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The fare structure

Components of the fare system

The ARTM collects revenue generated by the sale of public transit fares to ensure funding for and sustainability of services. The “fare system” defines and provides a framework for the sale of fares and collection of revenue from riders. It includes the following four elements:

1. Fare structure

The rules for setting coherent public transit fares. Most often, these rules include service characteristics, particularly distances travelled or zones crossed, the mode of public transit used, speed, time of day and ability to make transfers, in addition to the socioeconomic categories of riders (e.g. seniors, students and children).

2. Fare products

The wide range of tickets and packages established within the structure that are offered to riders upon purchase (e.g. cash and single-ride tickets, multi-trip tickets as well as day, weekly, monthly and yearly passes).

3. Fares

The prices associated with each transit fare or package. They can be modified or indexed.

4. Technology solutions and pricing practices

Technology solutions refers to the technological tools public transit riders use for fares (e.g. OPUS card or disposable card). Pricing practices refer to the policies and rules on purchasing, validating, and checking transit fares.

Current situation

Public transit fares today have been shaped by the historical context of the metropolitan area. This section will address certain issues related to fare pricing. The following section will provide a more in-depth look at components of the current fare structure and the key changes needed to improve it.

Before establishing the new public transit governing body that gave rise to the creation of the ARTM in June 2017, each operator or municipality in the region was responsible for setting its own fares. Due to the size of the territory covered, the types and levels of service offered, the socioeconomic classes of citizens and characteristics of travel, each public transit agency (PTA) at the time adopted distinct approaches to fare structures, in the range of tickets and packages offered, the fare and discount levels as well as in the policies and regulations. Despite the fact that, since June 2017, the 16 different transit agencies have been regrouped into five organizations, the public transit network for the Montréal metropolitan area still has 16 different “local” fares. Local transit fares give riders access only to the network for which they were issued; that is, the STM, the STL, the RTL and each of exo’s 11 network sectors.

Currently, two fare levels exist:

  • Local fares, specific to the service provided by each operator in the Montréal metropolitan area. There are 16 local pricing structures.
  • Partially integrated fares for the metropolitan area (TRAM fares), which sometimes allow riders to use the services of more than one PTA while benefiting from a discount on the fare they would normally pay if they purchased fares from different operators.

Two elements, however, stand out:

In 1998, integrated passes were introduced to the metropolitan area, giving riders access to all public transit networks and modes for the zones they covered. These fares allow riders to travel within many networks without having to purchase multiple transit fares. Integrated fares offer an attractive solution because they respond to the needs of public transit riders who regularly use the services of two or more operators to get around. Until now, integrating fares on a regional scale has not been common practice in major North American cities, but it has become a popular topic of discussion on fare pricing.

In 2008, fare harmonization was followed by the implementation of an OPUS sales and collection system, which integrates most transit fares for the metropolitan area into one smart card. The introduction of the OPUS card marked a major turning point in improving the public transit experience for riders, because it makes it easier to purchase fares at the many automated teller machines and cards can be loaded online and voluntarily registered. These features encourage more personalized interactions with the system, particularly because riders can be reimbursed in the event of a lost or stolen card.

La structure tarifaire

Currently, fare structures differ from one operator to the next.

The Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL) and the Société de transport de Laval (STL) flat fares View definition, even though many of their bus lines extend beyond their regional borders.

The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) also offers flat fares throughout the Montréal agglomeration, except for the 747 line, which runs to the Pierre-Elliot-Trudeau International Airport, the Montmorency, De la Concorde and Cartier métro stations in Laval and the Longueuil—Université-de-Sherbrooke métro station in Longueuil.

The exo (RTM) network is unique in that it offers both zone-based pricing View definition exclusive to commuter trains and fare structures that are different from its sector-based bus services. Some sectors (e.g. Laurentides sector) use flat fare pricing, while others have adopted zone-based pricing. Many variations of zone-based pricing are used; some take the destination into account (e.g. Le Richelain sector) while others take both origin and destination into account (e.g. Sorel-Varennes sector) or even the number of zones crossed (e.g. Vallée-du-Richelieu sector).

