CAM stop the music

OPUS mug shot

The word came down a few weeks ago: May 2009 would be the last month that regular monthly passes would be given out at the STM. From June 1, everyone, including me, would have to switch to Opus.

I had resisted for months for various reasons. First of all, they cost more. I could pay $68.50 for a regular pass or $72 for a regular pass on an Opus card. I chose the cheaper option. Since Opus cards have expiry dates on them, mine will now last longer than those who jumped on board right away.

Furthermore, despite being used by thousands of commuters, the system wasn’t fully tested yet. There were still flaws, enough to give The Gazette’s Max Harrold an almost endless supply of Squeaky Wheels columns.


  • The cards are slow compared to the magnetic passes. Like those single-use magnetic cards that are littering our streets and metro stations, there is a delay as the computer reads them. It takes about two seconds from the point you put a card on a reader to the point where it’s recognized. Multiply that by all the passengers getting on a bus, and everything becomes slower.
  • There is no way for a human being to verify an Opus card. If the computer system breaks down or a reader doesn’t work, a bus driver or booth attendant can’t simply look at the card and see that it has a pass on it. So they’re trained to simply let you through when problems like this occur.
  • Some smaller transit agencies haven’t yet installed Opus readers on all their buses, including CITSO, which serves Châteauguay.
  • One of the primary advantages of Opus to consumers was supposed to be that they could register their cards and get replacements (with their fares intact) in case the cards get lost. Unfortunately, this system isn’t running yet for regular users. Instead, they say forms will be available “in 2009.” The STM blames the other transit agencies because they all need to be on the same page for this to launch.
  • Though the Opus card machines all look the same, you can’t buy all the different kinds of fares at all the stations.
  • Though users are encouraged to have different types of fares from different agencies on the cards, you can’t put STM tickets and AMT TRAM tickets on the same card, because readers on STM buses don’t know which one to deduct. The workaround is to use two cards, but that causes problems for seniors and students using reduced-fare cards ($13.50 each since a photo is required).
Opus machines run on Windows

Opus machines run on Windows - Floppy disk fail!

And, of course, the machines have a habit of breaking down.

Because I’m an uninteresting transit user (one STM monthly pass), I haven’t experienced any problems yet. And most others made the transition smoothly as well. Others saw long lines as they tried to get cards.

A selection of monthly passes I've used over 16 years

A selection of monthly passes I've used over 16 years


Even if the various problems are eventually solved, I’m going to miss those plastic monthly passes and their magnetic strips, called CAM for “carte autobus-métro”. Each month had a new design (designed top secret to discourage counterfeiting) and since January 2008 had pictures of metro stations on them.

I’ve had monthly passes since I started high school in September of 1993 (you can see that pass in the foreground above), and bought a pass every month since September 1996. First a reduced fare card, then the AMT’s intermediate fare until I was 22, then back to reduced fare under the Carte Privilège, and finally an adult fare as of November 2005 when my last student pass expired. That’s 183 monthly passes, ranging in price from $17.50 to $68.50.

And I’ll miss the sounds of those mechanical turnstiles and the two-tone access-granted sound they issue. Instead, all we get is a soulless beep.

What’s next

The process of conversion is still ongoing. Here’s what’s in store over the coming months:

July 1:

  • The weekly CAM Hebdo stops being sold, with some exceptions
  • Seniors and students 6-11 will be forced to switch to photo ID Opus cards as reduced-fare CAMs won’t be sold (Students 12+ were forced to switch in the fall since ID cards were only issued in Opus form)
  • Single-use tickets will no longer be sold in reduced fare – they can only be loaded onto Opus cards
  • Students 12-17 will no longer be able to pay cash for bus trips (seniors and children will still be able to for now)
  • The AMT stops selling magnetic-stripe TRAM passes for zones 1-3, forcing those users to switch to Opus.

