Blog: Analog to Digital: The shift to Arc for Edmonton Transit
The new Arc electronic fare program is Edmonton’s foray into smart transit. Will this new tech make transit more accessible for all Edmontonians?
By Bronwyn Neufeld, ESPC Volunteer
Arc is Edmonton’s new electronic fare program for its transit network. Shifting the system from exclusively analog to the digital age with Edmonton transit having operated with paper tickets/passes and exact change only dating back to the first trolley car in 1909. (1) The Arc system is comparable to other tap-on, tap-off electronic fare programs in major Canadian cities such as Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. In many cities including Edmonton, transit is thought to be the more affordable option than driving. It’s important to question how the new system will affect those who use transit the most. What kinds of benefits and challenges might we see?
But first, how does this new system work?
The Arc card system was launched officially for all Edmontonians on November 21st, 2022, (2) and was used as early as 2021, integrated with the university student transit passes (U-Pass). It now extends to municipalities including Beaumont, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, and Strathcona County. (3) To use the Arc system, you must purchase either an Arc card or a single-use Arc ticket from one of 75 locations in Edmonton. (4) The single-use tickets act like single-use transit passes and cannot be reloaded with money; they are for one-time use only. The cards, on the other hand, act as reloadable transit passes, which can be done at any of the locations in which you purchased the card. After an Arc card is purchased, it can be linked to an online account, where the balance and personal user information is stored. The card will still work in the same way without an online account.
Arc cards follow the concept of fare capping. This means that the card will cap out once it reaches the amount of a month or day pass, at which point you ride for free for the remainder of the month or day. Even those who choose to stay anonymous and not register their card to an account, still benefit from the fare-capping policy. This feature benefits those that may have been making many trips by transit in a single day or month and using single use tickets, benefiting those who have purchased monthly bus passes previously. If you bought a monthly pass and did not take enough trips to make it worth the total cost, you would simply lose that money. With the Arc system that money is stored on your card, which continues to be used the next month. This would help people with jobs that are unpredictable in scheduling, which is common with many minimum wage jobs.
The bonus of having the electronic system is the option to get a replacement. With the money you load on your Arc card stored online, you can block the card and get a replacement, without losing money. Similar to what you would do with a debit card if it were lost or stolen. While still, a time-consuming annoyance, having the option to replace the card without paying again alleviates some of the financial burdens of losing a bus pass. This option is only available to the users that have registered their card online.
The current Edmonton transit system still accepts paper tickets, passes, and transfers. As the new Arc system is being rolled out, having the option to switch to the new system or continue using the old system benefits everyone by giving them choice and freedom.
One of the challenges with the Arc card system is it does not currently have discounted rates for people on AISH, Seniors, and other groups that had access to discounts with the original bus passes and fares. (4) The website indicates that these rates are coming in 2023. Having these rates implemented is crucial for inclusivity in the new system.
The distribution of the Arc cards themselves is lacking at the moment. With only 75 locations throughout Edmonton, the access to a card is more limited than to the old system which has over 300 locations. If you do not live on the LRT line or close to a business centre like many Edmontonians, you will likely not have direct physical access to buy or check your card balance.
These gaps in distribution of the Arc cards affects those who may have limitations to online access. For example, youth or seniors without direct access to computers, or the unhoused and precariously housed populations of Edmonton. The system is currently set up so that it excludes people with online barriers to some of the key benefits of the Arc system, like card replacement and online access to card balances. As the system becomes more integrated, more locations should be made available to provide Arc cards and access to card balances and replacements throughout the city.
The Arc card system presents an exciting step towards the modernization and improvement of Edmonton transit. It is possible for the Arc card system to maintain all the benefits while tweaking the system to ensure all users are included. For more information on the Arc card system visit Home | Arc by CRP (myarc.ca).
Bronwyn was born and raised in Amiskwacîwâskahikan/Edmonton. Bronwyn is an avid transit user and bike lane enthusiast. She loves exploring cities and experiencing all they have to offer. She just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta and is currently working as a Project Engineer-in-Training with Stantec.
- City of Edmonton. (n.d) Arc Card. City of Edmonton. https://www.edmonton.ca/ets/ets-history-statistics
- Mertz. E (2022, Nov 15) Electronic fare system for Edmonton and regional transit launches Nov. 21. https://globalnews.ca/news/9279607/edmonton-transit-arc-electronic-fare-arc/
- City of Edmonton. (n.d) Arc Card. City of Edmonton. https://www.edmonton.ca/ets/arc
- ARC. (n.d). Frequently Asked Questions https://www.myarc.ca/customer-service/questions-answers
- Edmonton Journal Editorial Board. (2022 Nov. 21). Editorial: Edmonton’s transit smart car better late than never. https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-edmontons-transit-smart-card-better-late-than-never
- Paquette A. (2021, April 12) Transit Statistics 2019 and 2020. https://pub-edmonton.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=88604
- City of Edmonton. (n.d.) Map View: ETS Sales Outlet Locations. https://data.edmonton.ca/dataset/Map-View-ETS-Sales-Outlet-Locations/kzs7-f2em?referrer=embed