Select Smart Cards from around the world

TransLink and the BC Ministry of Transportation just started a Fare Card Naming Contest recently.  So I thought it would be great to take a look at some of the Smart Cards already in operation out there.  Ours won’t be available until 2013, but we can take a look at what other cities have to offer in their smart cards.

Seattle – ORCA Card


ORCA Card (from fueled by beer blog)


Let’s start close to home.  The Seattle area’s several transit agencies rolled out a smart card system in 2009.  ORCA is an acronym for One Region Card for All.  An orca, or killer whale, is also conveniently one of the great natural symbols of the Pacific Northwest.  The card can be used on seven agencies in the Greater Seattle area.  It costs $5 to get the card and you can load it up with cash right away.  It can carry anywhere from $5 to $300 on balance.  You can also start an online My Orca account to set up Autoload and to track your card’s balance online.  A rider with the ORCA card will tap the card when they get on a vehicle and/or when they get off the vehicle.  It looks like it depends on which transit vehicle you’re taking.  Fueled by Beer blog has a “Seattle’s Metro Transit System for Dummies” guide that helps explain the ins and outs of the ORCA card, as well as summarizes the entire transit system.

I have no experience with this card, but am highly tempted to just purchase one for a souvenir the next time I am down in Seattle.  The Orca name is also one that I would have liked to seen for our new TransLink smart card; however, there may be some copyright issues there.

Hong Kong – Octopus Card


adult Octopus Card (wikipedia)


I am most familiar with the smart card from Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s Octopus card is the “take-you-everywhere” and “use-it-everywhere” smart card.  I can safely say that almost every single one of Hong Kong’s 7 million denizens has one of these cards.  In Seattle, they talk about “tapping” your card; in Hong Kong, you “doot” your card.  That’s the sound the reader makes when the Octopus card is read.

The Octopus Card has been serving Hong Kong since 1997.  As usual, Hong Kong is an early adopter for new technology.  For a basic adult Octopus card, you pay HK$150 for a HK$50 deposit to get the card. The remaining HK$100 is for you to use for your initial travels.  The card can be used on virtually on means of public transport in the Hong Kong SAR.  It is also possible to use the Octopus card to pay for parking at parking meters.  Large franchise retailers such as 7-Eleven, KFC, and McDonald’s, to name a few, accept payments using the Octopus Card.  I’ve even refilled my card at a 7-Eleven once.  No wonder you can carry up to HK$1,000 on the card.  You should check out the Octopus Card’s official site for a full look at the marketing success that the Octopus Card is.

London – Oyster Card


London's Oyster Card (wikipedia)


Now, I have no experience with London’s Oyster card.  However, I hear about it a lot.  Many transit folk who talk about smart cards will often talk about the Oyster card.  Well, the world is your oyster, in London anyway.  Since 2003.

The Oyster works almost like the Octopus, but it doesn’t seem to have all the additional non-transport functionality that the Octopus has.  You can get the Oyster card at one of many Oyster stops in the London area or even register for an account online.  The card is used on the Underground, Docklands Light Rail,  Overground trains, National Rail trains in London, boats, and, of course, buses.  It seems that you can get cheaper fares over cash fares by using the Oyster.  That’s the same for Octopus, as well.  That’s all I can glean from the various Oyster pages.  You can see for yourself on Wikipedia and on the Transport for London pages.

Toronto – Presto Card (GO Transit)


Presto Card


Sticking within Canada, I’ve got to talk about Toronto and it’s current smart card, Presto, for use on the GO Transit only.  There’s a lot of talk about the Toronto Transit Commission coming up with their own smart card.  What’s impressive about the Presto Card is that it aims to be the smart card for all of Ontario.  That’s going to be tough if the TTC is not part of the equation.  Currently, the TTC will take the Presto Card, but at only select subway stations and nowhere else.  However, Oakville, Burlington, Brampton, and Mississauga’s transit systems also now take the Presto Card.  So that may force the TTC to accept the card throughout its system.  Even Ottawa’s OC Transpo is expected to roll out the Presto Card in early 2012.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Presto reaches all of Ontario.  Then you just need one smart card throughout the province.  That would be a huge bonus for Ontarians.  That might also be incentive to use the Presto Card for other cash related transactions.  It would be neat if you could use the Presto card for your ride on the train, then use it to pay for a double-double at Tim Horton’s at the station.  Then go down to the Mac’s convenience store and pay for a pack of chewing gum all with the same card.  One can dream, eh?

I think that’s all I’ll do for smart cards from around the world.  If I have more time, I’ll look up some more places and see if there’s anything unique about one system’s smart card.  For now, have a look at TransLink’s YouTube video about the Fare Card Naming Contest.

3 thoughts on “Select Smart Cards from around the world

  1. Pingback: Name that card
  2. I doubt Presto will ever be Ontario-wide; Brantford and Kingston have already launched their own smart cards and some other systems (Sudbury for one) have them in development. Presto’s technology is a bit stale in that no data is stored on the card, but the next generation of Presto is said to be coming in the next couple of years, which could be expensive if they need to take all the old cards out of circulation first.

    A more modern Canadian system is the OPUS card in Quebec; this also strives to be province wide, as it is accepted by all systems in the Montreal area as well as Quebec City, but may not achieve this due to Gatineau working on their own system (they could still adopt OPUS). The big flaw in OPUS is the silliness of the fare structure; rather than having an electronic purse that fares are deducted from you buy the different types of fares you want from each individual system just as you did in the old days. This is very confusing to customers and unnecessarily bureaucratic, almost defeating the purpose of a smart card.

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