Billets à la carte, aux billets

The STM has discovered problems in the rollout of their new magnetic cards and have quietly pulled them out of service. The main problem, as anyone who has seen them in action can attest to, is the time it takes for the magnetic cards to be sucked into the machines, checked, stamped and ejected (though STM employees say there are other problems too).

This is especially problematic on buses, where it can take five seconds to go through the whole process. Multiply that by a dozen tourists (who are unfamiliar with the system) boarding, and you could be spending unnecessary minutes at a stop.

Aside from the time factor, the cards are also not intuitive. Having to take the card back is a dramatic enough departure from the current system that it serves to confuse people and slow the process down further. Plus there’s the issue of their disposal. Many find their way onto the floors of buses and metro stations since they’re only good for one or six uses.

So I guess it should be unsurprising when I went to get my bus pass this month that the young lady in front of me refused to get the new smart card with her monthly pass (the smart card, which is contact-less, is not affected by these problems) saying that not all the buses are properly equipped to handle them.

My refusal to get the smart card and instead opt for the magnetic monthly pass was for the simple reason that it cost less. The smart card required a $3.50 one-time fee in addition to the cost of the pass. When the STM starts incorporating the cost of the card into the cost of the pass, then I’ll consider buying it.

12 thoughts on “Billets à la carte, aux billets

  1. jpjoyal

    The whole point here is “La carte a puce k’osé que ça donne” to paraphrase Yvon deschamps. Really what all those new cards are bringing to the user ? I don’t see much to balance the down sides it brings. You’ll see at lot less point of service selling transport title since they will need a machine to recharge those new monthly card.

    Really I don’t understand all the “investment” that STM has done lately. There’re just not for the user.

    * New booths for the charging guy at the metro entrance : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper

    * New money collector in the buses. It doesn’t even take more money type than before : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper

    * More service outside of rush-hour. The most critical need for more service is during the rush hour. I’ve never got packed in transport but during rush hour every day : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper

    * New card type. It cost more. It adds nothing (to montrealer at least) but more risk to have to pay more in the case of losing the card. I want more service, faster and cheaper.

    I really don’t get what interest they are fulfilling with these initiative. But it’s certainly not the user interest.

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  2. Annie B

    Like SekhmetDeisgn, I got one late May when an employee was exchanging the May magnetic cards for the smart cards. I love it, as it allows me to pass right through when there are so many people in the morning as there are only a few machines that accept them. My boyfriend was jealous so he gave me his June pass when he stopped needing it in the hope that I could exchange his too, to no avail. The only thing is, when I recharge the card with my credit card, it’s confusing because the drawing of the credit card that is supposed to show the way to insert the card is incorrect, I think. At least it was incorrect in the machine I tried. I had to try four times before it accepted my card.

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  3. Karine

    About the cost of the cards: In London, I payed 2 GBP for an Oyster card that I only used for the week I was there so I don’t get the whole not paying for the Opus card here.

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  4. Karine

    Addendum: I prefer the pay up front method. If you incorporate the cost of the cards into the cost ot the pass, people will assume they’re free when they’re not.

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  5. Denis Canuel

    It’s so sad that it’s almost funny but I feel like this system, which is not even used globally, is doomed for failure.
    I wonder if the people at STM even visited (and tried) other systems around the world? When I was in japan, 10 years ago, you could stick the ticket in the machine anyway you wanted (well not sideways) but it didn’t really matter which way the magnetic stripe was facing – it would take it. The time needed to spit back the ticket on the other side was less than half of 1 second. Pretty impressive even for a geek like myself.

    We’re talking pre-1998 technology. Now they use cell phones and 2D barcodes.

    Why are we paying for a system that already needs to be phased out? Also, I laugh every time I see that “tested by our employees” sign. The very first public testers will be students which are very tech savvy and early adopters. Have it tested by elder and non-tech savvy people, not unionized employees or kids…!

    Having vending machines is a great thing though. But (as I love to complain) how come they’re not multilingual? Why only English and French? Don’t we have tourists in Montreal? Don’t we want them to feel welcomed? It’s a computer – why can’t we have the top 20 languages around the world?

