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Seeking feedback about electronic payment in public transit

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image cc Antoine Belaieff

I’ve been invited to participate in a conference organized by the association québécoise du transport et des routes (AQTR), called « La mobilité urbaine à l’heure du paiement électronique ». This non-profit works in collaboration with the Ministère des transports du Québec. The conference is geared towards transportation planners, management, consultants, and designers in the public and private sectors. I’ve been invited to discuss how electronic payment could help improve mobility for transit users…. apparently I’m meant to speak right before the OPUS marketing team. Gulp.

Being just one individual transit user – and seasonal one at that – I’d like to gather some comments from Spacing contributors and readers. Please share any experiences that have marked you, recommendations, examples of best practices, or obstacles with regareds to electronic payment in our public transit system in the comments below. The comments section will be open for the next 3 weeks.

The AQTR’s mandate is province-wide and extends beyond public transit, so think big!



  1. I would love to able to use my NFC-capable phone (in addition to my traditional OPUS card) to pay for my tickets.
    I would also like to manage my OPUS card through an app and that this app automayically find the best solution (monthly pass, 10 tickets …) for me depending on my usage.
    Also an hability to connect this app with social network services like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare… to autonayically share my location with my “friends” would be awesome.

  2. The system is ultra slow! having been to London, where the system is very well designed and always correctly reads your card through a wallet, my opus card only reads properly half the time, and requires me to hold it on the sensor pad for upto 5 seconds, which is way too long when there is a rush of people trying to get through.

    Secondly, now that there is an automated system, there is no longer an excuse for metros to close early since you no longer require people to man the booths at the stations. You simply need to put a couple of security guards to check that people have valid tickets. 

    The third is that the transit system needs to make a proper decision as to whether you are paying per trip or for access to the system for a fixed amount of time. Should they want it to be per trip, then the cost should vary based on distance traveled. They would get considerably more business, since people would feel less scammed they would use it for short trips more often, and long trips are usually unavoidable trips since they are extremely time consuming and would therefore likely be taken regardless.

  3. You’ve seen this?

  4. I’ll say this: OPUS is so poorly-implemented, so janky, half-assed, and slow – that ever since its advent I’ve just bought the multiples-of-six deal in paper tickets. Now that the 2012 fare schedule has abolished that deal, I really won’t be taking transit at all (after my supply of tickets is used up). If the STM can’t even figure out a streamlined way to take my money, why should I give it to them?

    Anyone who travels to any other city sees what a joke the OPUS card is.

  5. I agree with Antoine, the readers need to be faster. It takes about 1 second for it to read the card, which means you either have to stop walking (lest be stabbed in the groin by the turnstile), or put your arm way out in front of you and slightly slow down.

    I know this sounds silly but it’s enough to really slow things down. London’s is a good example of how it should be.

  6. Lots about Opus could be improved. Intercompatibility: Opus should cover all transit throughout the region, regardless of system/operator, and bixi, and hey, why not cabs or carshare (would be ideal for car2go) and parking meters, too. Fare options: Opus offers opportunities that haven’t been seized to implement much more sophisticated distance- or time-based charging, with higher charges for riding longer distances or on high-demand, premium services, and discounts for riding at off-peak times, as is done in Melbourne. There’s also a great opportunity to build in rewards and incentives – tenth trip free, take ten trips and get free admission to the Biodome, or a coffee at Brulerie Saint-Denis, which has an Opus reader at the cash to use as payment, as is done with the Octopus card in Hong Kong. Lots to improve, in other words, in order to make Opus more than just a clumsy replacement for conventional ticketing, and a rival to Visa in the sense that it’s all you need to travel through and live daily life in Montreal…

  7. A problem I’ve experienced is how the system is sometimes intentionally programmed to be inflexible, even though it was implemented to allow more flexibility. Two examples:

    Weekly passes: when we had the old paper cards, it made sense that the weekly 7-day cards started on Monday and ran until Sunday because new cards had to be printed each every week. This just doesn’t make sense with the Opus/l’occasionnelle cards which aren’t restrained by printing schedules. why this isn’t a 7-day card will never make sense to me.

