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

Archive for August 14th, 2013

SkyTrain won’t take bus transfers with new Compass Card system

with 31 comments

Proof of Payment

But will not open the gates at SkyTrain or SeaBus

The story was broken by 24hours and took me by surprise.

I have actually turned down the offer from Translink to be a beta-tester for the Compass card, since I do not use the transit system very much these days. Car2go, walking and biking make up a lot of my trips and, after all, I am not a commuter now either. I carry pre-paid tickets, and the two zone ones still read $3.75. I also try to cut down on carrying change and use cards for most transactions.

I actually got a bit irritated the other day when I took a lot of bottles back to the liquor store. They gave me coins for them, but not enough to do anything with. “You can always use them on the bus” said the helpful clerk. (His cash register cannot issue a credit note, which could be used to help pay for the beer I was about to buy.) Since cash fares on the bus are already more expensive than my stock of prepaid tickets, why would I?

TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said that at $25 million, it was too expensive to upgrade all bus fare boxes so they would dish out Compass-compatible tickets.

If a passenger carries a bus-transfer pass to the SkyTrain, they will be told to get a Compass single-trip pass from a machine. There will be no trade-ins, nor will there be a discount for cash-only bus fares, Zabel said.

The new fare system itself is already uneconomic. Putting gates on SkyTrain was where all this started. Kevin Falcon, then Minister of Transport, ignoring all the facts and data except the opinion polls, insisted that the Proof of Payment system had to go, and that people would then “feel safer”. Nonsense of course. And he handed over tax dollars to do it

The province is providing $40 million and the Government of Canada is contributing up to $30 million from the Building Canada Fund to support the approximately $100 million in eligible costs for the faregates installation and related station improvements. The total cost for both the faregates and Compass card projects is approximately $171 million.

Why not enough to make the bus system compatible? It already will never ever pay for itself through reduction in fare evasion. So why not round up to $200 million?

Maybe because until the zone system gets replaced with fare by distance, a passenger who has paid cash on the bus and got a (card with a magnetic stripe) transfer already has valid proof of payment. If an actual person – like a SkyTrain attendant or Translink police officer – asks, that proof of payment shows the correct fare has been paid within the last 90 minutes.

The problem is that Translink has installed gates on SkyTrain that only stay open when someone waves a valid Compass card (with an rfid chip) at them. And if there is to be any real payback, they have to cut the number of people checking tickets on board. Which actually reduces security overall.

You could put the argument another way: why was there no magdip reader on the new faregates? There are probably fewer faregates than buses. Or no magdip reader on the machines that sell the Compass cards? All made by Cubic, of course. And when the electronic bus fareboxes were specified the idea of adding other media was supposed to be a bolt on extra that would be easy to install. At that stage, of course, we were never going to gate SkyTrain, let alone buy gates that only work with media from part of the system.

“It’s estimated only 6,000 customers (pay cash and transfer) a day, which represents a small percentage of our daily rides,” Zabel said.

So it’s okay to swindle 6,000 people a day, but worth spending $171 million to catch less than 4% of fare revenue thought to be lost to people who don’t pay at all?

The one thing that we have always been so proud of here is that we have a multimodal system, and one ticket works all of it. Janette Sadik-Khan (Transportation Commissioner for New York) was delighted when she discovered that here. Such a contrast to her city where MTA cards do not work on PATH or NJT trains within NYC. Or most ferries. “I feel like Charlie at the Chocolate Factory” she said “I’ve got a golden ticket!”

The people who use cash to buy a ticket and transfer will be those who use the system least. (Or as Renée Stephen points out, people who do not want to be tracked by Compass.) But will include visitors – who have the least incentive to buy a prepaid card and then have it as a useless and expensive souvenir. I send my son the stored value Metropasses we get whenever we visit him in New York. We still have our Paris Navigo cards – but we only bought one month’s travel on them. We can reload them, should we return, but when we left (in a taxi) there was no value left on them.

The unwary visitor to Vancouver already gets dinged, of course, if they pay cash from the airport to ride the Canada Line. It’s free to the car parks, and the now under construction shopping mall. But $5 extra for any further. Up until now we have mailed transit tickets to people who are coming to visit us from out of town. Unless we are picking them up at the airport of course.

I got quite annoyed recently when Councillor Andrea Reimer tweeted about upcoming fare increases (also due to Compass) “It’s like they don’t want us to use transit”. In only 140 characters it is hard to assign blame accurately. But this is yet another example of Translink’s tin ear as far as its users are concerned. Lack of funding is a problem – but not an excuse for theft.  I begin to think she was right.

I know my old books of tickets will be useless eventually – but I would expect Translink to have some method of loading my new Compass card with their value, or I won’t buy one until they do or I have managed to use them.

If a passenger has paid the correct fare and has proof of payment, the system is obliged to transport them. The inability of electronic systems to talk to each other cannot be used as an excuse for breaking that contract. Are proof of payment tickets issued on buses now going to read “not valid on SkyTrain”?

In other news 

I was going to ignore the Globe & Mail story (picked up by Sightline’s Daily) about driverless buses.  Translink is not really “considering” them in any realistic sense. The G&M was just plonking a CTV clip onto its web page anyway. Bizarre, since CTV is not paywalled and G&M is. And there is no actual content barring a short clip of a driverless people carrier at an airport somewhere. If the driverless bus is a segregated right of way BRT, how is that any different to what we have now? And if Google gets its way and there are already driverless vehicles in mixed traffic, why shouldn’t it be a bus or shared ride taxi too?


The estimated loss from fare evasion is “more than $7 million a year”

6,000 a day pay cash and transfer, will now have to pay again

6,000 x 350 x $5 = $10.5 million a year

I am enjoying the flurry of attention this  is getting on twitter. Even if it is clear that people read the tweet and respond to that, rather than read what I wrote in this blog. So instead of jumping into that fray again I am going to note a strategy that now occurs to me. Your level of comfort with this will determine if you use it or not. The Operator of the bus is NOT required to enforce the fare system. He/she is only required to inform you of the fare. Some have taken to saying to non-paying passengers “That’s between you and the transit police.” So tell the bus operator that you intend to transfer at the SkyTrain station, and you will pay the fare there as you do not feel it reasonable to be expected to pay twice. Show him/her that you have the fare ready – and state that the transfer issued by the bus fare machine is worthless.

I think that is lot easier than jumping the fare gate.

But you may find yourself talking to the legal system later. Assuming that this now viral story on social media does not cause Translink to do a rethink.

UPDATE Miranda Nelson has posted a list of what she thinks is wrong with Translink on the Georgia Straight which uses one of my pictures (thank you) and has a link to an on line petition against “the pay twice if using cash” policy.

FURTHER UPDATE Sept 27 Finally someone has seen sense at Translink – also from 24 hours

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in transit

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