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  6. Fagstein Post author

    The point of adding service outside of rush hour is that they can’t add service during rush hour. They operate at capacity during rush hour. So while they wait for new buses and metro cars to arrive, they’re extending rush hour, hoping that demand will spread out a bit. If it does, that’ll reduce demand slightly during peak times.

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  7. Saraline

    I like getting my tickets stamped and given back to me. I have a special file folder for them so I can keep them and claim them on my taxes. I live within walking distance of work so it’s not worth it for me to buy a monthly pass but I still use the transit system if I go downtown or to the mall. With the old tickets, the machines just keep them and then I have nothing to prove that I’ve used public transit at all. People never like change at first and they’re always confused at first, but they get used to it.

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  8. Tim

    To tackle jpjoyal’s points:

    * New booths for the charging guy at the metro entrance : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper
    Things go a lot faster (and cheaper) when the people manning the booths aren’t on strike. The old booths were hot and cramped, making for unpleasant working conditions. Happy employees make for better service.

    * New money collector in the buses. It doesn’t even take more money type than before : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper
    The new money collectors count the money going in, making sure that exact change (or more) is being deposited. Before, the bus drivers had to eye-ball it and guestimate whether you put in enough. Making sure everyone pays the right amount means increased revenue, means giving the STM the ability to improve service, reduce prices, or both.

    * More service outside of rush-hour. The most critical need for more service is during the rush hour. I’ve never got packed in transport but during rush hour every day : I don’t give a shit I want more service, faster and cheaper
    Steve already touched this one, but I will add another dynamic. Not everyone works rush hour, and for many people off-hour service is lamentable. (e.g. where I work, after-hours the bus comes every 30 minutes; you better hope it doesn’t pass early!) Without getting into the egotistical diatribe (maybe these people don’t give a shit about you, and want more service, faster for them!) the more people participate in public transit, the more momentum there is for government to make the necessary investments.

    * New card type. It cost more. It adds nothing (to montrealer at least) but more risk to have to pay more in the case of losing the card. I want more service, faster and cheaper.
    The smart cards will make things significantly faster. The magnetic cards will take some getting used to, but I’m sure that in time it will work well, with possible problems being when there is a large influx of out-of-towners entering the metro all at once (e.g. tennis cup, F1, Jazz fest).
    And imagine how much money you’ll save if you lose your smart card! Yeah, you’ll have to pay the $3 replacement, but from what I understand they’ll be able to reload it with your month’s worth of access!

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  9. jpjoyal

    Thanks Tim for the tackling my points, it gives a good perceptive. But still :

    * I think we could go without charging guys like it’s mostly done in Europe and the like. Just having charging entrance like we see in one of the entrance of Laurier station does the job. Imagine the saving : around 50k per charging guy plus all the both cost.

    At least with the new card, the user is also getting automatic card selling machine. But that could’ve been done with the old one still.

    * Great point about the money collector. but but but… At least the money collector could’ve easy solve two user problem at the same time: returning change & taking “paper-money” and plastic money (cards). Here the value is really more for the STM. Yes it could turn into user value but there’s no guarantee here

    * Totally a good point about STM adding more service outside rush hour.

    * About the new smart card. I really don’t understand how these make things faster. For me, sliding my monthly magnetic card can’t be slower than passing the smart cart through the reader. But again I haven’t tried the new smartcard.
    And I understand that the new system could reload a month’s worth of access in the case of lost and that would be really great value for the user. But I still have doubt about that. How will the user prove that he has already paid?

    Any take about how smart card make things faster?

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  10. Denis Canuel

    @jpjoyal

    If it’s a contactless card then you won’t need to take it out of your wallet. It won’t make the turnstile go faster or anything :) but it might save some time as you often have someone blocking a whole line while looking for his/her card.

    If they really wanted to speed up the process, they should’ve implemented a system like fastpass toll booth. In this case, the gate is always open and would only close if you don’t wave your card while going through.

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  11. Tim

    @jpjoyal: Denis said what I was going to say was how the smart card will be faster. However, I still expect to be stuck behind the occasional babushka whose smart card will be burried too deep in her twenty-pound handbag to be registered by the RF sensors.

    We use these contactless RF cards at work for access to the building, and I keep it in my card. I know little of the technology, but I’ll be curious to see if it doesn’t interfere with the opus card and vice versa.

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