    Airport Opus machine: I know why they’re doing it but it’s such a blatant scam they shouldn’t be getting away with it. When I arrived in Montreal at the beginning of January, I thought I would be able to buy my monthly pass at the airport and hop on the 747 and be on my way. Instead, I’m told that the monthly pass is “not available at this location” and am forced to buy the $8 747/one-day pass and purchase my monthly pass anywhere else. I’m sure I’m not the first person who, after already sitting on a long flight and dealing with all the unpleasantries of flying, was pretty pissed off about this.

  8. Je suis d’accord avec Chris Erb, le titre hebdomadaire ou le titre mensuel n’ont plus besoin d’être associés à des mois, mais peuvent simplement représenter un accès au réseau pour sept ou 30 jours consécutifs. Du 12 janvier au 12 février par exemple. C’est le cas à New York depuis plusieurs années, du moins pour le titre mensuel.
    J’aime bien aussi comment, avec la CharlieCard à Boston, il est possible de payer deux fois de suite avec la même carte. Comme ça, si je voyage avec un ami de l’extérieur de la ville, je peux payer avec ma carte OPUS puis lui donner pour qu’il paie aussi. Deux passages seront alors déduits de ma carte.
    Je me range aussi derrière les partisans du système à Londres, particulièrement pour la facilité de mettre un montant d’argent sur la carte et le système décide de ce qui est le plus avantageux pour l’usager (trois passages, un titre journalier, le nombre de zones, etc.).
    Effectivement, la lecture de la carte est beaucoup trop lente, l’impact est particulièrement important dans les bus dans lesquels il n’y a qu’un seul lecture pour tous les usagers. À Strasbourg, deux lecteurs de carte à puce sont disponibles à l’entrée des bus, permettant d’accélérer l’accès des passagers.
    La carte OPUS pourrait devenir provinciale, partir de chez moi en métro à Montréal, prendre un autocar d’Orléans Express et descendre à Sainte-Foy, puis prendre le Métrobus du RTC, tout ça avec la même carte. Aussi, la carte pourrait être rechargée en ligne. Les possibilités d’une carte à puce sont assez vastes.

  9. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had a way to access receipts at the end of the year directly from an Opus card?… Frustrating at tax time trying to claim transportation only to realise you’ve lost one one your monthly receipts.

  10. Have you seen this piece from the Gazette yesterday?

    It’s insightful, and I can say that I’ve had to deal with the same type of problem described in the article.  Not being able to put 2 types of tickets from the same transport comission definitely is annoying.  I have to carry 2 Opus cards with me.

    I also wish I knew why ALL the Opus booths coudn’t sell the transport tickets for ALL the transport comissions that Opus is affiliated with.  Are they worried people will be too stupid and buy the wrong tickets, or…?

    About the slow readers, the worst part is, it’s not even related to Opus in itself, afaik…  Only the STM readers are painfully slow.  The RTL and CITSO readers are lightning fast.  To the point that, since I’m used to STM readers, I leave my card there a bit too long and it tries to read it twice.  The STM just seems to have picked/chosen the crappier/slower/(cheaper?) readers.  It’s unfortunate.

  11. I have a ton of comments:
    1) The OPUS intercompatibility is atrocious. There is no need to buy separate fares where traveling from Longueuil to Montreal on the same Metro system with the same price structure. It doesn’t make sense. It is also ridiculous that you are forced to buy separate fares for RTL and STL.

    2) To solve #1, the cards could use a value system, where you have a certain amount of money on a card. That way a $3.20 trip on a south shore bus simply deducts from your OPUS card balance, instead of this weird pass system. They do that with Metrocards in NYC among different transit agencies, and I think the Oyster card in London is even more flexible.

    3) Regular use passes should be for 30-days, and 7-days, and should not start at the beginning of each week or month. In the 21st century, it is simply obnoxious for a transit agency to artificially create lines at the beginning of each month of people waiting to buy monthly metro passes. It also severely limits the flexibility of regular use passes for no reason other than to make a little more money for the system.

    4) Sometimes when you buy 6-pass or so, and then later add more passes to it before the original 6 run out, the new passes don’t show up until you’ve run out of the initial purchase. This is confusing, leading customers to think they didn’t get what they paid for. This is very bad for building confidence in the system, especially for new users.

