Opus En Ligne

( Last edited on 11/25/2016. )

On the Island Of Montreal, bus and subway fares have been handled for many years via a contact-less smart-card, called our “Opus Card”. Most residents “recharge” their fares at designated commercial establishments, but those so inclined may instead buy a USB-connected reader for this card, which also has contacts, which the privately-used readers use to recharge them.

I am one passenger, who chooses to pay their fares this way at home, by plugging the USB-cable of the card-reader into my remaining Windows 7 computer named ‘Mithral’, and by going to a Web-site, where we can provide payment information.

Until last month, the way in which this system worked was:

  • We install a device-driver for the actual card reader – which is chosen for us by the designated site.
  • We kept our Java installation up-to-date.
  • The site charges our payment method, validated on their side.
  • The Web-site deployed and launched a Java application with each use, that connected to the card reader and wrote changes to the data on the card.

At least in theory it was possible to say, that this system was based on an open standard, that being Java.

But as of this month, the transit authority has switched to a different system. We still need the actual USB driver for the card reader. But now we must also download what they call their ‘SmartCardPlugin’, which is given to us from the site as an .MSI File in the case of Windows users. This plug-in actually forms the bridge, between their Web-application and the recognized card reader.

While this system seems to work quite well, based on my first use today, I would say it represents bad programming aesthetics. Even though the actual software-components were provided by Xerox, this system does not install a PKCS#11 security device, nor anything approaching a CAC card reader, with PKI. Instead, this service is based on an .EXE File, and leaves its hook in our browser, which in the case of Firefox, we can find under Tools -> Options -> Applications.

What this means is that the site will display an Web-object, that needs to be ‘opened’ by a specific application, associated by the Web-browser.

The most positive aspect to how this works seems to be, that indeed, it provides compatibility with Firefox, Chrome, IE etc..

But instead of providing strong security, this method is only as secure as the SSL connection to the site.

It may be interesting to note, that even when this system was based on Java, none of the officials ever promised that it would work under Linux, so I see no loss there.

Some users have complained, in that this system fails to meet their expectations, in one day combining the payment service as a smart-phone, NFC service. I have to concur with this hope. I also find it a bit clumsy right now, to have to plug in my Opus Card into a USB port, and to open a site which asks me for my payment credentials – ‘the old-fashioned way’.

But OTOH, I do not see much of a practical loss, compared with how it used to work. And one reason the officials may be doing it this way, could be a negative prognosis for the future of Java itself.

It just so happens that I prefer proven standards.


Continue reading Opus En Ligne

Montreal Opus Card Reloads

I am an avid user of the Montreal Public Transportation System, which uses an Opus Card to grant full access to its paying residents. And since December of 2015, I have been recharging my Opus Card online, so that I would not need to go to a commercial facility, to have it recharged. Therefore, I use a service called “Opus En Ligne”, and have been doing so 100%, since my fare for January, 2016.

One of the situations which can cause me some anxiety, is having to insert a payment card unto a typical machine, knowing that there could be some slight error in the way it connects. For Opus En Ligne, I have purchased a payment device – a so-called “card reader” – which connects to the USB port of my computer, and which is controlled over the Web, by a Java applet programmed by the ‘STM’, the Society which manages buses and fares for Montreal.

As far as I am concerned, it can always happen, that the card is not seated securely in the reader – or, that a person will think that his hands are steadying the card while in the reader, when in fact all that touching the card will do, is transmit vibrations through it. Or, what some people seem to think, is that if they jam the card into the reader especially hard, it will make good contact. Obviously, these beliefs are all wrong.

But it can still happen to me, even though I do not have such beliefs, that the contacts of the chip-card do not make proper electrical contact, which can make me a bit nervous.

Well just today I initiated a fare reload, in which the Opus Card did not make good contact with its card reader. This happened to me for the first time ever, today. And I was reassured by the messages on the Web-site, which told me that my fare had been deducted from my payment card, but that the reload of the Opus Card could not succeed, “Perhaps the Card is not Inserted Properly?”

And then the Web-site did the best thing it could do, which was to show me a button labeled “Retry”. So I was able to play with the card, and then to click on “Retry”, after which point the messages in the browser told me, that the second try had succeeded.

It is generally good to know, that a backup plan was programmed into any system, where a first attempt to do something could go wrong.

Of course, I will not be 100% sure that this did finally succeed, until November 1 comes around, and I use the Opus Card successfully.



The Opus En Ligne Card Reader

On the Island Of Montreal, one very common means of paying both the bus fares and subway trips – which we call “The Metro” – is by way of an “Opus” chip-card, which is NFC-enabled, which means that we wave it in front of a terminal located in the front of the bus, or at gates which lead into our Metro Stations. But, it used to beĀ  hassle for me that I still needed to go to a licensed store counter, to have my Opus Card recharged every month, and to pay actual money there.

The STM – which is the public transit organization responsible here – took the trendy step of offering tech-savvy riders the option, of buying a card reader which we can plug in to a USB port, and which we can use to recharge this transit card online.

I’ve used mine twice now. The only real drawback is the fact that once we’ve received our card reader, we need to download the device driver online if we’re using Windows 7.

But aside from that I feel comfortable using it, especially when the weather outside is snow and sleet, and it’s not convenient for me to go to a designated location to have it recharged. I even happen to be especially sensitive, to the thought that a chip-card might move or wiggle in its slot while being used – at restaurants or stores. Surprisingly, that thought doesn’t bother me when I’m recharging my Opus Card at home. Mind you, if we have this service done, it’s contactless, while at home, we need to insert the card into its reader and make use of its contacts.

I don’t really understand, why there was a business review somewhere, which explained the obviousness of how that concept could never have caught on. BTW, the “STM” is not a for-profit organization. I’m assuming that that article was written, by a financial expert who never tried to use the product himself.

The only external reference to this gadget I can find in the short term is this one:


So it seems then, that I’m not in step with the social media?