Public transit service

Current fares for the metropolitan area are based on eight concentric pricing zones that extend out from downtown Montréal. Fares increase the further you travel away from the downtown core. This pricing applies to all municipal networks inside or adjacent to the ARTM territory. These zones have been defined based on distance from downtown Montréal, territorial limits, natural barriers (e.g. waterways) and local fare divisions. The concept of inter-zone transit fares does not exist currently. For example, fares are the same for travelling from Zone 5 to Zone 3 and getting from Zone 5 to Zone 1.

Fare structure

Pricing structure

Flat according to operator, with some exceptions
STM, STL, RTL, exo — Laurentides sector
Zone-based ― concentric variation
exo ― train, integrated fare
Zone-based ― varies according to the destination zone
exo ― Chambly-Richelieu-Carignan, L’Assomption, Le Richelain, Roussillon, Sainte-Julie and Terrebonne-Mascouche sectors
Zone-based ― varies according to origin zone and destination zone
exo ― Haut-Saint-Laurent, La Presqu’Île, Sorel-Varennes and Sud-Ouest sectors
Zone-based ― varies according to the number of zones crossed
exo ― Vallée-du-Richelieu sector

Fare structure

Flat according to operator, with some exceptions
Zone-based ― concentric variation
Zone-based ― varies according to the destination zone
Zone-based ― varies according to origin zone and destination zone
Zone-based ― varies according to the number of zones crossed

Pricing structure

STM, STL, RTL, exo — Laurentides sector
exo ― train, integrated fare
exo ― Chambly-Richelieu-Carignan, L’Assomption, Le Richelain, Roussillon, Sainte-Julie and Terrebonne-Mascouche sectors
exo ― Haut-Saint-Laurent, La Presqu’Île, Sorel-Varennes and Sud-Ouest sectors
exo ― Vallée-du-Richelieu sector

All pricing structures offer discounts based on age and status. These vary from one fare structure to another. Discounts are offered to:

  • Children age 6 and under
  • Children age 6 to 17
  • Students age 18 and older
  • Seniors age 65 and older

Fares do not vary according to time of day, except for some “off-peak” and “weekend” packages currently offered by some operators.

Fare products and packages

To use public transit, riders must buy and validate their transit fares. Most fares offered include monthly passes, short-term unlimited passes, multi-trip tickets and single-trip tickets. Most recently, fare subscriptions such as OPUS+ or the yearly OPUS card have marked a new step in growing customer loyalty and building exclusive relationships with long-time transit users.

Trips in 2017 per fare product

Trips in 2017 per fare product
  • Monthly and yearly passes 74%
  • Tickets (including cash on board) 22%
  • Short-distance unlimited 5%

In 2017, nearly 74% of trips in the metropolitan area were made using monthly passes and subscriptions. The latter are economical because they allow travelers to make an unlimited number of trips and save significantly on fares purchased on a per- use basis.

Fare practices, policies and initiatives

When it was created in 2017, the ARTM inherited the regulations on fare usage, sales and reimbursement policies as well as the rules of business from former transit agencies.

Some operators or municipalities offer citizens special fares to encourage use of public transit and promote events. Many of these kinds initiatives exist in different forms: free passes or discounts on fares for certain groups of travelers or for one-time events, agreements with schools, etc. The scope and the body responsible for funding these varies per initiative.

Although we have already started harmonizing practices and policies with the establishment of the ARTM, work still needs to be done to offer clients a more simplified experience.

Limitations of the current fare system

Although fare setting by each operator has its own logic, the existence of different, overlapping fare-setting formulas for the entire area can create inconsistencies and confusion for citizens as well as riders.

