompts, complete your profile, and link your bank account, you can order a card for $6. You’ll be sent a PRESTO card in the mail after signing up, which can work on many different transit systems all over the GTA. You can start your PRESTO account setup here.
You can also buy PRESTO cards and load money on your card at customer service outlets throughout the GTA. The primary place to buy PRESTO cards is Shoppers Drug Mart, a chain store found across Canada. Here, you can easily buy a PRESTO card or load money without having to use the online portal. These are all the Shoppers Drug Mart locations in every transit region where you can purchase and load your card.
You can also buy and load cards at fare vending machines and self-serve reload machines. PRESTO card fares are a bit cheaper, and more convenient than paying for rides with cash. For example, a single fare for a Toronto bus or subway will cost you $3.25 in cash, and $3.20 with a PRESTO card.
A PRESTO card will work in the following cities and regions:
- Durham Region Transit (DRT)
- GO transit
- Hamilton Street Railway (HSR)
- Miway transit
- Ottawa-Carlton transit (OC Transpo)
- Toronto Transit Commission (or the TTC, including a bus and subway system across Toronto)
- UP Express (a railway connecting Union Station in Toronto to Pearson Airport directly)
- York Region Transit (YRT)
The benefits of a PRESTO card
With your card, you can load money on it from your online account directly. You can either load it manually–let’s say, $30 every week–or you can set up auto renew, which will automatically take out an amount of your choice and put it into your card whenever your card’s balance gets too low.
You also can decide how low that is, so you can make sure your card never gets so low that you can’t pay for a ride. For example, let’s say you set up auto renew to put $30 in your account every time it gets too low. If the minimum fare for a subway ride is $4, you can set your auto renew minimum at $5, so when the balance reaches $5, it will automatically add $30 to your card. If you’re not comfortable with automatic payments, you can choose to manually fill money in your card whenever you want.
Having a PRESTO card in hand gives you access to vast public transit networks, and makes your commute much easier. The initial setup process takes a little time, but it’s an investment to save you the hassle of carrying cash to pay for rides, or carrying bus tickets or transfers.
It’s important to understand how transfers work. When you tap your PRESTO card onto a terminal in a bus, subway or train, you are paying for two hours of service. This means that, if you get off that particular vehicle and board another public transit vehicle within two hours of your first tap, you won’t be charged again. This two-hour window is called a transfer. Keeping this in mind can greatly benefit how you plan to use transit networks. Remember that even if you’re riding within your two-hour window, you still have to tap your PRESTO card when you board a new transit vehicle. You will only be charged for a single ride within every two-hour window.
Tapping on GO networks
If you use your PRESTO card on the GO transit (which includes green and white GO buses and trains) you’ll need to know about tapping on and off. When you board a GO transit vehicle, tap your card once; this tells the machine you’re getting on, and begins charging your card. When you arrive at your destination, you must tap again. This is tapping off; it tells the machine you’re done using the transit vehicle, and you’re getting off. Now, your card will be charged the cost of traveling whatever distance you did, because it knows where you got on, and where you got off.
If you don’t tap off, the machine will assume you traveled the entire length of the transit route, which can become very expensive. Always remember to tap off when you’re done traveling on GO transit.
Setting up an easy way to access public transit, without having to worry about buying tickets and holding on to transfer slips, is one of the best decisions you can make. With PRESTO, Ontario’s extensive group of public transit networks are at your fingertips.