Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Calgary’s transit system and how I believe it can be improved upon. Although our city has seen some notable enhancements, overall, we still lag far behind other metropolises from around the world. In this blog post, I will take a look at our city’s public transit ticketing system and how it compares with a city like Montreal. I’ve chosen this metropolitan city located on the St. Lawrence river because it has one of the most robust set of ticket options that I’ve ever seen anywhere in Canada. For those who wish to compare these two cities at their own leisure, please see Calgary’s (YYC) transit fare page here and Montreal’s (YUL) transit fare page here. For those who want a more detailed analysis of the two ticketing systems, please see my full post below.
The 1-trip ticket
This is the most basic, standard option in all public transport, both cities offer the 1-trip ticket at 3.50$ but Montreal’s value edges out Calgary on account of being valid for a period of 120 minutes as compared to Calgary’s 90 minutes. However, whereas both cities offer youth/student tickets for a single trip at comparable prices – 2.40$ (YYC) vs. 2.50$ (YUL) , the Quebecois municipality goes a step further by offering single tickets for seniors (65+) at a discount price of 2.50$, an option that does not exist in Calgary. Our city does offer an annual senior pass at 145$ and a discount version of the same pass at 25$ for those seniors in the lower income brackets.
In this category, both cities offer a 10 trip ticket package/book but once again Montreal edges out Calgary due to the fact that you get more bang for your buck. Not only because of the longer validity of a ticket (120 minutes) but also because of the price. A 10 single-trip ticket(s) will cost you 29.50$ in Montreal, whereas in Calgary it currently sits at a cost of 35$.
On the topic of day passes, Montreal once again proves to be the better city. The prices are comparable at 11$ (YYC) vs. 10$ (YUL) but where they differ is in the 24 hour validity of the ticket. In other words, if you buy a day pass in Montreal at 5 PM on a Monday, you will be able to use it until 5 PM the next day (Tuesday). This is in clear contrast with our city’s approach, where a day pass is only valid from the moment you purchased it until the end of the service day. This detail is a powerful disincentive for those living in Calgary since the further along you are in your day; the less likely you are to purchase this type of ticket.
If you thought that up to this point, Calgary was in the same ball park with Montreal when it comes to transit fare options, get ready because this is where it all begins to unravel. The first of many ways by which Montreal sets itself apart is by offering a 3 day pass. Although this pass does not use a 72 hour time-frame, it sits in clear contrast to Calgary which does not offer anything comparable. As well, with a price of 20$ for a 3 day period, we can see that Montreal continues to prioritize more choice and more utility at a favorable price point.
Unlimited evening option
We’ve all heard, and some of us might have even experienced, Montreal’s famous night life. What you might not know is how the “City of Saints” has made sure that both its transit and its fare systems complement this particular aspect of the city’s culture. The unlimited evening option is cheaper than buying a two trip ticket (5.50$) vs. (6.50$) and allows transit users to take full advantage of the city’s public transport from 6 PM on the day of the purchase to 5 AM the next day. This option incentivizes transit use for those planning to attend any type of event that may take them late into the night or even early into the next day. More importantly, it provides an alternative to drinking and driving while also being significantly cheaper than a taxi. This absence of choice coupled with a limited service schedule is nonsensical in a city that aims to have a strong and vibrant nightlife.
Unlimited weekend option
For options over the weekend, Montreal continues its “a la carte” approach. In a similar manner to the unlimited evening option, the unlimited weekend option allows ticket holders to use public transit from 4 PM on Fridays to 5 AM on Mondays. Once again, we see the importance of choice and how it can benefit those that have a wide variety of plans over the last few days of the week. What makes this option even more appealing is the price of 14.25$ or the equivalent of 4 single trip tickets. Yet again, Calgary does not offer anything similar to a weekend pass and this fact is a real head-scratcher, especially when you consider just how beneficial it would be to have one, not only for everyday Calgarians but especially for those who are visiting our city.
Weekly Passes & Monthly Passes
The last categories I’ll focus on are those options that could be labelled as medium to long-term transit fares. Montreal has a weekly pass, valid from Monday until 11:59 PM on Sunday at a regular price of 27.25$. Calgary does not have anything comparable, the closest option to a weekly pass would be the 10 single-trip ticket book but that option lacks the flexibility of the weekly pass while also managing to be more expensive (35$).
The monthly passes are comparable in utility, however, Montreal edges out Calgary once again by offering the better price – 109$ (YYC) vs 88.50$ (YUL) for a full month of unlimited service. As well, it is important to mention that a weekly pass complements the monthly option in those situations where a person might suddenly need to use public transit for a shorter period of time. I say this because Calgary Transit does not adjust the cost of a monthly pass as you get deeper into the month. The full price of 109$ remains unchanged on the regular market, making our city’s ticket selection not only limited but incredibly rigid.
SMALL UPDATE (AUGUST) – I should mention that there is a category where Calgary does surpass Montreal and that is for those who might be in the low-income brackets. Although Montreal offers more choice/affordable pricing for children and seniors, it falls short in addressing those adults who are not old or young but are in poverty. Based on my research, I could not find any such option in Montreal; Calgary however, does offer such an option and it is a welcome addition since it offers those in the lower income brackets a more affordable method of getting around a city that is mainly designed for the car.
In conclusion – A contrast in transit cultures
As I hope I made it clear, Montreal is a city that offers significantly more choice and flexibility when it comes to its public transit and it does so by focusing on how it charges those who use this public service. Where Calgary seems to try to get the most money out of each commuter, Montreal seems to aim to get the most use out of each bus or metro. It does so by adjusting its ticketing practices so that it can address the needs of its regular and not so regular commuters. This approach is in stark contrast with Calgary which offers a much shorter list of ticket options that come with a much more rigid set of conditions. This of course does not mean that Montreal’s service delivery is without issues but the plethora of choices offered to its residents is a feature that Calgary simply cannot match and would do well to learn from.
Thankfully, with the introduction of the recent “My Fare” app, our city has a real, relatively low cost opportunity to implement some of these better practices into our own transit system. In order to do this, we will need both our elected officials and our city administration onboard and as far as I have seen, there are no current plans to bring more choice to the current ticketing structure. As a result, it will be up to us, the residents of this city to voice our support and to push our elected officials to look at those cities that simply do a better job at providing a more robust transit service.