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).
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.
YES WE CAM
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.
The process of conversion is still ongoing. Here’s what’s in store over the coming months:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
Maybe I’m just afraid of change.