Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘fares

Free transit motion to be debated by Vancouver city councillors

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The headline is taken from a CBC News story and the motion will be debated tomorrow. It also provides a link to the motion as a pdf file. The motion asks Council to support the All on Board  campaign. Apparently there is going to be a “research report containing evidence” – but that is not ready yet. You might think that it would be a Good Idea to have had that ready in time for the discussion. Because there is remarkably little evidence on offer so far either in the motion’s “Whereas” section or the campaign website. Other than some people think it might be a Good Idea and other places have already tried it.

What needs to be considered is how much revenue is going to be lost from this proposal and how it might be replaced. The motion suggests that the Provincial Government will be approached for more funding. Presumably, the Province will also have to consider if this is something that needs to be applied province wide. If not, then you can expect the attention to switch to property taxes as that is about the only source that the municipalities can access. I would certainly expect that someone will actually do the necessary policy analysis, which, of course, is entirely absent so far. This would include some assessment of the costs to increase transit supply at peak periods – and also at times when young people are not in school and can be expected to be enjoying their new found freedom to ride transit as often and as far as they can go. I would also expect questions to be asked like why does this demographic get pushed to the front of the line when others – the aged, the disabled, the desperately poor adult population –  fail to get anything like such generous treatment?

I accept that for low income families even reduced fares for children can be inadequate to be affordable for many trips. At one time people who had transit passes could take their spouse and children with them at weekends for no extra charge. I forget now when that concession was withdrawn, but I would be willing to bet that cost was a concern.

It is true that giving children free rides will increase ridership – though the campaign has not made any forecast of that. Nor have they considered what other ways might also increase ridership and their comparative effectiveness. What we do know, and what is not mentioned anywhere in these materials, is how increasing service frequency and improving reliability (through traffic management measures) can offer much higher rates of return at lower levels of cost, and can be better targeted. For just as there are families that can’t afford transit, there are plenty for whom the fare is not the deterrent that inconvenience, unreliability and inadequate service undoubtedly are. Transit takes you from where you are not to a point at some distance from where you want to be. And for a lot of the trip will expect you to stand, or be crowded with others, or left at a bus stop wondering how long your wait will be. People who have invested heavily in a vehicle, and its insurance (which does not vary by distance driven) have a vested interest in getting as much use out of that expense as possible. And despite traffic congestion and the hassle of finding parking still get a better travel experience than transit riders for most trips. The car is at your convenience and takes you all the way without a transfer!

I do think that the province ought to be increasing what it spends on transit, I just think we need to be a bit more considered about how that money is spent. I also think that transit should not be considered as a social service or a redistributive device. If people are poor then giving them more money is far better than giving them scrip for approved expenditures. Free transit passes are as prescriptive as food stamps and both can be a stigma. Giving free rides to children whose parents are wealthy may not actually reduce car use all that much, if at all and is palpably wasteful.

And anyway, why are we focussed on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles? Might it be something to do with concerns about their safety?


Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

ProVancouver party proposes flat fare and other transit discounts across Lower Mainland

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Faregates at King Edward

The title is that of an article in the Georgia Straight

The ProVancouver Party is one of several new entities that have popped up due to the upcoming city election all of which claim to be non-partisan (just like the flailing NPA) and different from the status quo.

The main difference is simply in the level of understanding of how local government in Vancouver works (or is supposed to) between those who have some experience and those with none at all. Many of the new candidates seriously think that their naivete is a qualification rather than a liability.

I am not going to bother with analysing any of these half baked proposals. I am simply going to point out that getting elected to Vancouver City council does not enable anyone to introduce any of these ideas. As the Straight points out these are regional measures, which means that they have to appeal to most of the other municipalities outside of the City of Vancouver. The only commonality among these municipalities is their utter contempt for Vancouver and all it stands for. For one thing they are all convinced that Vancouver benefits far more from transit than they do. Even when Burnaby has far more SkyTrain service than any other municipality. And if your identifier is ProVancouver, you are already setting yourself up for an argument. West Vancouver still thinks it would be better off if it left Translink altogether – though even they have to concede that it is really difficult to find any acceptable piece of land within West Vancouver that could be used as a bus storage and maintenance facility.  Places like Anmore and Belcarra even think that people from other municipalities should not be allowed park or even drive on their roads.   Especially in summer.

