11 problems with STM’s new magnetic fare card

Nameless new STM fare/transfer card

Nameless new STM fare/transfer card

This spring, after outfitting all buses and metro stations with new equipment, the STM introduced a new, smarter fare system which uses smart cards instead of magnetic-strip passes, and cards with magnetic strips instead of … tickets with magnetic strips. Both not only serve as fare payment, but also as transfers.

Though Opus, the smart card, is the sexier and more revolutionary of the new fare cards, the STM started with this flimsy paper thing that has caused nothing but confusion and problems (even its website is down)

Below is a list of the problems I’ve noticed with the non-Opus paper card, even though I’ve never actually used one:

  1. It doesn’t have a name. Unlike the Opus smart card, which has a whole branding effort behind it, this paper magnetic card has neither a proper branding name nor any simple two-word description. The result is that people can’t describe it in a way that obviously differentiates it from the Opus card.
  2. The card was announced in the same breath as the Opus card, further leading to confusion.
  3. The card is neither reusable nor recyclable. The result is that they fill trashcans and litter streets.
  4. The card also acts as a proof-of-payment system, which means it must be carried until the end of the trip. This is a departure from the current fare payment system which has not adequately been explained. Since proof of payment isn’t enforced in the system (because some people still use old tickets and old metro transfers), it leads to even more confusion.
  5. The card replaces both single fares and strips of six tickets. This has led to a problem where users insert the card into a turnstile and then don’t retrieve it, losing the other five tickets. That has resulted in a change of policy, and they now issue six cards with one fare each, instead of one card with six fares. This leads to more waste.
  6. Metro turnstiles don’t open until the user retrieves the card. Many users have no reason to retrieve the cards because they’ve already paid their fare.
  7. While the Opus card arguably makes fare payment faster, this card makes it take longer. The machines on buses take five seconds to process a card or eject a new one, from the time payment is accepted and the green light appears. Five seconds may not seem like much, but multiply that by a dozen people getting on, and the bus is already a minute late. A bus that gets a lot of tourists or occasional riders is going to experience significant delays.
  8. Bus fare boxes issue cards for every fare paid. But because they’re treated as optional transfers, users who aren’t planning to transfer move to the back of the bus before the card is issued. Drivers have to manually collect the cards, which they then give out when other users pay using tickets. When the number of people paying cash and not wanting a transfer outweighs the number paying tickets and wanting one, a surplus emerges which the driver has to dispose of.
  9. When inserted into a fare box, no feedback is given other than a green light (fare accepted) or red light (fare rejected). Because the cards act as both fare payment and transfer, there’s no way to tell until after the fact whether the fare box has accepted a transfer or deducted another fare. (This is a larger problem with the Opus card, which has no human-readable indication of how many fares remain on it.)
  10. Because the card is designed for disposability, it isn’t very tough. As a result it gets folded and wrinkled and then becomes unreadable, causing further delays.
  11. The cards are not accepted on minibuses or collective taxis.

Have you noticed any problems with the card apart from these? Comment below and I’ll add them to the list.

38 thoughts on “11 problems with STM’s new magnetic fare card

  1. Michael J.

    “6. Metro turnstiles don’t open until the user retrieves the card. Many users have no reason to retrieve the cards because they’ve already paid their fare.”

    In addendum to this, if you try to push through the turnstile before you retrieve the card (but after inserting it) it won’t work at all. Then you have to waste more time by going to the booth to get them to let you through.

  2. Tim

    A lot of these issues I would attribute to poor communication, and a good part of the poor communication has to do with its simultaneous release with its favorite brother, Opus.

    Points 5 and 6 confuse me. If you can’t get through the turnstile without retrieving the card, how can you forget to retrieve the card? Obviously there is a problem, because the STM proceded to remove the six-trip card; so what am I missing?

    Recyclability and reading time are legitimate issues.

    I haven’t tried it with my newly acquired Opus yet, but I assumed that these cards can be read by the automated machines to give you a status of what is left on them.