Sept. 1:

  • Old-style tickets will no longer be accepted for fares (those with tickets left can get them exchanged)
  • The STM begins its proof-of-payment system, so everyone on a bus or metro train will be required to keep proof of payment on them at all times and can be fined if they’re found without it

Jan. 1:

  • As all remaining transit agencies complete their Opus system installation, the magnetic-stripe TRAM card will no longer be sold
  • Unless there’s another extension, the “discount” on Opus cards ends, and their price climbs from $3.50 to $7.
Old-style tickets and transfers from a decomissioned turnstile are swept into a pile with dust to be thrown away.

Old-style tickets and transfers from a decomissioned turnstile are swept into a pile with dust to be thrown away. The tickets are no longer sold and will not be accepted as of Sept. 1.

Maybe I’m just afraid of change.

UPDATE: Another ode to the CAM at Hors des lieux communs.

36 thoughts on “CAM stop the music

  1. Panoramixia

    “One of the primary advantages of Opus to consumers was supposed to be that they could register their cards and get replacements (with their fares intact) in case the cards get lost.”

    This now works, but not on the website.
    You can go to the Berri-Uqam service center and the employees at the counter will enter your personal information in the system.

    “The tickets will not be accepted as of Sept. 1”

    I was able to get a refund for them at the same counter (but you need to fill a form, so bring all your ticket at once).

    “Maybe I’m just afraid of change.”

    I don’t use the train, but you seem a bit too afraid…
    Especially since if the system fails, the employees will simply let you in.

  2. Alex T.

    Just a quick note about the speed. It’s not the OPUS cards that are slow it’s the readers that the STM, STL and CIT Laurentides decided to go with (GFI Genfare Odyssey). When I scan my OPUS on an RTL bus (they use Proxibus VPE 415 Proximity Reader) it’s MUCH faster. Less than half a second. The same goes for other CITs that already use OPUS. It’s left to be seen how the Quebec-made ITS-MAX Farboxes (which will be used on all other CITs which are not yet OPUS compliant; including CITSO, CITVR, etc…).

  3. Denis Canuel

    Change is good if it’s for a better solution. Like you said, there’s plenty of flaws and we just started to use the system. This makes me wonder if STM really did their due diligence while researching all the various solutions available…

  4. Horonymous

    Will the STM and the police be able to track your use as an individual?
    If you pay by credit card or register your card can big brother follow you travels?
    Can you purchase a card with cash and stay anonymous?

    Wow $72 for a monthly pass what a deal.

    In T.O. it is close to $100. No wonder the TTC is losing riders.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I purchased my card with cash.

      The STM can theoretically use the serial number of the Opus card to track your movements, but the same could be done with the CAM, whose serial numbers are read by metro turnstiles.

  5. b.j.swank

    My biggest complaint is that you can’t add money to an OPUS, you can only add tickets. To make matters worse, you can only add 6 at a time, and an OPUS can only hold 12 tickets. This means, for instance, that if you have 7 tickets on your card, you can’t fill it up. This entails constant visits back to the machine.

  6. Brilliam

    Even better: it appears the RFIDs in these things are pretty shoddy — and their payment system isn’t prepared for it. Now, I’m only speaking from my own experience here, but my card (which is maybe 6 months old) started failing to work, which is bad enough. At least when my old-style ones started failing, it only mattered on the metro because they wouldn’t scan it on the bus. But, that’s not the worst part. So I’m carrying around this piece of junk that barely works (and, curiously, seems to work a little bit better every time I charge it– go figure) until last Monday when I tried to put another week pass on it (this month it was week passes since I’m getting my dad’s bike on the 20th, and I won’t be bussing much after that). Put in the card, swiped debit, typed everything. The Interac’s screen says “transaction complete.” The main screen says “cancelled.” The receipt says “transaction not complete.” Paranoid that I’ve been ripped off $20, I foolishly try my credit card too. Same thing, except it says “transaction complete” on the RECEIPT this time. Sure enough, I got home, checked my accounts… the bank account was charged and immediately refunded, but the credit card was down $20 (and I had to walk home that day, in the pouring rain, because I had no working bus pass and the Berri customer service was closed).

    I hate these Opus cards.

