Load, tap, go: Arc card tips from transit pros in Edmonton

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Ali Grotkowski doesn’t remember exactly where she was going by bus on the cold day she warmed up to Edmonton Transit’s new Arc card. But she remembers not having to take her mitt off to root around for a bus pass.

“I had put my Arc card in my mitten,” said Grotkowski, a frequent ETS rider, “so I wouldn’t have to scrounge around in my purse for my wallet as I was getting on the bus.”


The Arc scanner read the card through the mitt—one small life hack for staying warm in Edmonton on the days it’s cold in the winter. 

This is what the sound of success sounded like:

Grotkowski demonstrating the Arc card mitten method aboard an ETS bus.

Simplicity, convenience

Arc is the Edmonton region’s electronic fare payment system. It includes an Arc card that can be tapped when getting on and off buses and LRT in seven transit systems, including Beaumont, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove, St. Albert and Strathcona County.

Grotkowski, who commutes downtown a few times a week for work, was one of more than 300 volunteers (piloteers, they were dubbed) who put the Arc system to the test before it launched to standard fare adult riders late last year. 

Grotkowski appreciates the simplicity of it all. 

Arc uses fare capping. If you take transit regularly and reach the monthly fare cap of $100, you will, after 36 trips, ride free for the rest of the month.  However, if there’s a month you find yourself using transit less often, you’ll be charged only for what you ride. 

“With Arc you don’t have to think about that calculation of, ‘Do I buy a bus pass this month because circumstances change?” said Grotkowski. Arc does the math and calculates the cost savings for you.

For Grotkowski, Arc lends a hand in other ways, too. She’s a mom to a three-year-old who travels with her on transit. Arc’s “mitten functionality” helps keep the little one close. 

“Having one extra thing in my hand is a lot,” Grotkotwski said. “You’re trying to hold on to a toddler, make sure they don’t run off into traffic or something. So it was really helpful to not have to have that hand occupied by holding the card. It’s in the mitten and, therefore, I could still hold my kid’s hand.”

This year, Arc will roll out to discounted riders, including youths, seniors, people experiencing low income and to those who use paratransit services. 

Donald Nguyen with his Arc card on a mittenlessly mild day in Edmonton.

Donald’s story

Donald Nguyen helped test transit cards in Vancouver a few years ago. When he heard about Arc, he signed up as a test piloteer here. 

“Just being able to log in online and load up the card—tapping on and off without worrying about how much I have to pay or even remember to carry cash or buy tickets beforehand,” Nguyen said of Arc’s prime benefit. 

He taps his experience with the card in conversations with friends and colleagues. 

“I don’t know if they’re sick of me talking about it now,” he laughed. 

Tapping off

Tips for tappers

Grotkowski and Nguyen share three tips for new Arc users:

1. You can load as little as $4 (or as much as $500) anywhere, any time at myArc.ca. You can also load your card through Arc fare vending machines, on the telephone, through the retail network or at in-person service centres.

2. Set up auto-reload on your Arc card so you can save time and not have to think about adding funds.

3. Remember to tap off.

Grotkowski and Nguyen agreed the biggest change was remembering to tap off. “Over time, we’ll see more people using it, giving us more visual cues to tap off,” Nguyen said. 

Tapping off helps transit agencies understand where people are getting on and off, which can help planners adjust schedule frequency for the number of riders.  Privacy is protected. Data provided to transit agencies is anonymous. Tapping off also prevents riders who travel across regional transit borders from being charged an extra missing tap fare. 

Load, tap, go

Paper tickets, passes and coins are still usable for all riders. The simplicity and convenience (and mitten-ness) of Arc make it, hands down, a popular payment option for transit customers in Edmonton and the region. 

An Arc card costs $6.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Ali Grotkowski using her Arc-mitt method of paying to get on transit. Get an Arc card online and learn more about the payment option at myArc.ca