Calgary gives up on Connect card, wants $5M back

The city has scrapped a plan to offer electronic fares for public transit rider and wants to recoup $5 million spent on the project.

Calgary Transit promised riders smart cards to pay fares electronically

Riders testing the system were supposed to be able to tap a card against a reader to pay fares. (CBC)

The city wants $5 million back after scrapping a plan to offer electronic fares for public transit riders.

The Connect card has been under development for several years now and has been plagued with problems.

Transit director Doug Morgan says they don't know why Schneider Electric can design and operate similar systems in other cities, but can't get its technology to work in Calgary.

"That's the million dollar question," he said."We don't understand. Certainly when we re-engaged them, they were certain they could deliver."

The saga began in 2010 when a Spanish company called Telvent, now owned by Schneider Electric, was chosen to develop the system through a bidding process.

The plan was to give Calgarians the convenience of a tap-and-go fare card that transit users enjoy in many other cities.

Software problems

Calgary had hundreds of people testing the card back in 2012, but there were software problems. Later that year, the city cancelled the contract and card readers were removed from every bus and C-Train platform.

But staff were convinced the company had fixed the problems and decided to give it another go in 2013, rather than spend more money by going with somebody else.

The Connect card readers were re-installed and testing resumed last September with plans for the card to go into service by the end of the year. It didn't happen.

City council was briefed on the situation Monday in a closed-door session. The decision to scrap the project was announced Tuesday.

"Calgary Transit will continue to research and monitor advances in fare payment technology to determine the best options for moving forward," said city officials in a news release Tuesday.

"To date, $5 million has been paid to Schneider Electric. Calgary Transit will attempt to recover the money through all legal means necessary."

'Absolutely baffling'

Mayor Naheed Nenshi doesn't have an answer as to why the card won't work in Calgary.

"For some reason they can't just take these systems that are already in place and just use them in other cities," he said. "It may be that transit authorities are asking for extra features, or there's things that just don't work. But it's absolutely baffling to me." 

Nenshi says he is recommending that Calgary Transit hold off on pursuing electronic fare technology for the time being, pointing to the rapid changes in the mobile payment sector.

"Let's see how Google Wallet and Apple Pay work out, and then we may come back at this a few years from now," he said.

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