    Meanwhile it looks like the STM has started some new campaign, currently now just cryptic sentences fragments. Maybe not the best use of money given all the other communication issues at the moment.

  3. Joel

    I saw a woman struggling with the disposable card. She put it through and got a green light, but the turnstile didn’t open. (I think she had already pushed it past the neutral prior to slipping the card through.) So she slipped the card through again, (without relaxing the turnstile) and it chomped another fair, but still didn’t open. At this point, my train is pulling in and leaving, and I’m stuck behind her.

    There are NOT ENOUGH of the new systems. For example, at the west end of McGill there is still just one gate with the new scanner. During rush traffic at the busiest metro station, this is not enough. I find the lineup of waiting early adoptors ironic next to the 6 vacant “old system” turnstiles.

  4. Al

    Sometimes the turnstile at a metro accepts the card put then doesnt unlock the turnstile. When you try to pas it through again it has been invalidated. It has happened to me twice and I’ve seen it happen a few times.

  5. Vincent Stephen-Ong

    Thank you! I’ve been thinking, for years now, to start an “STM sucks” website, detailing the many concrete problems with the system. This post only solidifies, in my thinking, the validity of such a website, and that, hey, it’s not only me who has legitimate concerns about it.

    Your list is quite exhaustive but other things I remember finding annoying about it (I’ve been biking this summer and have only used the system once since the new system has been put in place):
    – the new card is at least twice as large as the bus transfers, which leads to greater waste.
    – I believe (could be wrong here) that the time printed on the card is the time the transfer was printed, not the time it expires, so one who holds a transfer has no idea whether it is still valid, unless they know the expiry interval time for a transfer.

    The amount of processing time for the new transfers is really a particularly egregious and inexcusable flaw in the system.

  6. Shawn

    Outstanding summary. I haven’t transitioned from the old plastic monthly pass yet, so a lot of this is news to me.

    I had no idea the read-out out fails to inform the user what has been charged to the card or how many rides remain. This is basic info, and a central feature of New York’s simpler, superior Metrocard.

    What a mess.

  7. Karine

    All this is is bad communication. The STM shouldn’t have, months in advance, doing ads on the radio, TV and “affichage” to explain to people how the new fare cards would work. Those of us who have travelled some would have figured it out but obvious not everyone is that savvy. I remember the metro people handing out pamphlets when they were issuing the new card but I wonder who took the time to read them. I say scrap the cards all together and stick with the Opus card for everything from single to monthly fare.

  8. Vahan

    Idiots a running the STM. The drivers are stuck with stupid people in suits making decisions. This whole new system is gumming up the flow. We all have to wait outside the bus until the card of the person in front of us is sucked into the machine, read,printed with a time stamp and spat (past tense of spit of course) back out. This reminds me of that debit/checking account card commercial, where everyone is using the card at a coffee shop until someone screws everything up when they decide to use cash. Well this whole contraption is like that person paying cash, everyone gum’s up the works, even when the Opus card is used. The user has to touch the sensor and wait for the green light. Very efficient. This is going to be great when we all wait outside at -30 while the machine works. Whoever decided on this should be hung out to dry. Maybe we could beat them like a pinata and warm ourselves in the winter when they burst and expel body heat. Grossssss.

  9. Omi-san

    Why didn’t they switch to the new system once and for all? Whenever I buy tickets, I sometime get the old purple ones, and other times I get 6 news cards or one card which is worth 6.

    I’m still waiting for the STM explaination of how the new system will stop users who don’t pay.

  10. Brian Foster

    I agree with V. Ong-Stephen of setting up an STM Sucks website. This transit corporation is an embarrassment. It is poorly run and maintained. Why adopt outdated technologies? Can’t those fare collector boxes accept more than one coin at a time? When depositing a traditional bus ticket into a fare collector box, does it actually validate it? I don’t hear a beep nor see any green light. :)

    I’ll continue to use the traditional bus pass as long as they offer it.

