TransLink promotes fare system overhaul to public

TransLink plans to launch a public education campaign today on how to use faregates and a new electronic farecard system slated to come into use late next fall.

The campaign includes social media, videos on TransLink’s website, and a special bus with Compass card validators at both doors that will run through the spring and summer as Trans-Link tests the new $171-million system.

The Compass card system will allow passengers to prepay fares for the day or the entire month in advance, which remains “stored value” on an electronic swipe card until you use it. Fares are calculated and deducted when you scan the card entering and leaving the transit system.

The 1.3-metre-tall faregates are already in place at many Canada Line and SkyTrain stations. There are also blue-tarp-covered Compass Card fare vending machines where people can buy cards or one-day passes as well as add-fare machines and validators, the monitors on buses and faregates that detect whether passengers have the valid fare for a trip.

Story continues below advertisement

By this time next year, those machines will have replaced the old fare machines, which run on fibre optics and tend to break down frequently, as well as the paper-tickets-and-passes system.

Ian Wardley, consultant for major construction projects at TransLink, acknowledges it will take time to educate the public about the new system. As a result, the faregates are expected to remain open for at least three months after the Compass cards come into effect while the old tickets are phased out.

“We recognize it’s a massive adjustment for the local community. We’ve got to provide a period of time to let people get used to it,” Wardley said. But, he added, “there will come a day when we will close the last gate.”

TransLink expects it will take most of next year to test the electronic system and ensure it’s working properly. Next spring, a group of test participants will run through the day in a life of a customer and document their experiences with the Compass card. More test participants will be added over another three-month period to ensure the system will serve the needs of transit passengers.

The system is expected to start running in October, when TransLink expects it will issue 600,000 to 800,000 Compass cards.

It works like this: passengers can register for a Compass card, to which they “add value,” either by phone, on the Internet or at a Compass fare card machine at a SkyTrain station. This could be as little as $10 to pay for a few trips on the system, as much as a monthly bus pass, or a prepaid balance “stored value” before they enter a fare-paid zone.

Story continues below advertisement

If they wish, they can link the Compass to their credit card. Or they can use their credit card, if it has the open wave access symbol, on the system itself. They can also buy a single ticket from the Compass fare card machine, a plain white card that includes a chip and can be read by the validators.

Then they just tap the valida-tor, which will detect the amount on the card, as they pass through the gates or get on the bus.

The move ends a proof-of-payment system for SkyTrain, which depended on the honesty of riders to pay for transit in Metro Vancouver.

“You never have to worry about loose change again,” Wardley said. But be warned: if riders don’t tap at the end of the trip, the calculated fare will automatically be a three-zone charge. And if they don’t have valid fare, the bus driver will be alerted by a beep, beep, beep sound, or they won’t be allowed to pass through the gate.

The new system is expected to reduce the number of fare cheats in the system; those caught riding without a valid ticket face a $173 fine. It will also make it safer for passengers, Wardley said, noting those who lose their Compass card can have it cancelled and replaced.

For customers who lose their wallet, can’t add value or experience troubles at a station, there is a phone at the add-value machine to contact a customer service representative, who can monitor the scene through a CCTV camera and remotely let the passenger out of the gate or dispatch assistance.

Story continues below advertisement

The project has meant retrofitting 1,600 buses, as well as extensive renovations at some stations, particularly those along the Expo line, which was built 26 years ago. At Edmonds station, for instance, the entrance had to be expanded to provide room for the fare gates, while the New Westminster station required glass partitions to separate the station from retail shops.

Most of the stations, except Metrotown, are expected to be outfitted with the fare gates when the system opens. Metrotown will likely see fare gates in 2014.