TransLink Compass Cards: 8 things to know as testing winds down

After three weeks of tapping, the 10,000 testers of TransLink’s new Compass cards will end their trial run with the system this week.

“Beta testing will end on October 1,” says Mike Madill, TransLink’s vice president of enterprise initiatives. “Once Beta testing is complete, we will analyze the results and make any necessary changes to the system.”

The cards will be fully rolled out in 2014. As testing has gone on over the past month, a number of details of the new system have come into focus. Here are eight of them:

1. Paying with Compass cards will be cheaper than paying with cash, but more expensive than the soon-to-be cancelled Faresavers.

A Compass card will cost $6 to purchase, and can then be loaded up with a monthly pass or a set amount of money. Riders will still have the option of paying with cash, but the Compass card will be cheaper.

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Compass cards
1 zone: $2.35
2 zones: $3.50
3 zones: $4.70

Cash payments
1 zone: $2.75
2 zones: $4.00
3 zones: $5.50

Faresaver tickets – which were cheaper but only available in packages of 10 – will be phased out of the system. TransLink contends that Compass prices are the same as what Faresaver prices would have been if they had a price increase at the beginning of 2013 like other fares.

2: Security will not change

Despite the assumption that Compass cards will make fare evasion much more difficult, TransLink says there are no plans to change the number of fare checks or their locations.

“Police and security will continue to monitor the system including buses once compass is fully implemented and will adjust according to need,” says Madill. “While the fare gates themselves are expected to decrease fare revenue loss on the rail system, experience in other jurisdictions indicates it will likely not be completely eliminated.”

3. You can still evade fares on rapid transit if you sneak in behind someone

Over the past year gates have been installed at all Skytrain and Canada Line stations – gates that will have to be tapped with a Compass card or a single-ride ticket to open. But gates will remain open until someone passes completely through. And because TransLink opted not to use turnstiles to aid people with luggage, strollers, or mobility issues, it’s possible to be a fare evader on rapid transit vehicles by walking behind someone tapping their card.

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“In transit systems around the world, there are still people who will find ways to cheat the system,” says Madill. “Fare gates provide a visible physical barrier that makes it more challenging to evade fare for the typical person.”

4. Union pessimistic about the system

One group that has been critical about the many changes coming with the Compass card is UNIFOR Local 111, the union representing bus drivers. All 3,500 workers will be spending a day learning the intricacies of the system.

“From the driver’s point of view, it’s been nothing but a burden,” says Nathan Woods, the union’s president. “This system has been around the world, and as a result of that you would have thought all kinks would have been worked out by now.”

There are a couple specific areas which the union has been raising concerns over.

5. Longer times on busy bus routes?

Because everybody has to “tap out” when they leave a bus or be charged extra, busy routes, including the 99 B-Line, could face longer waits at stations where dozens of people exit and enter.

TransLink has said that more frequent buses are a possibility if busy routes become significantly slower, but the union is skeptical.

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“They’ve given us assurance, and they said there are more front-line hours, but unfortunately we don’t have enough extra buses yet,” says Woods.

“As a result of that, the service hours are great, but it won’t really help with the time. It’s service-hour shuffling.”

6. People unable to pay still have options

Many community groups and civic politicians expressed concern that the Compass system would make it difficult for the very poor to use the system. TransLink has responded by offering single-use Compass tickets in bulk to groups that work with low-income people.

Woods says it doesn’t prevent the larger issue of bus drivers not having adequate resources if someone refuses to “tap in.”

“It still comes down to people will get on a bus, they’ll say we don’t have money, and a lot of our drivers will ultimately let them on.”

7. There may be changes to the system

The beta testers have given TransLink a number of suggestions over the past few weeks, and Madill says “many [are being] considered as options for long-term implementation.” Two possibilities include the ability to pay using smartphones and having distance-based fares.
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8. No set date for the full launch yet

TransLink has said that once that there will be a transition time once the Compass system is in place, allowing people to continue to use their Faresaver cards and transfer from buses to Skytrain using a cash ticket.

However, the exact date for when TransLink will introduce Compass cards for all users is still unknown.

Watch: TransLink executive Mike Madill on Jill Krop’s show ‘Unfiltered’ to discuss the Compass Card beta testing.