TTC Hosts Presentation on Montréal’s Smart Card Experience (Updated)

On the evening of Thursday, September 18, there was a presentation by Montréal’s AMT on the implementation of their Smart Card system.

See the announcement flyer for more details.

Updated:  The presentations gave a lot of information about the Montréal OPUS project, and I will outline the high points here.

Joël Gauthier, President and CEO of the Agence métropolitaine de transport was the main speaker.  He began by talking about the transit renaissance in Montréal.  Ridership has grown consistently since 1995, and the introduction of new fare systems supports the growth and attractiveness of public transit in general.  Capital programs are also underway to expand transit services including a new commuter rail line and an LRT line.  System ridership in 2008 is up 8% over 2007.

The Montréal region contains 83 municipalities (plus an additional 8 within the AMT’s service territory) and 14 transit operators serving a population of 3.6 million.  There are 2,550 buses, 5 commuter rail lines (52 stations) and 4 subway lines (68 stations).

An important thread in M. Gauthier’s talk was a focus on consumers.  The transit system needs a good relationship with its customers through service quality and through offerings such as OPUS that simplify the travel experience.  Smart Cards are part of an overall solution, not a cure-all.  Indeed, the OPUS project includes the construction of twelve customer centres around the Montréal area that will provide general support for the public in addition to OPUS itself.

The old fare structure in Montréal was fragmented among the 14 separate agencies each with its own fares, media and discount structures.  Riders would have to purchase single fares (tickets, tokens, passes) for each system they used, much as we see today in the GTA. 

Fare rationalization was introduced in 1996, five years before the OPUS project even started, to simplify fares for riders.  The metropolitan area is divided into 8 zones although most riders lie within a few of them.  A pass covering multiple zones is 15-25% cheaper than the combined cost of passes in the old, local systems.

Riders within the downtown zone are split about 50-50 between single ticket and monthly pass users, while those who cross zones are split 90-10 in favour of passes because of the discount.  The fares apply to all services including commuter rail.

Although revenue under the new scheme is lower, this is subsidized by funds from the provincial gas and vehicle license taxes.  Note that this is an organizational and governance issue, not a technology issue.  The desire to lower cross-zone fares is a noble goal, but it has a cost.  Smart Cards allow for flexibility of implementation of new fare schemes and for more accurate tracking of usage on each system, but they don’t magically create new revenue.  The expected savings from reduced fare fraud are seen as an offset to the system’s capital and operating costs, not as funding for fare rationalization which was already in place for a decade. Continue reading