  7. Marc

    How does one show proof of payment as an Opus card user? Will they start issuing receipts? If yes, then so much for the cutting back on paper strategy.

  8. Shawn

    Great article. As I think I may have posted before, I still prefer the NYC Metrocard system over what we’ve got. There’s something, I don’t, reassuring about the way their system takes in the card, reads it, tells you how much you’ve got left, then shoots it back out.

    Here, I’m forever looking at other STM bus users rubbing their cards over the reader in futility, over and over, as if trying to coax a genie out of the damn thing. Mine seem to work so far, but it seems like 1 user in 10 encounters a defective card, defective card reader…

  9. Bickerbros

    Did the STM ever think about designing the system for user-friendliness? How can they expect passengers to place the card precisely on the reader for 2 seconds (if they’re lucky)? The bus is even worse, with the tiniest of readers! Then there’s the location of the display on the metro turnstile: Instead of it being logically further ahead of the passenger, so they can clearly see how many tickets they have left, the display is glued right next to the reader, making it hard to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of it as you rush to catch the metro.

  10. mare

    Interesting shot of those cut-in-half paper tickets from the old turnstile. That way they can’t be reused, unlike the ones in the boxes (if you somewho managed to lay your hand on them.

    I have a OPUS decoder ring. I’ll have to blog about that. But in the summer I bike everywhere so I hardly use the metro/bus. You should too!

    1. Hans de Nie

      Please let me know where I can buy a card decoder ring so I can check myself what is the status of my opus card .


  11. Michel K

    A little off-topic, but I find it terrible that you can’t buy a day pass at any Metro station at any time of year. They’re sold at selected stations from April to October. From November to March if you want one, you have to venture down to Berri-UQAM or Bonaventure. A big difference compared to when I go to Toronto and I can buy a pass to hop on and off the subway and streetcar all day as I please.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Under the new Opus system, it should be fairly easy to create new types of fares and passes, so hopefully that will change in the coming years.

  12. Bickerbros

    Does the OPUS still have the ridiculous STM policy of a weekly pass that’s only valid from Monday to Sunday? If you wanted to buy one on Thursday, it would be a complete waste of money. In NYC, the weekly pass actually lasts 7 days from the time of purchase. Revolutionary!

  13. Sylvia

    Great article! This sucks for reduced-fare users who want to have STM tickets and AMT TRAM tickets on their card at the same time though.

  14. T

    I find it odd that no one has complained about the poor quality of the cards themselves. I did not buy a plastic cover for my card, and with nine months of normal use (I’m a student and had to get one in October), the card no longer scans properly, as the chip has become loose, causing my average bus-embarking time to rise to around thirty seconds as opposed to my ten-second walk-on with the CAM. The metro system in Paris, which uses similar technology, is able to read cards stored in people’s handbags, yet I daily see frustrated commuters having to pull them out of their wallets after they won’t scan through the leather. Worse, I will soon have to pay to replace my card – and I have not been hard on it – and then pay for another when it expires in October. The system is a good idea, but I feel that its many kinks will lead to major headaches in the future.

  15. Christopher

    When will I be able to buy a freaking TRAM from a kiosk?

    Two months ago, when I had to recharge my OPUS card for the first time, I tried kiosks at 3 different AMT stations before I gave up and took time out of my day to the customer service desk at Central station where they admitted that only zone 1, 2 and 3 train passes are available for purchase at the kiosks. So I had them recharge my OPUS by hand.

    Last month, I tried recharging it again from the kiosks but still no go. This time, I went to the cafe at the Deux-Montagnes station to purchase my zone 5 TRAM.

    Any idea if this month I’ll be able to buy my TRAM from a kiosk?

    There are kiosks at every AMT station. Why do I have to go out of my way to purchase my TRAM from a cashier when I could easily recharge my OPUS card while waiting for the train?

