The digital age is evolving slowly for Winnipeg Transit.
The introduction of an electronic fare system, known as Smart Card, will begin by the end of winter.
Transit director David Wardrop said the Smart Card passes will be introduced first for seniors, most likely by the end of March or April.
"We're rolling it out in a phased approach," Wardrop said, adding the slow pace is deliberate to ensure the new technology doesn't overwhelm Transit facilities or riders.
"We're looking at a potential of an excess of 250,000 cards. We want to make sure we get it right and mitigate any of the growing pains we may or may not encounter."
The traditional paper tickets and passes will be replaced by an $18-million system based on a swipe card, where a variety of fare options will be "loaded" onto the Smart Card.
The cards will be available for purchase exclusively at Shoppers Drug Mart and 7-Eleven stores, but also at select retailers across the city not served by those stores.
The first cards will cost riders $5, but that will be refunded if they register and "reload" their cards within a certain time, Wardrop said.
Because it's a digital system, registered riders can reload their cards online.
Replacing lost cards will cost $5, but if riders are registered, the remaining unused value will not be lost.
Once the Smart Cards are fully in place, the only other payment options will be exact-fare coins and coin tokens, purchased in bulk and distributed by social service agencies and some schools. Paper tickets will be accepted, but Winnipeg Transit will no longer issue them.
The digital-fare system was first proposed in 2003. It was supposed to be in place this fall but delays pushed it back several months.
Wardrop said Winnipeg Transit will bring other rider groups on board in stages -- secondary and post-secondary student riders will likely be included at the end of the school year and before the start of the next semester.
There will be a transition period when the Smart Card is expanded to each rider group, Wardrop said. That is to ensure existing passes for each category are exhausted before riders must use the digital cards, he said.
"We're testing the system now to make sure we get all the bugs out of it. So far, it's gone quite well."