  11. Edna

    New York’s Metrocard is brilliant (and simple, as Shawn says). You put on as much cash as you like (buy one fare or 12 or 32.6), and every time you swipe it, you get a nice quick readout letting you know how much cash is left. The card is good for a year and it’s sturdy enough to last that long.

  12. Shawn

    Yeah, far from feeling like I’m missing anything, I’m beginning to feel like a VIP with some kind of all-access backstage pass, as I flash my old-style bus card. No feeding, no waiting, no verification. Just a respectful nod from the driver as I pass by. I’m special. Even the STM can see that.

  13. Jonathan

    De mon côté, ce sont véritablement les aspects environnemental et pratique qui me gossent sérieusement.

    La carte magnétique à 6 passages, je l’adorais. Grosse comme quatre anciens tickets, plus besoin de correspondance, correspondance valide pendant 120 minutes, moins de place dans mon portefeuille, génial.

    Là, c’est six grosses cartes qui prennent la place de l’équivalent d’une carte de crédit en épaisseur dans mon portefeuille, c’est donc 4 fois plus de papier que les petits tickets d’autrefois, sans compter les légers désavantages du nouveau système, comme le temps de lecture plus long, particulièrement dans les autobus… Dommage!

    Après avoir été à Berlin, où le transport est libre, mais où les contrôleurs à bord des trains pullullent, je me demande pourquoi on n’a pas ce genre de système ici. Avec des amendes significatives pour ceux qui n’ont pas leur titre de transport lorsque les contrôleurs passent, et en informatisant la totalité du paiement de titre de transport, on serait véritablement en business. Et y’en aurait pu, de retard aux barrières. Parce qu’il n’y aurait plus de barrières…

  14. gerard

    I second that – outstanding summary! I really think the STM truly does not know what they’re doing….one of my peeves with the new card is their size: where a strip of the old tickets could easily be folded and tucked into a side pocket, 6 of these new cards are now so bulky!! They’re credit card size, and 6 of them together in my wallet actually takes up more space….

  15. Fred

    How about the fact that the transfer/proof of payment card doesn’t have an expiry time on it? This can be very confusing to tourists and even regular travelers. You have to KNOW that it’s good for 90 minutes.

  16. Fel-X

    I’m with you, those stupid cards are the worst thing ever. I even wrote a blog post on that and officially named those cards “Carte de Crotte”:

    The first time I used la Carte de Crotte in a bus, I was kinda humiliated by the driver, too, who treated me like if I was a retard or a child, overhelping me with a sarcastic voice. It’s fun when they start a new system, that the people are always so “happy” to help you understand it.

    You can read it here:

    By the way, nice work with your blog and it’s great that you follow Global Quebec’s evolution in the art of lying to their viewers.

  17. James

    It must be more than ten years since I made a trip to Russia, but in Moscow I observed one of the simplest and most successful token/gate systems on a public transit network.

    It may have changed since then, but at that time all the gates at metro stations were left open by default. Small plastic tokens could be bought and one should be deposited before entering the turnstile. Failure to deposit a token in the temptingly open turnstile would cause it to slam shut. Against your knees. Very Soviet, I felt.

  18. Jeremy

    When someone who doesn’t understand the system is in front of you in line, you being impatiently trying to get to the coming train, one of these STM “helper” people will come over and tell you to stand at least 3 feet back from the machine, since it won’t work if you’re close… Insanity..

    So here’s a major flaw, you have to stand a certain distance away from the gate while you put the card into the machine. How dumb is that?!

    I know the “helpers” are there to help, but they just slow down the the people “in the know”. I feel like a running back trying to avoid their tackles.

    Also, someone mentioned the size of these things are like credit cards… they’re actually larger, they don’t fit into my wallet without folding. Whomever decided on the dimensions DROPPED THE BALL, BIG TIME.

    stmsucks.qc.ca — please, someone register it! with a few ad sponsorships your site will be a huge success.

  19. Jeremy

    Oh yeah. The bus machines and metro machines read the transfer cards on the opposite sides. IE: You put the card in face down for the bus, but face up at the metro (or vicaversa).

