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MTC’s new electronic fare system is no magnum opus, seniors say

June 2009

Despite a claim by an official of the Montreal Transit Corp. (MTC) that implementation of its new Opus electronic fare card is proceeding smoothly and there have been few if any complaints, some Montreal seniors say they have run into difficulties obtaining the card while having their I.D. photo taken.

Following the introduction last year of the Opus card, bus tickets, as well as CAM bus/metro passes, have almost disappeared. And electronic cardboard passes loaded with six fares, which the MTC had also deployed, are gradually being phased out as the MTC adopts Opus as its pre-paid standard.

The Opus card, designed to be loaded with 10 fares at a time for $20, has been available until now for $3.50 but is rising to $7 on July 1. After that date, an Opus card will be the only way to get on the bus or metro, unless you’re paying one fare at a time for $2.75 in cash. While regular users don’t require a photo on their Opus pass, seniors and students who pay a lower fare do.

Josephine and Hugh McQueen, two retired residents of Notre Dame de Grâce, went to the Monkland Centre one recent Saturday morning to be photographed. They had also decided to take up an offer the MTC had made to seniors of a free Opus card in exchange for their old golden age public transit I.D. passes. The Monkland Centre shoot was one of several the transit agency set up to accommodate those unable or unwilling to travel downtown.

“They advertised they were going to start at 10 in the morning, so we decided to get there at 9,” Hugh said. “There were about eight people ahead of us, but unfortunately nothing had been set up by the Opus photographing unit. Nor had anything been set up by the caretaker of the place. And so people kept arriving and filling up the seats and there weren’t enough seats for everybody.

“Of course, there was a great deal of confusion because no one knew who would be coming first,” McQueen added. “I think for some of the people who came later than us, it was extremely confusing and when we left there were still more people arriving, and they had perhaps ten times as many people waiting as had already been served at that point.” Even now that the McQueens have their Opus cards, they remain confused about charging them with fares.

Norm Shacter, a retired Westmounter, complained of being forced to wait in line after going to have his picture taken at the Opus card photography outlet on University St. He said he wasn’t aware there were any other options even though he tried to find out on the MTC’s website. “I felt it was unfair because we’re very elderly and waiting an hour for us is a lot harder than waiting is for students, most of whom were listening to their iPods,” he said, adding that there were no seats.

A glance over the last few weeks at the Montreal Gazette’s Squeaky Wheels question-and-answer column suggests that many transit users in Montreal are also mystified by the Opus system. The card can be purchased at metro stations and at some private retail outlets. Once you have a card, you must put put the monthly fee on the card at the beginning of each month at an automated console, located in the metro station.

While instructions on the console invite users to purchase fares by inserting $20, it is not clear that you must first have an Opus card.

The MTC also has a secondary system of electronic passes made of cardboard. Initially designed to hold up to six fares at once, these cards are now being issued with just one fare at a time.

The MTC has encountered other problems with the Opus system. For technical reasons, some combination train, bus and metro fares can’t be on an Opus card at the same time.

According to Marianne Rouette, an MTC spokeswoman, nearly 672,000 Opus cards have been sold by the MTC since last year when they were launched. She expressed surprise upon being told of the complaints. “We made a lot of publicity about the fact that we were going to have different places where the picture and the Opus card could be issued,” she said about Shacter’s remarks.

Concerning the seating problem, she added, “It might have been a busy day.”



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