Fare structures organized per operator means that riders pay several times over the course of one trip. In some instances, the co-existence of local fares and integrated fares creates incoherency in fares and fare discounts. For example:

  • The same fare can cover long distances within one network, but a very short distance within another network.
  • Trips of a similar nature may require two or more fares, depending on the fare structure of the operator or operators.
  • Fares for identical trips using paratransit vary according to the destination and operator.

As a result, public transit riders must constantly switch from one system to another according to their trip and the operators chosen. This situation demands a considerable amount of effort from travelers because they must understand how each—and unfamiliar—system works. This level of complexity discourages occasional riders from taking public transit as well as riders making single trips using less familiar itineraries.

Challenges to overcome

Many people feel that the fare structure for the Montréal metropolitan area is complex and incoherent. It needs to be simplified and harmonized to meet travelers’ needs. This is key to building loyalty among current riders and attracting new riders. Some of the challenges include integrating the many different current fare structures and being able to adapt these fare structures to the evolving mobility needs of the population.

Municipalities want their citizens to have access to efficient public transit, especially to offer them a better quality of life and encourage sustainable development. Public transit is a powerful lever for developing dynamic neighbourhoods and economic activity and increasing property value. Creating an attractive fare structure is key to encouraging people to take public transit, building ridership and reducing traffic congestion. These services, however, come with a price tag and the share of anticipated fare revenue must be attained to be able to provide services. In fact, if contributions from fare revenues are less than anticipated, this could impact funding from municipalities, among others. It is crucial, then, that fare reform does not disrupt funding for public transit services throughout the metropolitan area.

Avenues to explore

The fare reform currently underway in the Montréal metropolitan area provides us with an opportunity to think about new ideas for setting fares and examine current best practices. The experiences of public transit organizations in Canada and beyond can be a source of inspiration.

Levels of fare integration

Some cities have opted to integrate public transit fares completely; that is, they offer a unique fare structure to manage fares for all public transit services within a given territory. This approach streamlines inter-operator service use and facilitates integrated mobility View definition in addition to providing people with more choices by offering greater travel flexibility. A completely integrated fare structure ensures greater coherency in the structure of the fare system and between products, policies and pricing practices. Information, then, becomes easier to communicate and easier for citizens and riders to understand.

Integrated fares can still have many fare structures, particularly according to the mode of transport. For example, in the Vancouver region, TransLink, the transit authority, oversees a unique pricing structure in which bus fares differ from the SkyTrain (LRT), commuter train and SeaBus (ferry). Regard sur différents modèles

A look at different models

The following cities have adopted an integrated structure for all their public transit services:

  • Fares for all public transit services are integrated into TransLink’s pricing structure in the Vancouver region.
  • The MBTA pricing structure integrates fares for all Boston, Massachusetts services (subway, bus, LRT, commuter rail and ferry).
  • The TriMet pricing structure in Portland, Oregon, integrates fares for bus, LRT and commuter rail into the tramway fares operated by the city of Portland and bus services of the neighbouring city (Vancouver’s C-Tran, in the state of Washington).
  • The pricing structure for London, England, managed by Transport for London (TfL), integrates all public transit services.
  • The pricing structure for Île-de-France Mobilités integrates all public transit services in the region of Paris, France.


Fare structures

Fare structures are usually built around the four following components:

  • Geography ― Flat fares | Zone-based fares | Distance-based fares
  • Service type — Fares based on mode of travel
  • Time of day — Fares based on the time of day or week
  • Socio-economic status of riders ― Subsidized or “social” fares

It should be noted that fare structures that take the origin and destination of a trip into account often require being validated upon entering or leaving the transport network and that fares need to be systematically checked by an inspector for networks using the honour payment method.

Flat fares

For one single fare, flat fares allow riders to go wherever they need, where public transit services are offered within the region. This is the easiest and most common approach used by operators in North America on a local level and within smaller networks.

This fare strategy is rarely adopted on a regional scale in cities the size of the Montréal metropolitan area, where many different networks and modes of public transit are offered. The is particularly the case for the commuter rail networks and long-distance commuter bus networks.

