Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Vancouver commuters can’t buy a ticket to ride new Canada Line

with 12 comments

UPDATED: Here is the new video from Translink – showing how to do it.

SUBSEQUENT UPDATE – September 7, 2009 18:20

The video has now been removed by Translink. I have no idea why


Also has a representative from the supplier – Cubic – present.

The post below has now been changed from what was originally posted

Kelly Sinoski of the Vancouver Sun demonstrates that it is on fact possible to buy a ticket on the Canada Line with a debit card. It takes her two goes, and even on the “successful” run, it seems to have trouble accepting her PIN number. There is video, but the print story seems more representative of the daily reality. Regular users now carry cash.

This, of course, has been a story since Day 2, which is when I first encountered the issue myself. Translink has not covered itself in glory over the way it has handled the story. Blaming the users is of course the easiest thing to do, but it does not buy you any friends. It also seems true, given the continuing volume of complaints, that perhaps the instructions on the machine are not exactly specific enough. There was no mention on the machine of what the yellow light means or “wait for the click”. The machine did say on its own screen “wait for instructions” but there were none and apparently leaving the card in while you wait for them sends the machine to default “invalid card” mode.

After all, we all dip our cards into ATM machines all the time. There the machine retains the card during the transaction, so perhaps opting for the “swipe on the way out” technique was a bit contrary. But we also swipe our cards at various point of sale systems – and I have even managed to use my chip enabled VISA card in one or two places. Something they have been doing in Europe for years.   That is why these machines were bought – though it is not actually reading chips yet. It is still reading the magnetic stripe. Or rather, not reading the stripe. Translink has changed its tune a bit, and now says that new instructions will be available. Next week apparently. So perhaps their original claim that users were not reading the instructions was wrong. I cannot understand how they expected anyone to read instructions which do not appear.

What seems to be missing completely before the release of the Translink video was any mention of where the machines come from, or any comment from the supplier.  Cubic supplied the machines.

Note too that nowhere on the machine was there any message about the lights – and nothing came up on the screen either. Also missing now is any mention of the “wait for the click” that InTransitBC staff were telling people at the machines.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2009 at 9:45 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

12 Responses

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  1. I find it amusing that they’ve done such a round about. Ken Hardie all last week was twitting about how it was a user error and there was nothing actually wrong with the machines.

    I would assume that it is a new supplier, seems Canada Line isn’t taking anything from the legacy Translink system.

    Seems more likely Translink is trying to make it so that employees of BCRTC (Skytrain) won’t easily be able to transfer their positions over to Canada Line or vica versa.


    August 25, 2009 at 10:04 am

  2. Blame the user is a suicidal position for a technology provider to assume; the blame immediately bounces back to them for providing a product that isn’t comprehensible to its intended audience. Of course, these are machines that instead of welcoming customers with an LED display that constantly displays messages about the criminality of passing on a transfer.

    It’s regrettable that Translink is in such a hostile relationship with riders that its reflex in communications is to attack and demean complaints, rather than to say things like “We’ll look into that” or “We’ll try and fix that.” We’ve come a long, long way from the system that won North American Transit Service of the Year in ’96, and the frustration on both sides shows itself in how Translink talks to riders. Blaming them for fare payment problems is just one example.

    Todd Sieling

    August 25, 2009 at 10:06 am

  3. Peter – The Canada Line is a P3. Its operating entity is a private company which has quite different terms and conditions to SkyTrain which is part of the BC public service as a subsidiary of Translink. Transfer of positions does not happen in either direction – but BCRTC would have much better pensions etc.

    Todd – winning a contest in which you nominate yourself and where there are no other contestants does not seem much of a challenge to me. But otherwise I agree with you.

