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Internal TTC briefing slams Presto’s ‘continued performance below targets’




The Presto system continues to experience unacceptably high failure rates, can’t perform some transactions that it’s supposed to, and its fare card readers actually became less reliable this summer, according to an internal TTC briefing note.

The Oct. 15 document, which has not been made public but which was obtained by the Star, was prepared for the TTC board by the agency’s chief customer officer Kirsten Watson and raises significant concerns with what it describes as the fare card system’s “continued performance below targets.”

It asserts that “sporadic outages are all too frequent” and Presto machines are performing at levels that are “not sustainable over the long term given the impact on customers, revenue, and reputation.”

There are several types of Presto machines deployed throughout Toronto’s transit network. Under the terms of the agreement between the TTC and Metrolinx, the provincial agency is to ensure the devices have reliability rates of 99.9 per cent.

According to the briefing note, the reliability of 5,000 fare card readers, which are installed on TTC buses and streetcars and allow customers to pay their fare with a tap of a Presto card, had been improving earlier this year. But between June and August it declined, and over the past five months 2 to 3 per cent of readers have typically not been in service.

The reliability of other types of machines is far worse. Of the 180 Presto fare vending devices installed at subway station entrances, 10 per cent have not been fully functional at any given time, meaning some customers were unable to complete transactions such as purchasing a new card or loading funds.

The approximately 215 fares and transfer machines deployed on the TTC’s new streetcars and at some streetcar stops had average reliability rates of just 80 per cent in August. Metrolinx has enlisted a second supplier after the original devices, made by a German company called Scheidt & Bachmann, “performed very poorly,” according to the briefing note.

The availability of 200 self-serve reload machines, which allow customers to put money on their cards, has averaged about 95 per cent, which the report called “concerning” and “not sustainable over the long term.”

The report says that Metrolinx believes it can fix three quarters of the Presto defects by mid-2019, but solutions for the remaining problems are “under assessment.”

Presto was designed to enable complex fare transactions, but the briefing note says the system has proved unable to support the payment of the double fares the TTC charges for express downtown buses and bus trips that cross the city border into Mississauga and York Region.

The method Metrolinx devised to charge double fares had a “significant error rate” of about 8 per cent. Presto payments for downtown express buses and cross border trips was supposed to be enabled by this month, but have now been put off indefinitely.

The document asserts the TTC “is experiencing a significant amount of lost revenue as a result of the Presto reliability issues.”

As an example, it cites a “significant streetcar outage” that occurred between Sept. 26 and 28 and cost the transit agency an estimated $8,900 in lost fares.

“While the amount in isolation is small, we are alarmed by the root cause,” the report states, ascribing the problem to “an inadvertent and unauthorized software upload” that “is solely the responsibility of Metrolinx and its equipment and software provider.”

“Regardless, it is the TTC customer that is impacted as the customer is unable to pay and the TTC is impacted with respect to lost revenue and overall reputation on our ability to collect fares.”

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of transit advocacy group TTCriders, said the briefing note is evidence the TTC needs to delay phasing out older forms of payment until it’s certain the problems are resolved.

“I think it confirms what transit riders already know, that Presto is highly unreliable. And I think until it’s working and it’s reliable we have to keep tokens and the Metropass in play,” Pizey-Allen said.

She said until Presto is working properly, passengers are at risk for being hit with “really expensive fines” for fare evasion at no fault of their own.

The TTC plans to discontinue Metropasses in January, and to stop accepting older fare options such as tokens and tickets at the end of 2019.

Presto is owned by Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for transportation planning in the GTA. It has cost the province $1 billion so far to implement the system on 11 transit agencies across Ontario, with $200 million in additional spending expected over the next three years. Of the money spent so far, $478 million went to installing Presto on the TTC.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Conservative Transportation Minister John Yakabuski blamed the problems on the previous Liberal government, which she said “mismanaged the Presto file and Metrolinx.”

“They threw money at problems and expected the people of Ontario to pay for their mistakes. We are cleaning up their mess. We are working with the Metrolinx senior leadership team on a path forward — to maintain and improve the Presto system, and to ensure that it achieves the best value for customers,” wrote Justine Lewkowicz.

The TTC has billed Metrolinx for $4.2 million in lost revenue for a two-year period ending in December 2017, but the provincial organization has disputed the TTC’s claims. According to the briefing note, the two sides have agreed to take the disagreement to a mediator for resolution.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said the agency doesn’t yet have an updated estimate for lost revenue in 2018.

Despite the strong language in the document, Ross downplayed the agency’s concerns about Presto, saying Metrolinx is “is working hard to address them.”

“It is important to note that while the TTC is flagging issues for its board here, the Presto system, overall, works flawlessly for the vast majority of its users,” he said.

In a written statement, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster didn’t dispute the content of the note, but maintained that Presto customers “are getting excellent service and we are always improving. The continuous improvement is evident.”

Verster said the most recent figures, which weren’t captured in the briefing note, put the reliability of fare card readers at 98.8 per cent.

Aside from addressing problems with Presto, the briefing also reveals the TTC is planning to distribute 500,000 free Presto cards to students, Metropass Discount Plan and VIP members, and recipients of the low-income Fair Pass discount.

The agency is buying the cards from Metrolinx at a reduced rate for a total cost of roughly $2 million, and plans to start distributing them by the end of this year.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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