A look at different models

The following cities use the flat fare approach to provide services:

  • Bus routes in Vancouver
  • Subway and bus (TTC) in Toronto
  • The subway, bus and ferry in New York (free transfers between the subway and bus only)
  • The entire network in Portland, Oregon (bus, LRT, commuter rail, tramway) with free transfers between networks (except for some paper tickets)
  • The subway, LRT, bus, commuter rail and ferry in Boston (with more expensive fares for the subway)
  • The bus and tramway in London, England
  • The entire network in Lyon, France
  • The bus and tramway in Paris, France, for tickets and cash fares


  • Makes it easier to access and understand
  • Offers predictable fares
  • Allows for travel free of geographical barriers
  • Meets service needs of smaller regions


  • Does not take length of trip into account — therefore costs of service provided ―, can vary greatly within an expanded area
  • Does not consider the type of service chosen by riders
  • Creates an important cross-financing phenomenon (short-distance travel costs more per kilometre than long-distance travel)


Distance-based fares are determined according to origin and destination of trip. This model is usually only considered for certain modes of transport, such as the subway and train. Validating tickets at the exits of these surface modes (e.g. bus and tramway), which calculates the distance traveled, can prove more difficult.

Length of trip does not influence fare

Flate fare does not take into account the distance travelled

Predictable fares for users

More economical for longer trips

Awareness of service use

Better for shorter trips (geographical equity)

Length of trip does influence fare

Fare varies according to length of trip

A look at different models

The following cities have adopted a distance-based approach to fare setting:

  • The commuter trains in Toronto (GO Transit)
  • The commuter rail service in Vancouver (West Coast Express)
  • The commuter rail and LTR in Seattle
  • The commuter train in New York
  • The subway and commuter rail in London, England, for single tickets
  • The commuter train in Paris, France, for single tickets


  • The most equitable way to determine real use of service
  • Promotes greater geographical equity between riders


  • Offers a greater number of fare combinations, requires the implementation of digital wallets
  • Creates less predictable travel costs
  • Applies only to heavy rail systems such as the train and subway when entrances and exits are controlled, as demonstrated by different models around the world


Zone-based fares more or less reflect the increase in service operating costs based on distance travelled. They are a simplified version of distance-based fares. Zone-based fares are often used in expanded areas where public transit services are offered.

Generally, fares are determined according to zone divisions within the territory and increase as travel extends beyond the limit of the preceding fare zone. Riders, therefore, often wind up paying more for longer distances traveled. Large fare zones –  which cover greater distances ― are easier for citizens to understand, but involve greater fare increases per zone crossed, which may impact travel behaviour.

Tarification zonale

Tarification zonale

Smaller zones means less fare variations between them, but more zones adds a greater level of complexity for riders and consensus on this is difficult to achieve.

Zone-based fare pricing varies according to the following elements:

  • Concentric: Fares increase the farther away you get from the central zone area. This variation makes sense when a city’s downtown is the primary destination for riders.
  • Inter-zone: Fares depend on the origin zone and destination zone.
  • Number of zones crossed: Relatively uniform zones are used as units to calculate the distance travelled.
  • Overlapping zones: Each ticket is valid in at least two adjacent zones, which reduces the impact of zones on short-distance travel at the boundaries of two zones.

A look at different models

The following city services use the zone-based approach:

  • Fares for the LRT (SkyTrain) and the (SeaBus) in Vancouver are set according to three concentric zones with inter-zones.
  • Fares for the long-distance commuter bus in Seattle are determined according to the number of counties crossed.
  • Fares for the subway and commuter rail service in London, England, are determined according to eight concentric zones (distance-based for single fares).
  • Fares for all modes of transport in Paris, France, are based on five concentric zones for packages offered.
  • Fares for the entire network (train, subway, bus, tramway and ferry) in Berlin, Germany, are based on three concentric, overlapping zones.


