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I spent the last weekend in Montreal and had the pleasure of riding the Metro, which was so shaky as to make me feel tired every time I got off it. Those trains made me need to sit down all day long.

But let's put personal opinions aside and hear some facts. The Metro's fare collection system is a bastard child of the New York and Boston systems, as far as I'm concerned. The first time I rode it, not knowing procedure, I bought a ticket from the attendant and waved it past the little slot reader.

The gate opened.

In theory, you have to drop the ticket into the magnetic reader for the gate to open -- that's certainly the idea. I didn't realize that the tickets, which I imagined worked like single use MetroCards, had the same value after use. The second time I rode the Metro, I did the same thing and was chased down in a hail of French curses by the attendant. I couldn't even figure out what I'd done wrong until later that day.

In theory, you need to buy a ticket every time you ride the Metro. In practice, the range of the ticket reader extends about half an inch (sorry, sorry, about a centimeter) past its outer wall. With a little sleight of hand, you can wave the ticket by the slot while actually palming it and get a two-for-one ride.

Of course, you have to use the ticket at one of the little vacuum-gates afterwards, so at best you're getting one free ride per paid ride. Still, not such a bad deal.

Montreal's Métro system recently underwent a much-needed and long-postponed renovation finally bringing its operations to a level achieved by many other cities, such as London and Paris, a decade earlier.

The new system is centred on the so-called “OPUS” smart card, a credit card sized piece of plastic with an embedded microchip. Rather than tickets or magnetic strips, one need only swipe one’s card over a relatively large blue section above the turnstile to be greeted by a moving turnstile or the separation of two interlocking red panels.

As far as cheating the system goes, this does eliminate the possibility of fooling ticket-takers in the lodge. However, those desperate to catch an arriving train, or simply deny the notoriously mismanaged Société du Transport de Montréal additional funds should know that the official policy is not to pursue those who jump turnstiles. Instead, as revealed in a 2008 in-depth investigation of the daily life of an STM employee in the tabloid le Journal de Montreal, ticket-takers are instructed to press a small button in their booths that alerts the central office at Berri-UQAM that such an infraction has occurred.

Be warned, however, that the recently created Métro Police Force has become increasingly aggressive against such infractions which might at one time have been overlooked in most stations. A Laval woman was recently fined $420 for failing to hold the handrail in an escalator, making international headlines.

All things considered, it’s probably not worth the effort. Buy a weekly pass and enjoy the art and architecture in the city’s metro system without looking over your shoulder.

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