  20. Just a metro user

    I have an interesting questing which I have tried to ghet explained to me, but no one answered it for me yet. Perhaps I am missing something, or just don’t understand…

    If I use my OPUS card to enter the subway, no problem, I insert my card, “Bip, Bop, Beep” as they say, and I enter thr turnstile, and a fare is deducted from the card, HOWEVER, I do not recieve a transfer (apparently none is necessary?) But my question is this… After I paid my fare, what happens if I then insert my OPUS card on the bus at my destination transfer point? Does it know I already paid my fare or does it deduct a second fare?

    Since I am not sure, I don’t want to loose money by paying double fares when I transfer, I always take a paper transfer from the machine before I get on the metro, but this seems pointless to me when the technology is already in place to avoid this.

    Can anyone answer this?

  21. Jean Naimard

    The new tickets/cards are implementing a honour-fare collection system, much like in Europe. The “new” fare inspectors (actually, old Métro security guards) will roam the system and ask people at random to show their validated tickets or cards (they will have electronic card readers), and anyone who fails will be ticketed.

    The law was actually quietly changed a few years ago to allow this totally new modus operandi. Well, it’s not THAT totally new, as the system has been in use on AMT commuter trains for the last decade.

    Another interesting tid-bit is that the law was also changed to give the status of “peace officer” to ticket inspectors; as a matter of fact, on the transit property (but nowhere else) they are deemed to be police officers with the same, er…, “privileges”.

    The theory behind all that, of course, is to curb fraud, estimated at about $16 million per annum. But don’t worry, the new fare collection system won’t mean that fares will decrease…

    * * *

    In many cities where such smart cards were introduced lately, the cards have been cracked and some technically savvy people have been able to get free rides.

    How long will it take for Montréal to be cracked???

  22. Fel-X

    @ Just a Metro User

    As far as I know (and as far as I read), when you pass your Opus card in a reader, you have an hour after that to take a transfer without the system charging you another time. It’s automatic. So, if you take the bus after taking the metro, and you beep, it’s not supposed to cost you anything.

    But anyway, try it one time, and look at the screen where it says how many charges you have… then you’ll be sure if it works correctly… or ask the hordes of stupidly standing there people with a big “?” on their shirts in the metro station. I think they’re there to help you with questions like this (in addition to standing there looking helpless).

  23. Pingback: Fagstein » Opus sucks too

  24. Elysha

    It seems to me that a new system can never be fully implemented if remnants of the old are still in use. How can STM expect all public transport users to have the correct identification and/or Opus card when you can still buy the old monthly pass or single ride paper tickets?? Also, what the hell is the difference between the non-Opus paper card with the red arrows and the Opus card itself?

    So confusing!

  25. Jessica

    The fact that they made the tickets larger is just mind boggling to me… it doesn’t make ANY sense. We live in a society where everything is about downsizing and conserving! I am assuming that they were planning to have the cards be maybe re-usable or rechargeable?! I don’t know, it’s completely mental.

    What, WHAT was wrong with the small little tickets made of recyclable paper?! now we have larger tickets which litter the ground! Before the machine TOOK your ticket, and I am HOPING the STM would recycle them, but now there is no chance of that, they just end up all over the ground! It’s so so so stupid!

    OPUS is cool, but there has been so much confusion around it, no one seems to know which way is up… and that line at the McGill metro to get the student OPUS is completely insane. No way should the STM think it’s reasonable to expect a student to stand in a line up for 4 hours on a weekday between the hours of 9-6… Most students would have to skip a class to do that. It’s completely unreasonable.

    Poor organisation and terrible follow through. Whoever was in charge of this whole system change really really screwed up.