  12. Thank you so much for all the comments. “programmed inflexibility” is a good summary for many of the frustrations raised… and I also apprciate some of the forward thinking stuff like getting a tax report from OPUS, making it compatible with smartphones, etc.

    keep ’em coming – and I’ll make sure to bring them up at the conference!

  13. Si je peux me permettre. Il y a 2 ans j’étais de passage à Barcelone où avec un ami je visitais mon neveu. Mon neveu m’a alors m’expliqué qu’il n’était pas nécessaire d’acheter 2 cartes de titres de transport puisqu’une seule carte suffisait pour nous 2 et même pour plus d’utilisateurs. Ne voulant pas que mon neveu se serve de ses titres de transport nous voyagions donc nous 3 sur une seule et même carte de titres. En effet, avec la carte de titres de transport de la TMB de Barcelone, fonctionnait de façon très intelligente. En accédant à la station de métro, la première personne passait la carte au guichet de perception électronique, la donnait ensuite à la personne suivante qui en faisait autant avec la troisième personne et tout était enregistré conformément en 3 passages. Au moment de prendre le bus, la correspondance se faisait sans problème. La personne qui avait la carte de titres la passait 3 fois de suite et ça enregistrait 3 passages, donc les 3 personnes que nous étions. De retour à Montréal j’avais posé la question à une employée de la STM à savoir pourquoi on ne pouvait pas en faire autant ici avec une carte hebdo ou une carte 3 jours et celle-ci m’avait répondu que le système récemment mis en place à la STM pour remplacer celui qui fonctionnait depuis plus de 100 ans était un système de perception déjà vieux de 25 ans. Et là vous semblez parler de progrès à mettre en place avec la STM?Mais vous blaguez ou quoi? Il y a 2 mois, ayant 2 visiteurs chez-moi, j’aurais bien voulu les mettre sur ma carte Opus et leur faire visiter Montréal mais on ne peut pas faire ça ici. J’ai donc écrit à la STM pour les questionner à ce sujet mais je n’ai jamais eu de réponse. Bonne chance les boys.

  14. I, too, vote for being able to keep a $ amount on your card for unplanned unplanned trips using a different transit agency — so very useful for those times you meet a really cute guy at a bar and in a devil-may-care moment end up in the suburbs and, once the alcohol has worn off, you realize want to get home but have no change, only bills and the closest dépanneur is a 15-minute walk away and then another 10 minutes back to the bus stop and it’s -17 out. Not that I’m speaking from experience mind you… :)

    I also like the fact that while you can’t get back into the métro system or take your bus back on the same single trip ticket, the transfer will work between these two, so many times I’ve taken the bus to go shopping and the métro back or vice-versa. But shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone.

  15. I pretty much agree with what everyone is saying so far. But, let me say something in defense of OPUS. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s actually quite good in comparison to just a few short years ago (paper / magnetic strip tickets). Compare somewhere like Toronto, which barely has a similar system (only in select stations and not on buses). 

    Let’s improve OPUS, but it’s actually a decent thing!

  16. I agree with Luc Forest, Barcelona has an excellent system all around. My friend and I were travelling together and bought a fare but weren’t sure if we could both use it or not. On the machine that gives tickets, there’s a speaker that lets you call someone at customer service (!!!) and my (spanish-speaking) friend asked if it was ok for us to both use the ticket. She seemed confused, “of course you can!” she replied a weird mix of Catalan and Spanish. We both used the same card and it worked the same way on the bus. Both of us being accustomed to the Montreal system, our minds were blown!

    Bilbao has a good system too where you buy a paper card for however much you want (max 10€ I think). You pass it as you go in and out and it prints how much money you have left on the back of the card (not understanding Basque or Spanish, I never really understood how many fares I had left so I always just hoped that I would be allowed through the turnstiles as I got to them).

    As an aside, both of these transit systems are absolutely fantastic and a lot could be learned from them (the screens in the Barcelona Metro count down the seconds to the next train!).