The key word that ProVancouver has latched onto is “affordable”.  Which you might think would translate into some kind of means tested subsidy for transit fares. But as usual in all such woolly thinking, the term itself is not defined – but has something to do with “families” even though most people now live in rather different households than the traditional Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids. What we do know from our experience with the referendum is people in general believe a lot of nonsense about Translink and think they pay quite enough in taxes to provide much better service than they currently get. And that second belief is equally strongly held everywhere – even in the best served parts of the region. If you are not going to collect enough at the farebox, then it has to come from somewhere else, and any proposal is always going to be met with the angry riposte “How are you going to pay for that?” (without waiting for the answer before stamping off).

One of the great weaknesses of the upcoming ballot is that it is going to be filled with a lot of names: most of them will be unfamiliar. And whoever gets elected is going to have spend a lot of time and effort getting up to speed on procedures, rules and regulations. To some extent that does mean the potential for more influence from the professionals who have mostly been doing this stuff as a full time career for many years. But sadly they will be fully occupied trying to persuade the newly elected councillors that they have to both listen and read attentively. There is no evidence at all that ProVancouver has the slightest intention of doing that before insisting that they are now in charge: heaven help us all if that is the case.


Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

We’re number 59!

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I usually put the updates at the end of the post. I am chagrined to admit that I missed a very important data point which Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight noticed 

Berlin-based Movinga has pegged the monthly cost in Vancouver at just US$66.26.

When converted from U.S to Canadian currency, that equals $88.68.

However, a monthly one-zone adult transit pass in Metro Vancouver costs $91.

That’s the cheapest way to travel, and it only works for those who live relatively close to work or school.
A two-zone pass sets an adult transit rider back $124.

And a three-zone adult pass costs a whopping $170.


In a recent study that compares transit costs around the world our system ranks about half way in a list of 89 that puts Cairo as the cheapest and London as the most expensive. Toronto is in the top ten.

The rest of this post is going to be a simple cut and paste of the press release, but it seemed to me appropriate to report this given the amount of interest yesterday’s Fare Review report generated

Price Index of Public Transportation Around The World

2017 Study Reveals The Steep Price Differences For Commuters

  • Londoners pay the most for monthly transport ($153.58), 136.91% more than New Yorkers ($112.18)

  • Residents of Tokyo ($90.58), Berlin ($86.48), Paris ($74.74), and Madrid ($58.29) pay more reasonable commuter fares  

  • Prague ($21.73) and Bucharest ($14.27) are the most affordable European capital cities for public transport

Berlin, Germany, 18/01/2017 – Online moving platform Movinga know that after the cost of housing, food and transport are the two most relevant expenses to take into account when relocating. As part of the 2017 Relocation Price Index, a study detailing the costs associated with relocating to some of the world’s most in demand cities, Movinga also observed the cost of transportation around the world in 89 cities. The full Price Index of Public Transport cities can be found at the base of this press release.

The data was taken from all official transport offices within each city, using the cost of a monthly ticket within the major travel zones to standardise the results. The findings place London, UK as the most expensive city to use public transport at $153.58 and Cairo, Egypt as the most affordable city at $6.50 for a monthly ticket.

See here for the full methodology and results of the study.

The table below outlines the top 15 most expensive cities for public transport:


The study demonstrates the significant price difference for citizens of each city. This research will be useful for those considering their ideal city to relocate to, either temporarily for work or on a more permanent basis.

Transport costs were taken from all transportation companies in noted cities. Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) was not applied, in order to keep the data relevant from a local perspective. Data correct on 20th January 2017. Currency conversions calculated on 20th January 2017. Small differences in costs may exist due to recently fluctuating markets.


Publishers are allowed to publish this data and graphics but we kindly ask that you give credit and link to the source. For further enquiries do not hesitate to reply to this email.