  26. Pingback: Fagstein » STM fare vulnerability is bigger than you think

  27. Magpie

    Argh! I used a new 6-ticket magnetic card on the 105 bus today. It never popped up after I put it in the slot (It was not folded or bent.). The driver punched a few buttons on his controls – it still didn’t pop back up. So then he phones in for some kind of help It’s -25C outside, with a wind chill of -35 & I have an appointment for a root canal in 30 minutes, not to mention the line-up of people trying to get on the bus & past me. He tells me I have to go to Berri or something to get a refund or new card! I’m in NDG & there’s no way I’m going that far for a 12.75$ card. He asked for my name, which he tells the person on the bus phone & gives me a reference number on a paper transfer. Sooo professional! He says this has been happening quite a lot lately. So why is the STM still using these useless cards?

    I don’t take public transport much. I’m retired & every penny counts for me, so 12.75$ is off my food budget. I’m phoning them tomorrow, but honestly don’t hold out much hope in getting my $$ back. What a ripoff. And who is coming up with all these ill-planned, badly thought out new fare schemes? I feel like I’m living in the back of beyond! The absolute worst part of this mess is that from what I read & hear, transit users feel they have zero recourse or control over ANY of it. Like today, the driver just shrugged his shoulders and said “There’s nothing you can do.” To top it off, on the way home later (after a root canal, oh joy!), the bus was packed & I was behind the driver. He slammed on the brakes & I fell onto his shoulder. He yelled at me! This is truly the Twilight Zone!

  28. Magpie

    For once, something positive about the STM – I phoned customer service today about my magnetic card getting stuck in the machine on the bus. I told her I did not want to go to a distant metro station to get compensation & preferred to have it mailed to me. I was pleasantly surprised (shocked really) that she immediately agreed & asked for my mailing address. She recommended I buy individual magnetic card tickets because this problem, though rare, is not that unusual. The only place to buy them is at a metro station though, and I never take the metro.

    STM phone is 514-786-4636. Press O to talk to a human being.

  29. Anonymous

    9. ….(This is a larger problem with the Opus card, which has no human-readable indication of how many fares remain on it.)

    This is not true. When you get on a bus and you use your opus card, it tells you how many tickets are left on the card … if you are using tickets that is. If you have a monthly pass it has nothing to tell you.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      That’s why I said “human-readable”. If the machine breaks down, there’s no backup. The driver has no way to manually deduct a fare, and you have no way of seeing how many fares are left unless you go to a machine.

  30. Fellow Traveller

    The STM should have used better quality card stock (such as is apparently used for the BART in San Francisco) in order to reduce the all-too-frequent single-ticket and six-fare ticket turnstile read-errors, rejections, and card jams. I can only assume that such superior quality cards will eventually be introduced here, since I cannot believe that the STM will relegate these new turnstiles to accepting only OPUS cards. Presumably, testing is underway to upgrade them.

    What the STM ought to have done was to issue 6-fare cards with a different design or logo from the the single-ticket ones. Even a different colour ink would have been sufficient in order to alleviate confusion by users who for some odd reason do not comprehend that they have more than one fare on their 6-ticket card.

    Then there was this glaring glitch: let’s say you boarded a bus (route 51, for example) with your 6-ticket card. Then, during your trip, the driver takes the bus out of service due to a breakdown or for whatever other reason. Next, when you board another 51 bus following behind and innocently slide your ticket into this new bus’s validator, it deducts another fare–despite the fact that your original fare payment on the bus which you had just vacated through no fault of your own is still within the 120 minute time-frame.

    This happened to me, and when I returned to speak to the staff in those Metro “Blue Boxes” explaining the new system, they seemed amazed, but gave me a refund because my ticket clearly indicated the time frame.

    Presumably (as occurred prior to the existence of the new system), when boarding your second bus of the same route, you ought to only flash your ticket to the driver and not enter it into the validator in order to prevent having another fare unfairly deducted, but how many passengers even realized that they’d even been cheated out of another fare, and not only that, but was every single driver trained to understand this eventuality to not demand that a passenger physically validate his or her ticket regardless?

    Growing pains on any new fare system are to be expected, of course, so let’s see how this all plays out in the coming months and years.

    Bottom line: keep all validator receipts and tickets in the eventuality of any fare or payment disputes. And please don’t toss those used tickets on the ground. There is enough litter as it is!

