“We transport millions of people…soon we will get to know who they are,” said Michel Labrecque, president of the STM’S governing board, during his opening remarks for AQTR’s conference on Urban mobility in the age of electronic payment this morning.
He’s the kind of guy I wouldn’t mind getting to know. He’s been president of Vélo Québec and the Commité régional de l’environnement, a Plateau city councillor, and a CBC journalist. With his black, long-sleeved t-shirt and wire-rimmed glasses he is overtly going for the Steve Jobbs look.
I was invited to represent transit users’ perceptions of electronic payment systems like OPUS. After consulting with Spacing Montreal readers (thanks to those who commented!) and was able to bring not one, but 18 users’ perspectives to the conference. In a nutshell, I told the audience of transit planners, managers and engineers, we intuitively sense that the recent switch to electronic payments should have created new flexibility in how we purchase transit fares, but the OPUS experience has fallen short. Why not allow us weekly or monthly passes to start any day of the week? Or let multiple people to travel on one card? And while the OPUS card can be used in different transit systems (STM, STL, RTL, AMT), riders still need to run around to different terminals to purchase each fare (this post by Blork sums up the extreme absurdity of the situation for some transit riders). And at a time when Tim Horton’s cards can be recharged online – as one reader pointed out – we suspect that the potential exists for OPUS.
Some commentators insisted that all fares should be available at all terminals while others suggested that we should be able to mange fares online or simply charge the card with a dollar amount and let the terminals subtract fares depending on where we travel. Better yet, the system could be programmed to automatically calculate the best rate depending on the trips taken. As Ant6n commented:
“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…”
I was thrilled when Labrecque scooped me on almost all these points. He described “OPUS2”, the metro card of the future, which would offer sliding pricing depending on the frequency of use, time of day, and distance travelled, special events etc. The next edition of the OPUS will also rechargeable on the fly by Internet or smart-phone. OPUS2 could also be the key to an transportation cocktail, unlocking Bixis and opening doors to Communauto and rental cars. However, if the future OPUS includes an online tax receipt, that just might be thanks to a comment from Spacing reader James – that idea seemed to surprise even M Labrecque…
“We need to start seeing ourselves as a tech industry, not just a transportation industry,” said Lynne Gagnon, head of AMT marketing. Other presentations took electronic payments even further – for instance loading transit fares onto a bank card at the ATM or onto a USB key at home; or an app that accompanies riders throughout their trip (“next bus is in 6 minutes, and currently has available seating. In the meantime, transit card holders can benefit from a 10% discount at Starbucks…”)
So when do we get the all-powerful OPUS2? Um, some time after 2015, Labrecque says. He seems to have become somewhat skeptical about deadlines in his line of work. Which is not, might I add, a good sign for a burgeoning tech industry…
Online payment, at least, appears to be in the works, although hopefully will not require a bulky adaptor like the one pictured here.