About Movinga: Movinga ( is Europe’s leading online provider of moving services. Utilising intelligent algorithms as well as a large network of local partner companies, the tech company is modernising the moving sector. Movinga customers value the simple booking process and high quality standards. Partner moving companies profit from efficient customer acquisition, disposition and invoicing. Movinga was founded in Berlin in January 2015 and is currently active in Germany and France. The management team consists of the experienced scale-up managers Finn Hänsel, Christoph Müller-Gruntrum and Jochen Cassel.

Monthly Transport Costs Around The World In £











Cairo, Egypt



Austin, USA



San Francisco, USA



Hanoi, Vietnam



Lagos, Nigeria



Munich, Germany



Jakarta, Indonesia



Santiago, Chile



Essen, Germany



Tunis, Tunisia



Toulouse, France



Singapore, Singapore



Bucharest, Romania



Seoul, South Korea



Leipzig, Deutschland



Mexico City, Mexico



Vienna, Austria



Mannheim, Deutschland



Buenos Aires, Argentina



Strasbourg, France



Braunschweig, Deutschland



Bangalore, India



Brussels, Belgium



Düsseldorf, Deutschland



Medellin, Colombia



Lille, France



Paris, France



Prague, Czech Republic



Montpellier, France



Oslo, Norway



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia



Riga, Latvia



Zurich, Switzerland



Moscow, Russia



Istanbul, Turkey



Stuttgart, Germany



Tallinn, Estonia



Grenoble, France



Berlin, Germany



Sofia, Bulgaria



Sao Paulo, Brazil



Stockholm, Sweden



Warsaw, Poland



Barcelona, Spain



Hamburg, Germany



Bogota, Colombia



Hong Kong, Hong Kong



Tokyo, Japan



Beijing, China



Helsinki, Finland



Frankfurt am Main, Germany



Shanghai, China



Rouen, France



Amsterdam, Netherlands



Johannesburg, South Africa



Copenhagen, Denmark



Auckland, New Zealand



Athens, Greece



Madrid, Spain



Seattle, USA



Bordeaux, France



Manchester, UK



Luanda, Angola



Nice, France



Karlsruhe, Deutschland



Cologne, Germany



Toulon, France



Tel Aviv, Israel



Los Angeles, USA



Marseille, France



Hannover, Germany



Melbourne, Australia



Budapest, Hungary



Dubai, UAE



Toronto, Canada



Bangkok, Thailand



Dresden, Deutschland



New York, USA



Dijon, France



Bremen, Deutschland



Sydney, Australia



Milan, Italy



Lyon, France



Dublin, Ireland



Lisbon, Portugal



Vancouver, Canada



London, UK



Reims, France



Nantes, France


MT = Monthly Transport Costs

Original Table

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm

No turnstiles for SkyTrains until 2012

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Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie

Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie, Los Angeles

The CBC is reporting that not only will the Canada Line be turnstileless when it opens – so will SkyTrain for at least another three years. That is when a new smart card system might start to be implemented.

“We could see turnstiles starting to appear in the system by 2012,” Hardie told CBC News on Thursday.

“We hope to actually have some work done a little bit later that will lead to some contracts for not only turnstiles, but also the smart card system that complements the turnstile system.”

The turnstiles, regular readers will recall, were an obsession of the previous Minister of Transport Kevin Falcon. (He now overseeing the breaking of the election promise not to cut healthcare spending.) In his eyes turnstiles would eliminate crime on the transit system. It turns out of course that the two issues are not related. And even though Translink is strapped for cash, the turnstiles do not seem capable of doing much for cash flow either. They do not appear among the many revenue generating ideas that Translink has floated – but they will of course be a significant capital cost to introduce and a major addition to operating and  maintenance costs if they are indeed installed.

I suspect that if Translink does not get all of the new $450 m it is seeking, then this idea may well get quietly forgotten about. After all, since it will not actually increase net revenue  and does nothing to boost ridership, then plenty of other ideas will take precedence – especially if there is no political pressure to make it happen. And that pressure to be effective these days will have to come from Victoria, and they are going to have a great deal more important things to worry about in three years time, when a lot of chickens will be coming home to roost.