  17. I find the OPUS has worked fine for me on the STM. There are some minor issues with travel to Longueil and Laval which others have mentioned but overall I am very happy with the experience: it’s certainly much less hassle than the old system of paper tickets and transfers. The real problem, as others have mentioned, is with OPUS and the AMT.

    So one day, I wanted to make a simple trip from Vendome->the West Island. I looked up the trip on their web site, and saw there was a train departing at noon. I’d heard that the system could be a little tricky, so I gave myself fifteen extra minutes to figure things out at the station. I just wanted to take a single trip to the West Island — how complicated could it be?

    There were all sorts of signs in the station about what kind of “zone fare” I needed to get to make this trip. When I finally thought I had figured it out, I put in my card only to find that the fares offered didn’t have anything to say at all about zones (all they offered were confusingly named fares like AMT TRAC 1 E). The AMT booth in the station was closed, so I went over to the STM booth to ask which fare I should take. One would think this would be a simple question, but the woman there had no idea, just writing down the customer-support number of the AMT for me to call. Gee, thanks. I eventually gave up and just bought a $5 fare which seemed to be approximately the right amount approximately one minute before the train arrived.

    IMO, this isn’t really an Opus card issue so much as a “WTF AMT” issue. They really need to sort out their customer experience and integration with the STM. The service itself is wonderful but is totally let down by hassles like these.

  18. I think the OPUS card is a good beginning.  Much better than carrying around little paper tickets that get stuck together and lost.

    However it could be much better:

    1) Take into consideration the multiple different fares a person could have on their card and actually allow people to have them.  If you’re sticking to one transit system, or putting a TRAM card and that’s it, you’re fine.  If you start putting on multiple different fares (ie an STM monthly pass, a few STM tickets just in case, some RTL tickets, some Laval/Longueuil metro tickets), the system is going to get cranky.  I once had to go to a service center only to be refunded some of my tickets because they were “incompatible” and for some reason wouldn’t let me add that current month’s monthly pass (even though I had been able to add last month’s pass fine).  The woman serving me told me I should perhaps considering using more than one OPUS card.  My reaction: “but I thought this was supposed to make my life easier?”.

    2) Allow refills to the cards online.  Why do I need to get myself to a dep or a metro to put tickets on my card?  Even Tim Horton’s lets you refill their cards online, why not transit fares?  It would also be useful in those cases when fares are only available from a metro (ie daypasses).  Why should I need to pay a ticket or cash fare to get to the metro to have a daypass put on?

    3) Move towards proof of payment at rush hour and on heavily travelled routes. The 80/435 loading up at PdA is a nightmare as each person slowly swipes their card on the reader.  Stick a reader at each entrance and let people get on any door.

  19. 1) “I would also like to manage my OPUS card through an app and that this app automayically find the best solution (monthly pass, 10 tickets …) for me depending on my usage.”
    Using an app for this is bad. the better approach is if the ticket simply finds the best combination itself. For example you could charge the ticket with money, and if you use it once, it would charge the single ride fare. If you use it multiple times a day, it tops out at the daily max; if you use it many times a week, it tops out at the weekly max; if you use it many times a month it tops out at the monthly rate. This might get complicated with different zones, but still doable.

    2) Zone extension tickets: If I have a monthly pass (tram0), I don’t see why I have to pay full fare to go to tram3 areas. I want to pay just the difference: For example if the monthly tram-3 fare is twice the stm-fare, I would like to pay half of the tram-3 single pass if I go out of zone – maybe even less. This would encourage more ridership for Montrealers outside of the stm-zone, and would provide more mobility.

    3) I agree with using POP on busy routes. The easiest would be to designate the 10-minute bus network as POP all the way; and create a new brand of bus that makes these differences obvious: i.e. paint the buses a different color, do POP, allow all-door boarding, maybe build a couple of high-level curbs for level boarding, etc.

    These three points may be incompatible, and may require some thought to integrate (for example one could do POP via tap-in at the bus stops).

    4) The airport machines not giving out passes is bad. I had the same situation as ERB, coming back in early January. I was lucky though, because the guy at the booth who sells day passes/exchanges money also can refill your opus card with monthly passes (although he didn’t offer the 4-month pass that I use).

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