  • Takes into account service use based on estimated distance travelled
  • Factors in travel costs to a greater extent
  • Is relatively easy to understand
  • Offers predictable fares


  • Must not only take distance from a central location into account, but other factors such as natural and administrative barriers as well. As a result, zones are harder to define, making it more difficult to obtain rider buy-in
  • Means that short-distance travel at the boundaries of two zones can be more expensive that longer-distance travel within one single zone
  • Can influence travel behaviour because of major fare differences between adjacent zones; for example, by inciting travelers to take their car to reach zones with lower fares
  • Requires a way to identify the network exit zone

Type of service

Different fares according service type allows us to evaluate riders’ perceived value based on frequency, comfort and any other characteristic that makes one mode of transport more attractive over another.

For example, modes that offer rapid services such as commuter trains, the subway or rapid bus transit could be charged more than local bus service offered on the same corridor.

Mode does not influence fare

Flat fare, whatever the mode used

Simplified fare for customers

Reduces parallel services (economical equity)

Awareness of perceived value of service

Redistribute demand between different modes encouraging operational efficiency

Mode does influence fare

Higher fare for rapid and direct modes

A look at different models

Fares vary according to services in the following cities:

  • Distinction between the bus, SkyTrain (LRT), commuter rail and SeaBus (ferry) by Vancouver’s Translink
  • Distinct fare structure for Toronto’s GO commuter rail service and express bus
  • Train, long-distance commuter express bus and LRT in Seattle
  • Distance-based fares for New York’s commuter trains
  • Higher fares for the subway than the bus in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Different fares for commuter trains, subway and bus/tramway in London, England
  • Different fares for the RER and commuter rail in Paris, France, for single fares


  • Can reflect the value riders give to each type of service
  • Fares can be set according to service operating costs


  • Limits rider choices because only one type of service is offered for certain trips
  • Can create competition between two parallel services, thus making less efficient use of services

Time of travel

Fares that change according to time of day aim for better passenger distribution between peak periods (when transit networks are used to capacity and cost the most) and off-peak periods (when the network capacity creates a more enjoyable public transit experience). This goal is most often pursued in densely populated cities in Asia or the United Kingdom and some cities in North America.

Time of travel does not influence fare

Single fare, whatever the time of the day

Simplified fares for riders

Fare level the same for regular and occasional riders, crowding during peak periods

Decreased demand during peak periods

Redistribution of demand between peak and off-peak periods; services used less during peak periods

Time of travel does influence fare

Lower fares during off-peak periods

A look at different models

Fares vary according to time of travel in the following cities:

  • Reduced fares during off-peak hours for the subway in London, England
  • Reduced fares during off-peak hours for the subway in Washington

This approach can be used to promote redistribution of ridership during off-peak periods by offering discounts on regular fares.


  • Encourages riders to shift time of travel to less crowded off-peak periods, thus taking pressure off resources and operating costs
  • Adds a leverage tool for setting fares
  • Can increase ridership thanks to residual capacity


  • Penalizes riders that do not have flexible schedules
  • Demands a significant fare gap to be impactful
  • Has little influence on travel behaviour through fares
  • Increases operating costs if services need to be added

The population for the Montréal region has indicated no clear preference for any of the proposed fare structures. However, some public transit riders are slightly in favour (8 to 10)* of fares based on mode used (32%), distance traveled (29%) or geographical zones (29%). Conversely, they are less likely to support fares based on time of day, the type of bus route or frequency of services (46 %, 44 % et 45 %, respectively opposing (1 to 4)* these types of fare structures.)

–  Fare survey, 2018

Fare products

Fare products offered within a given area act as an interface between public transit riders and the fare structure from the moment public transit is taken. They can also meet customer loyalty objectives and change ridership behaviour to promote use of public transit, among others.

The suite of fare products most often includes cash, single-trip tickets, multi-trip tickets, unlimited-use prepaid passes for a specific length of time (day, weekly, monthly) and yearly subscriptions. Very often, transit organizations offer discounts when multiple fares are purchased.