That does not mean necessarily that smart cards bite the dust either – but gates are not actually necessary with new technology. Indeed, for safety reasons, some systems with gates leave them open by default, and only close them if no valid media is present near them when somebody tries to get through. You can also use smart cards, proximity readers and mobile checkers in a gate free system and get very high levels of compliance – especially if the users have an incentive to use the readers, as they would with a fare by distance system. But that would require a complete reworking of the current system – which itself may or may not be worthwhile but is well beyond the scope of this post.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2009 at 9:56 am

Students ready for fare fight

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Georgia Straight

As the new term approaches the campaign for UPass for all students heats up again. Their argument is that all students ought to be treated the same. This is a nice principle, but the real world is not a fair place at all.

The deal struck with UBC and SFU was forced through by pressure from the top at Translink over the better advice from staff. The system was already under strain, with not enough capaicty and no way to get much  more quickly, and a distinctly iffy financial prospect. But that was ignored in favour of making a nice big splash. Of course, the fact that the CEO’s daughter was just starting at UBC at the same time is merely coincidental, and it is simply mischievous to suggest that such a well respected public servant could possbibly be influenced by such personal conscerns.

Anyway, the money problem now looks like getting worse and Translink simply cannot afford to subsidise every student in the region. And cvertainly could not cope with another influc of riders. Though int he case of some institutions like VCC, where most of the student already use transit with no financial inducement, there is very little ridership to gain but a lot of revenue to lose.

And it might also be argued that there are many other low income riders who also “deserve” a break,  not that anyone is suggesting that our taxes be used in this way  – other than the BRU that is.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Posted in transit

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Transit fares are a real bargain

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Frank Bucholz Langley Times

It is surprising to find a positive opinion piece about Translink – and even more so from this writer and this “newspaper”. (It’s a free sheet with little news and lots of ads just like all of the local papers now.) But on the whole he is right.

What worries me a little is when he moves from the general to the specific. He seems to defeat himself when he admits that he continues to drive and spends more on travel – and his use of “random” examples of parking costs is a bit of an alarm signal. But it does mean he can stay with the simple financial considerations, and not get dragged into the complexities of issues such as service quality and the convenience of the car. Mode choice considerations are much more complicated than just looking at a fare.

But the fact that a journalist that I have always put at the conservative end of the spectrum reaches this conclusion now is, I think, significant.

It is, I believe, as important as the conversion of Pete McMartin into a sceptic on freeway expansion.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 27, 2008 at 10:06 am

Posted in transit

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Our Greenhouse Gas Challenge

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There are two pieces in the morning’s Sun that I am going to suggest you read.

The first deals with Canadian greenhouse gas figures. Per capita, we produce more than most countries

more than 20 tonnes for each and every Canadian. That is twice as much as Europeans produce, and five times more than the 4.2 tonnes per capita generated by South Asians.

That is because of the oil sands and the rest of Canada’s use of coal fired power stations. Yes we are a big cold country, but other cold places seem to have stepped up to the plate a lot more readily than we have – including countries like Norway which is also arctic and have lots of oil.

But while this is true of Canada as a whole, it does not apply to BC – which does not burn coal to produce electricity here, nor do we have oil sands. So the remedies needed in the rest of Canada will not help to get our ghg emissions down. We do have a lot of coal – much of which is exported for steel making in Asia – and its use for power or gasification is anticipated – and claimed to be “clean”. But in the Lower Mainland our biggest ghg emitter is transportation.

And this is where we turn to today’s lead editorial on transit fares. This very properly turns on Translink’s governance and the “the province’s predilection for meddling in TransLink’s affairs”. It also notes that our transit system has expanded by 30% since Translink took over. What it does not say is that this has made very little difference to market share. That was around 11% of all trips then and still is now. Not only has the population grown but those people make more and longer trips – and they still use their cars first and foremost. And they do that because the places that are growing fastest have still got very poor transit systems – as the Mayors of those areas pointed out when they rejected the South of the Fraser transit plan.