  16. jennyb

    sorry for the late comment, but I have to tell you to buy one of the plastic “thingies” some people have to put thei Opus in.
    I refused to, they are ugly and made of plastic, but then the “little antenna” (the term the lady at the Berri counter used, not mine) in the card broke and the card would just not get read well and then stopped working all together. for good. I had to go change the card at Berri, and 2 of my friends did too.
    Apparently, the card should not be curved, bent, or otherwise suffer any pressure (gosh, I wonder what happens when you put it in your pockets…) or the connection in it breaks . Hence, the solid plastic “thingy”.
    so there!

  17. CJ

    I use the Lasalle Metro station every morning to go to work. Apart from the fact that the station only has one machine – meaning a long LONG – LOOOONGGGG – wait in line if you forget to load your card before the morning of the 1st – I have also noticed that the readers on the turnstiles don’t seem to work as well as they first did – or else my card doesn’t work as well.

    When I first got the card I could pass my wallet over the reader and it would work. Now I have to remove the card from the wallet completely.

    I really wish STM would have followed the NYC system. I love their their transit passes.

  18. allisonshine

    Nice to see that I’m not the only one who collected my bus/train passes over the many years I’ve been a transit user.

    The OPUS IS ugly. What the hell does OPUS mean anyway?

    My OPUS with had an expensive AMT pass on it stopped working. They exchanged it for me for free.

    My husband also had an OPUS that stopped working. He had his exchanged for free also. So, no need to by another card.

  19. Jean Naimard

    The OPUS IS ugly. What the hell does OPUS mean anyway?

    Opus is a very bad pun that can backfire horribly: although it is latin for “work”, it sounds like «carte à puce» (opus — get it?), meaning “smart card” (literally: “card with [electronic] chip”). But it is phonetically equivalent to «aux puces», which means “with [some] fleas”. And fleas are little bugs, as you know…
    So one couls contrive that “Opus” means “buggy card” without too much of a leap (pun intended).

  20. guillaume

    About the registration of the opus card, when done it is really helpful. I lost my card once and was happy that my card was registered. Opus is good if you are an occasional user of more than one agency. In school time I”ve got my CITL monthly pass a couple of STL tickets and at least 2 Laval metro tickets. having only 1 card is great.

    In the automn of 2007 before the start off opus card, someone from the STL came in class (I study transportation) and talked to us about the Opus. On the slideshow, there were much more design (maybe later when we’ll be charged 10 bucks for the card)

  21. Alex T.

    Didn’t I read somewhere that someone jokingly called OPUS

    Over Priced Usually Standing

    Making reference to standing in the bus/metro which has nothing to do with OPUS itself.

  22. Sebastien

    I read on the AMT web site that users of a monthly train OPUS pass must validate the card at least once during the month. Do you have any idea why? Will I get a fine if I get controled and I haven’t validated the card? I mean it’s a monthly pass, it’s not like a ticket. If I don’t validate it, it’s not like I can extend its usage.

    “L’usager qui détient un titre mensuel sur sa carte OPUS doit s’assurer que sa carte est chargée d’un titre de transport valide requis pour faire le trajet. De plus, il doit prendre l’habitude de valider son passage au valideur situé à chaque gare de trains de banlieue au moins une fois pendant le mois. ”

  23. Jean Naimard

    “L’usager qui détient un titre mensuel sur sa carte OPUS doit s’assurer que sa carte est chargée d’un titre de transport valide requis pour faire le trajet. De plus, il doit prendre l’habitude de valider son passage au valideur situé à chaque gare de trains de banlieue au moins une fois pendant le mois. ”

    At least once a month”… It surely doesn’t say that it has to be done at some time in particular, be it at the beginning or at the end of the month…

  24. Sebastien

    I overheard an AMT agent explaining why we must validate the TRAM OPUS card at least once a month.

    “The card can hold a maximum of 4 monthly passes. Validating the card once a month ensures that the old passes get discarded.”

    From what I understand, this only applies to people who registered to the TRAM auto-renewal program. Because if you buy it every month at the machine, old passes get discarded at this time.

    Now, I’m still unsatisfied with this explanation. If they can “add” a pass remotely without you validating the card, that means they can also “delete” a pass remotely. I would think so.


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