Fare products must make sense if they are to respond to user needs.

Cash and single-trip tickets


  • Riders pay only when they use them, without having to plan ahead


  • No discounts on quantity purchased
  • Offer no incentives to take public transit
  • Transit agencies incur higher operating costs, particularly for cash transactions

Multi-trip tickets


  • Meet the needs of occasional riders
  • Reduce operating costs over cash payment


  • Offer little incentive to take public transit

Prepaid passes, monthly passes and others


  • Are easy to understand and use
  • Promote ridership loyalty


  • Make it more cost effective for riders who base purchases on anticipated number and type of trips
  • Offer discounts based on commitment to prepaid purchases
  • Allow only riders who can pay in advance to benefit from discounts

The aforementioned fare products must be purchased in advance or upon using public transit. From a fare reform perspective, this notion of “pre-payment” could be replaced by “post-payment”, whereby riders would be billed for their real use of public transit at the end of the billing period. This would grant riders greater flexibility, however, an account would have to be created to manage billing.

Other formulas exist that simplify the choice of fare products and make public transit users’ lives easier. An evaluation of their impact on fare revenue must be made, however, before they can be implemented.

A fare capping policy determines the maximum amount (cap) that can be billed to a public transit rider. This cap can apply to different lengths of time (day, month, etc.). These products usually replace products such as multi-trip passes and unlimited passes. The most popular example is in London, England. The commuter rail network (GO Transit) in Toronto also uses fare capping.

Fare capping policy


  • Does not require upfront payment
  • Offers discounts to all riders (and not exclusively to riders who pay in advance)
  • Guarantees a discount when the fare reaches the cap


  • Offers less of a discount than prepaid passes
  • Offers discounts that are not pertinent to all riders
  • Requires changes to the current payment and collection system
  • May decrease fare revenue

Best fare policy


  • Guarantees riders will get the best fare possible
  • Relieves riders from the responsibility of choosing a product


  • Eliminates the notion of payment and usage commitment
  • Requires a lesser discount level than that offered for prepaid passes to cover fare revenue risk
  • Requires modifying the current sales and collection system
  • Requires a post-billing system

The best fare policy approach is similar to fare capping. Trips taken by riders are evaluated so they can choose the best fare package, without any prior commitment.

Public transit riders in Montréal are very receptive (8 to 10)* to the idea of fares paid in advance and fares based on frequency of use (52% and 47%, respectively), which is reflected in the sales of monthly passes and subscriptions. 44% of riders would potentially be open to a post-payment approach, whereby they would be billed at the end of each month.

–  Fare survey, 2018

Fare discount based on age and incomes

Reduced and student fares

Reduced fares are offered to people who meet certain eligibility criteria. The discount level varies according to the rider category and operator. The following riders qualify for a fare discount in the metropolitan area:

  • Children age 6 and under
  • Children/students age 6 to 17
  • Full-time students age 18 and over
  • Seniors age 65 and over

Subsidized fares

Some organizations offer reduced fares to people who meet eligibility criteria specifically related to their income level. Another section of the site deals with subsidized fares in greater detail.

Public transit riders in the Montréal region are in favour (8 to 10)* of reducing fares for students and seniors (74% and 73%, respectively), but less so for low-income earners (63%), families (62%) and people with special needs (58%), for example, those seeking employment or with disabilities.

–  Fare survey, 2018

Do you have an opinion about the fare structure?  Express yourself by answering the questions below:

The fare structure
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Flat fare


One unique fare for the region.

Zone-based fare


Fares are determined according to number of zones crossed.

Integrated mobility


An approach that aims to meet people’s global mobility needs by simplifying access to all sustainable mobility services.

Question 1 / 3

What does simplifying transit pricing in the Montréal region mean to you?

Question 2 / 3

Of the options listed below, which one seems the most equitable to you?

Question 3 / 3

Which of the following fare products is the most interesting to you?