The province’s meddling means we have seen no action on building the Evergreen Line but $2 billion thrown at the Canada Line – which serves an area that already has pretty good transit service (Vancouver) and will help the airport get people too and from its new long term car parks. It will actually reduce transit service quality from South of the Fraser since the people who now get a one seat bus ride will be forced to transfer and stand. What every professional assessment of the region’s transit system has shown is that much more bus service is needed, and if rail is to be used it has to be much cheaper to build than SkyTrain. The Province has ignored that advice – as have many Mayors, let it be said.

But far worse has been the province insisting on fare and property tax increases as a condition of more gas tax. And the decision, made long before any studies were done or any public consultation started, to increase the traffic capacity of Highway #1. As with the Sea to Sky expansion, the environmental assessment was useless, and the pretext (the Olympics) even thinner. Both are driven by the real estate developers. And it must also be noted that Kevin Falcon was a realtor and that the BC Liberals depend on this part of the private sector to get their election war chest. We get the government we pay for – and the huge cut that realtors take from home sales for doing very little means they have plenty to give to political parties – and they get tax relief for doing so!

Since BC cannot reduce its greenhouse gas much by changing the way it generates electricity or produces petroleum products, it has to get serious about transportation. Since Metro Vancouver has little manufacturing and less abstraction of raw materials, transportation is proportionately even more significant as a source of ghg. Yet Gordon Campbell gets angry if anyone suggest he rethink his highway expansion plans, even though in theory the decision making process – consultation and EA for Highway #1 and the SFPR – is not completed yet.

It actually does not matter very much, south of the Fraser, that fares are going up. Because there is little transit – and what there is does not meet the needs of a “many to many” trip making pattern. And that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. But what will change if the BC Liberals get their way is that there will be more road capacity. And as we have seen everywhere else, that will get taken up very quickly indeed, no matter the transit fare might be. Indeed, we know that what determines trip making in the long term is expectations. That is what drives location decisions, which determine trip patterns. And the current expectation is that fares will go on increasing, service will improve fitfully and not by very much, while highway capacity will continue to be added. And since nothing is being done about affordable housing the pressure to spread out onto “vacant” land on the edge of town will continue.

The province’s greenhouse gas policy is just words. Its actions, so far, point the other way. The government’s agenda is what it always has been. Cut government services, privatise first (think afterwards), reduce the debt and where possible throw the rich another tax cut. To the extent there is any economic strategy it is build mega projects wanted by some minor private sector interest group or other and continue to pursue projects like the convention centre which are not needed and have no chance of ever paying for themselves. Nothing is being done about the crisis in housing, or the shortage of skilled labour or our continued dependence on the faltering US economy. The greenhouse gas thing is simply greenwash – yes it has the public’s attention at the moment so make some announcements, but no fundamental change in direction from the standard right wing political play book in use all over the world.

If the province was serious about the environment it would be actively involved in providing housing for the workers we need. It would be concentrating on making BC Hydro more efficient – not less as a way to pump cash to the private sector. It would be calling a halt to port and highway expansion. And it would be buying lots of buses and light rail vehicles for use on existing tracks. It would be dealing with the New Westminster railway bridge – the biggest issue actually facing port destined traffic – not the Port Mann. And it would be looking for ways to make transit more attractive not less. I happen to think, based on long experience, that means service quality. But people do respond to price changes – and expectations of future price changes. So a widely useful transit and other small transactions smart card – that has an inbuilt price guarantee to help its introduction – would be a much more effective strategy. Especially if there was a realistic prospect that the wait for the bus would be shorter and more likely that you can actually get on board when it comes.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 2, 2008 at 10:07 am

Free Ride?

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Translink P3355 Braid Stn New Westminster 2007 1220

If you produce a free paper to give away to transit riders, it is probably a good idea to have a big front page splash of a story that has “a member of the premier’s influential climate-action team ‘advocating for free public transit'”

Problem is that it is not much of a story. Naomi Devine is a student at UVic – and thinks that UPass should be available to everybody. There is no analysis of this idea, just Maurine Karagianis “having concerns”.

