Transit Smartcards (I Have To Pay $5?!)

As many a “transit nerd” knows, more and more transit agencies are rolling out smartcards. Rather than using the older-style “flash passes,” these cards function much like a credit card, storing either an “e-purse” or a pass. These systems help cut down time wasted on cash fumbling and can help improve ridership.

In the Seattle metropolitan area, their smartcard is called the “ORCA card.” ORCA, which stands for “One Regional Card for All” is used by 8 different transit agencies/operators in the area. However, one of the most prevailing complaints I hear about the ORCA card is the upfront cost of $5. This money doesn’t go towards any sort of fare payment, but is simply a fee to give people the “privilege” of owning their very own ORCA card. Many have argued that this fee should be done away with. Personally, I see no problem with it and feel it’s a fair price, but if I were in different shoes, such as those of a homeless person, I might feel differently.

Out of curiosity, I started wondering about other agencies and their smart cards. Is the ORCA card the only smartcard that requires an upfront fee? Do others charge less for theirs, or even more? Using this list from Wikipedia, I’ve compiled my own list below of the cost (or absence of cost) for each smart card that is currently used by transit agencies in Canada and the US. (For smartcards used by multiple agencies in a region, only the primary agency will be listed.)

Gatineau, Quebec
Société de transport de l’Outaouais
Passe-Partout PLUS” $8

Kingston, Ontario
Kingston Transit
“My Card” – Card itself is free, but a minimum purchase amount is required depending on type purchased. Replacements cost $5.

Lethbridge, Alberta
Lethbridge Transit
“The Breeze” – $5 (after January 31, 2012; free for now)

Montreal, Quebec
Société de transport de Montréal
“OPUS card” – $7

Regina, Saskatchewan
Regina Transit
“R-Card” – $5 (comes with 2 free rides)

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Saskatoon Transit
“Go-Pass” – Free

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
Metrobus Transit (St. John’s Transportation Commission)
“m-Card” – $5

Metropolitan Toronto (“The Golden Horseshoe)
“PRESTO card” – $6

United States

Atlanta, Georgia
MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority)
“Breeze Card” – $1

Baltimore, Maryland
MTA (Maryland Transit Administration)
“CharmCard” – $2.50 with no value loaded/$5 for $5 value loaded at MTA stores. Other approved retailers charge $2.50, with only select retailers adding in additional $7.50 cost for cash value for total price of $10.

Boston, Massachusetts
MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority)
“CharlieCard” – Free

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Transit Authority
“Chicago Card” – $5 (except for first-time purchasing a “Chicago Card Plus” or first-time purchasers of “Chicago Card” who register the card; some exceptions apply)

Houston, Texas
METRO (Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)
“Q Card” – Free (requires a minimum of $5 value at time of purchase)

Los Angeles, California
Metro (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority)
“TAP” – $2

Miami, Florida
Miami-Dade Transit
“EASY Card” – $2

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Metro Transit
“Go-To card” – Free ($5 for replacement)

New York City/Northern New Jersey
PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson)
“SmartLink” – $5

Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey
PATCO (Port Authority Transit Corporation)
“Freedom” – $5

San Fransisco, California
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (BART/Muni)
“Clipper” – $5 (Free if a pass, ride book, or minimum of $5 value is put on card at time of purchase.)

San Diego, California
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System
“Compass Card” – $2 (If registered, the first replacement will be free, $5 for each replacement afterwards.)

Seattle, Washington
King County Metro & Sound Transit
“ORCA card” – $5

Spokane, Washington
Spokane Transit Authority
“GO Smart Card” – $2 ($5 for replacement)

The State of Utah
Utah Transit Authority
“Student Pass/Eco Pass/Ski Pass” – Free or $2 for Student Pass, depending on type. (Eco Pass/Ski Pass are free with fare purchase.)

Ventura County, California
Gold Coast Transit
“Go Ventura” – Free ($10 for replacement)

Washington, DC
WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)
“SmarTrip” – $5

And there you have it. 25 different smartcards in Canada and the US, but only 6 with no surcharge for the card itself. So, if you feel oppressed over the fee for your respective transit agency’s smartcard, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone. And if you feel just perfectly fine with the cost (or lack of cost) for your smartcard, maybe you can start wondering why other agencies charge more or less than your agency.


One Comment on “Transit Smartcards (I Have To Pay $5?!)”

  1. Smart cards also cost money in South Korea. Part of this is so that the card itself can be of value so that transit agencies can have another stream of revenue. For example, there are bracelets that are also smart cards, some of these cost more than $40. Charging can also help transit agencies there provide options that are more robust than a card. The most common form of smart card is not a card, it a pendant that most people attach to their cell phones. These pendants are easier for the machines to use, last forever, and can be made in a variety of styles. They usually cost between $5-10.

    There are mechanisms to get free cards to people who receive free or reduced fare service. These are plain cards with no decoration.

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