    Stephen Rees

    August 25, 2009 at 10:28 am

  4. It’s how I’ve been the winner of Todd of the Year for seven years running 🙂

    Todd Sieling

    August 25, 2009 at 10:31 am

  5. Apart from the fact there do seem to be problems with the machines – on the video Kelly Sinoski appears to put her card in backwards the first time – unless Scotiabank debit cards have their magnetic stripe along the bottom and not the top of the card (look at the logo and you can tell which is the top of the card, and the reader would require the stripe to be on the right since that’s you can tell that’s the side that would overlap with the magnetic stripe). She then spins her card around for the second try – stripe now on proper side – watch the vidoe – and then it works.
    Was that orchestrated or an honest mistake?

    Ron C.

    August 25, 2009 at 11:16 am

  6. What amazes me in all this kerfuffle is that I –neither a young buck nor a computer whiz by any means–managed to buy transit tickets at machines in Germany, China and Japan. And their English had to be read using some lateral thinking..yet it was easy to use. TransLink is showing us, one more time, that they don’t go out very that I mean going to other cities and trying stuff.
    Wouldn’t be surprised if they ordered stuff sight unseen.

    I can already see troubles brewing with transit smart cards. Most of the towns I know that use them have a big number of fares as the basic principle is to snare as many “transit consumers” as possible by offering various discounted fares…making money the way Cosco Carrefour, Ikea etc. do, by the sheer volume of cheap items sold…
    The smart cards companies, Gemalto for example, a company supplying London and Paris transit systems amongst others ( can offer a big palette of choices but ultimately the customer (Gordon C., Shirley B.??) decides..

    Red frog

    August 25, 2009 at 11:39 am

  7. Any public facing technology should be far more forgiving of mistakes. It’s a design fail that these machines are so finicky, not a user fail.

    I can already picture the frustrated user with some kind of physical disability trying to get the card out just in time, before the machine errors for having the card in too long. Which really, shouldn’t cause any kind of fail in itself.

    The actual explanation by the Cubic rep in the video really tells the whole story, the fact the reader isn’t properly integrated and communicating with the machine, that it appears to be such a discrete unit. A properly designed machine would have the reader able to communicate to the machine, “I didn’t find a chip” which would then cause the machine to display, “Please pull your card out,” allowing the reader to read the magnetic strip.

    But the fact the machine seems to just wait a given amount of time for the reader to either feed it card information or timeout shows they’ve simply packaged a bunch of off the shelf parts together without adequate systems integration.

    It’s a fail on Cubic’s part to make a user friendly machine and Translink/InTransitBC should have refused acceptance of these machines.

    Matthew Laird

    August 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm

  8. Stephen Rees – I understand that Canada Line is a P3 project, but the chances of it’s workers being unionized under the same union as BCRTC is relatively high.


    August 26, 2009 at 2:52 pm

  9. “Canada Line employees join BCGEU”
    August 12, 2009

    Ron C.

    August 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm

  10. I finally went out of my way to ride Canada Line this morning to work. I travelled from Oakridge to Waterfront and saw one ticket machine blinking “Cash only” and another undergoing some sort of repair. Not exactly a good sign during the first month of service.

    The whole system seems rather barren, as others have said, but I’m sure advertising will be arriving soon to clutter every vertical surface.

    First impression: Man it’s SLOW.

    The track twists, turns, rises and falls so much you’d think it was originally intended as a PNE ride.

    I didn’t think to time it accurately, but I think it was closer to 15 minutes than the advertised 12. I’ll be sure to check my watch on the way home tonight.

    Canada line is currently cleaner, quieter and less crowded than the Expo line but I’ll be back on SkyTrain next week because the bus ride is shorter and less crowded, the bus drops me off at the door of the station instead of across the street, and SkyTrain is above ground most of the way.


    August 28, 2009 at 9:59 am

  11. Good explanation from the guy at Cubic actually. Turns out it was user error. Thank god for YouTube. I will link to that Youtube video for my employee blog.


    August 28, 2009 at 4:29 pm

  12. […] this video, and TransLink’s approach here. I haven’t tried the machines myself; but, Stephen Rees has the best post on the yellow light and click. So, I’m just going to rant about this pathetic […]

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