Smart transit cards come to Montreal, Quebec

Smart cards with rechargeable microchips are being introduced to Montreal and Quebec city's public transit systems, officials announced Monday.

BY CORINNE SMITH — Smart cards with rechargeable microchips are being introduced to Montreal and Quebec city's public transit systems, officials announced Monday.

The "Opus" cards, ubiquitous already in some American and European cities, will cut down on fare fraud and reduce lineups at metro station counters, the Montreal Transit Commission (MTC) said at a news conference.

Regular public transit users will have to buy a $3.50 Opus card to which they can add fare values equivalent to a strip of six tickets, a weekly or monthly pass in any of the networks adopting the new system, said MTC spokeswoman Odile Paradis.

Riders will be able to charge up their cards at either an automatic recharging machine to be installed in metro and bus stations, or at vendors. They will be scanned on the bus or at the metro station and fares will be deducted.

The card holder will be able to register the card in order to have their balance refunded in case of loss or theft.

The cards will eventually be available at some 700 points of sale across Quebec, including 500 locations in the Montreal region.

Automatic recharging machines will be installed in all metro stations as well.

Transit corporations target fraud with cards

The cards will help the MTC clamp down on ticket fraud, which adds up to $20 million a year, or five per cent of its annual revenues, which is a "huge amount of money," said corporation president Claude Trudel.

The cards offer "good means against the fraud," he said.

Bus drivers hope the MTC will offer additional resources to ease the transition to smart cards, said Tom Moutheros, a spokesman with the island's bus drivers' union.

Every driver has a story about public transit users trying to ride the bus for free with a six-month old transfer that's been ironed out several times.   

When the new system is introduced, those scammers may get upset if they are refused passage, at the risk of drivers' safety, he said.

"I don't know if this is going to solve anything, but they have to give us support, they have to give us the tools," such as increased surveillance in metro stations, and adjustable Plexiglas cages for bus drivers," Moutheros said.

Short-term use cards also part of new system

The passes will be rolled out borough by borough, starting in East Montreal, and in Sorel-Varennes, starting April 28.

A magnetized paper card that can be charged up with up to six fares will also be sold along with the Opus card, for infrequent users, said MTC spokeswoman Odile Paradis.

Students and seniors who require photo identification to qualify for reduced fares will have cards with their pictures on the back.

The new Opus card system will cost $217 million to implement. 

MTC monthly passes will be phased out at the end of 2009, to allow people time to adjust to the new system, Paradis said.

The Outaouais Transit Corporation introduced similar cards in its system in 1998, but that system isn't compatible with the Opus cards, Paradis said.  

Similar systems are used in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris and London.

The new smart cards will work in the following public transit networks:

  • Montreal Transit Corporation (MTC).
  • Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT).
  • Quebec City Transit Corporation (Réseau de transport de la Capitale, or RTC).
  • Laval Transit Corporation (STL).
  • Longueuil Public Transit Network (Réseau de transport de Longueuil, or RTL).
  • Various suburbans transit networks in the greater Montreal region, including Repentigny, Terrebonne, Brossard.