I think it would be worthwhile to look at how much Translink depends on fares – just look at their recent proposals to hike fares next year and every other year thereafter. And how short of cash for more transit they claim to be – despite sitting on a pile of it. And, of course, Kevin’s plan to deny any fuel tax increase that is not matched by fare increases and property tax increases.

That means if you give up fares you need to replace them with some other source of revenue. And while the feds and the province also are sitting on budget surpluses that does not mean they are even willing to consider a steady commitment to pay for transit operating costs.

But also we need to look at what else you could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Certainly getting more people to use transit is probably going to be a better solution than many others – as APTA has found. But free fares don’t get many people out of cars. Better transit service, on the other hand, does. And if you took the view that we should get a big cash infusion for transit from senior governments, I think that at long last providing adequate transit service across the region would get you more new riders than eliminating fares – which would also cut your ability to run better services.

Hopefully this is the sort of analysis that will be done by, or for, the “climate action team”.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

City partners up for ‘smarter’ transit technology

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Ottawa Business Journal Staff

The City of Ottawa is joining with transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to make smartcard technology a reality by 2010, the city said in a release Friday.

With Presto – a contactless, automated fare system developed with the Government of Ontario – the project will result in “significant savings” to the City of Ottawa, according to the release.

The need for such a payment system here featured strongly in the conversations at Transit camp last weekend. This story came out on Friday but did not make Google news alert until today.

One of the reasons that we do not have such a system here now is that none of the financial institutions has shown any interest in small denomination transactions, though Translink and its predecessors have been trying, several times, to get something going. The big banks just see no reason to get involved – it is far too easy for them to keep on making huge profits doing what they do now – basically charging their customers an arm and a leg for very little. They also lend out money at high rates that they have borrowed very cheaply – or even charged people for looking after.

Other larger cities with much greater mode share on transit have a bigger market – and this the people who make ticket machines all fall over themselves to try and sell them fare systems. Other merchants who deal in small amounts see cashless payment as a way to retain customer loyalty. There are a whole lot of store and gift cards out there – some reloadable, all driven at present by magnetic stripes. And the main reason stores like them is the amount of money people have to pay them up front, and the not insignificant sums that get left unspent.

North America is going to have to catch up with the rest of the world soon as most other advanced countries now have chip embedded cards. This is being driven mainly by the amounts lost to fraud. Again, Canadian banks have such a huge cash cushion they simply accept this as a cost of doing business. The money either goes to thieves or system vendors – and as long as the system vendors want more than the thieves are taking … But the big change comes from the use of devices that do not physically have to be inserted or swiped – or even touched. Proximity readers are the next big thing in technology and are already making progress in things like inventory control systems using tags and readers.

All this stuff is very enthralling for systems people and they burble on about “systems architectures” and data capture and similar stuff – and have been doing so for years, with very little to be seen as a result.

For transit systems ideally we need a system that protects our privacy – where we go and when is nobody’s business but our own – and can be reloaded easily. Cell phones and Paypal both seem to be acceptable in their different spheres – and cell phones can already be used to pay for parking both on and off street (something no-one predicted back in 1984 when I started looking at cashless parking on-street – although phone cards seemed promising). What I also thought was interesting was that some people at Transitcamp liked the idea of pay by distance. Most transit systems abandoned that here years ago in favour of flat fares and no change cash or token, and I suspect that transit trips got longer as a result. I still think that passes – paid up front, freedom of the system for a specified time – work best to get car users hooked on transit. But maybe a cashless electronic purse you can use to ride the bus, buy a paper and a cup of coffee would also work. And short rides would cost less. Trouble is we would need an intermediary and so far they are not playing nice with others. Maybe the social conscience of the credit unions could be tweaked?

UPDATE Montreal is getting smart cards

Written by Stephen Rees

December 11, 2007 at 9:51 am