  31. Pingback: Fagstein » The Opus bottleneck

  32. Dex Luther

    A problem with the OPUS cards is that when you go to the machines to ‘fill them up’ the options given to you are very limited.

    You have
    1 Trip tokens
    6 Trip tokens
    Day pass
    Week pass
    and monthly

    Each trip token is one way only, so if you`re planning on going somewhere and coming back you automatically need at least 2. The way it’s set up is you put your OPUS in the machine, pay for one token, remove the OPUS, put it back in and pay for a second token. This is a huge hassle, and resulted in having to pay extra bank fees (0.50 cents per transaction).

    The way the they have their system set up, it cost’s you 6.50$ for a round trip instead of 5.50$. A dollar here and there and the wasted money quickly adds up.

    1. Alex T.

      So then you buy the 6 trip option. It cost less per trip and you don’t have to pay an extra bank fee.

      The next step would be to change banks or plans (who charges $0.50 per debit transaction??)

  33. Raja.n

    I bought an opus card this month(2014-12 03) and paid for ten tickets.For separate from other family member”s cards I made a small hole on it.When I put on slot it has been idle always.I can not find the fault either me or the system.

  34. Newslogger44

    2018 update: STM’s transit ticketing: growing pains mostly resolved after 8 years in service?

    One of the system’s early problems, namely the long-gone 6-fares-loaded-onto-one-cardboard-ticket: what often happened was that the ticket would sometimes be gobbled up by the farebox and not automatically pop back out for retrieval by the passenger. Presumably, this was because the farebox reader incorrectly read the ticket as a SINGLE FARE, ignoring the fact that it had 5 more fares still left on it.

    From personal experience, this was a glitch easily resolved by the driver pressing the green button and the C button on his touchpad, thereby activating the ticket-release function. Rookie drivers were reminded of this touchpad feature when they radioed in to the dispatch centre.

    Confusion also arose due to the fact that the face of both the single ticket and 6-on-one looked exactly the same! Only the rear would change as the 6 fares were print-registered there. Obviously it would have been a lot smarter if they had differentiated the fronts with a different colour cardboard.

    Another problem arose with those 6-fares-loaded-onto-one-cardboard-ticket occurred whenever it so happened that a driver requested all of the passengers to disembark from his bus because he was taking it out of service for whatever reason (no end-of-shift relief-driver waiting, or mechanical breakdown, etc.).

    The disembarked passengers then waiting at the stop to continue their journey via the next arriving bus of the SAME ROUTE would unknowingly be forced to PAY AGAIN when they inserted their ticket into the fare box–unless the driver of that following bus understood or was otherwise informed by one or more of the waiting passengers that they had been forced to leave the previous bus, at which point they would be waved through without having to pay again.

    The rule was then (and still remains valid today in 2018) that a passenger can only receive a free transfer (after paying his or her single fare) when later boarding a DIFFERENT bus route number or to a Metro line during the 2-hour grace period. Anyone who disembarked say, bus route 166, went shopping, and later reboarded another bus 166 within the two-hor grace period would be required to pay again.

    The initial cardboard ticket design had square corners (and some still show up as such today) which could bend or jam into the turnstile entry-slot. Later tickets had curved corners as credit cards do. San Francisco’s BART system tickets had curved corners for decades.

    Incidentally, I was present one day when an inspector was called to open up the farebox due to a malfunction. Inside was a setting which enabled two different ticket thicknesses to be installed in the farebox. Not sure which thickness is currently in use by the STM; the thin or thick option.

    Other cities have an almost identical bus farebox to the STM’s; their main difference being that some versions accept paper money as well as coins and give change to passengers who insert the pre-accepted paper currency denominations.
    Research Google Images for the various versions in use.

    Thankfully, OPUS is part of the Calypso Standard which utilizes the simplified TAG ON boarding method only and not the TAG ON, TAG OFF problematic system used elsewhere such as recently inaugurated in Sydney, Australia. See:



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