Stephen Rees's blog

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

More Delays for Compass

with 8 comments

Compass reader

I got a call today from a producer at CBC TV news who wanted my opinions on the latest delay to the roll out of the Compass card. It seems that the Union has been drawing attention to the poor performance of the card reader on the buses, especially for those who remember to tap out when they leave the bus. This has been getting quite a bit of media attention today. The CBC coverage has been developing – as they say – and I said I was reluctant to appear, given earlier experiences when I gave a thorough analysis of a problem and all that was broadcast was a ten second sound bite. I was told that their methodology had changed. So I went to the studio and was interviewed by Miyoung Lee – and most of what I said made it to the 5 o’clock segment as the second item. Here is a link to video which is also underneath the story cited below.

Then at 6 o’clock the same story was handled by Eric Rankin, and quite a different picture emerged. This time there was extensive commentary by Todd Stone. He remarked that in the private sector delays and inadequate performance would result in “heads rolling”. No one seemed to remind him that it is the private sector company Cubic that has been missing its targets. Later in the segment, Rankin stated that Cubic had warned Translink that the reader on the buses might not work as required for the tap out system to be sufficiently reliable. That was certainly news to me. Cubic seems to have been reticent to put in any appearance in any of the local mainstream media coverage I have seen up to now.

The other surprize for me was the suggestion – raised by TransLink vice president Colleen Brennan  – that the three zone system might have to be replaced by a single zone system if the tap out on the bus issue cannot be resolved. If that had been raised in my interview, I would have had quite a lot to say about that. My Florence bus ticket validator story did not make it to air either – and their system was not supplied by Cubic.

I was relieved that although a CBC trailer had Jordan Bateman spouting about “boondoggles” he did not get quoted in this context, but something completely different. I did my best to avoid Translink bashing by pointing to the “fit for purpose” test that has to be applied to any contract. I think Cubic needs to be held accountable, unless it can be shown that Translink was told that fare by distance would not be feasible on buses before they signed the contract but went ahead anyway.  This is not the sort of story that needs to be leading the 6 o’clock news at this stage of the referendum process. Translink is already in deep trouble for the ongoing series of failures on SkyTrain – another one of those yesterday.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2014 at 7:28 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Appreciate that the existing fare box is “out of service” , so the pictured bus is free…a common occurrence nowadays (since the traditional fareboxes seem not maintained anymore)

    I have to tell to some relatives visiting me you have to pay to board the Skytrain (in despite of inviting “open gate” suggesting otherwise), but they never understood where (working fare collector have been moved out of sight) they basically almost never paid.

    I suggest we are not seeing yet the full cost of the Compass card delay.

    regarding distance pricing on buses: I think it is a bad idea from day one:


    October 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

  2. One wonders why the Compass card fails to work as advertised on the buses..Is it related to something in the bus electronics or technology itself interfering with the Compass card system? Zones by themselves do not cause problems-at least in Perth, Western Australia, which has a Smartcard sytem with nine pay zones for its extensive bus, six train lines and ferry system. Tapping on and off on buses was not seen to be a problem…

    Myron Claridge

    October 31, 2014 at 4:02 pm

  3. Perth’s system was supplied by Wayfarer: much more information at

    Stephen Rees

    October 31, 2014 at 4:08 pm

  4. The Vancouver Sun had 2 stories about it last week. Apparently in several US transit systems one tap only when boarding the bus.

    I checked the Sound Transit site and they do say that on buses one tap when getting on the bus only. Their card was created by a company bought by Compass.

    This also the case in a couple of European towns I checked.
    London–who had trouble with Compass–mention that buses have a single fare, so one tap when boarding only.. Same with tramways, though in London, as in Seattle, the validators are on the platform.

    In France only Paris has zones (5, down from 8 a few years ago). All the other towns, including Lyon that has quite a few people, have one zone only. Validators are inside the buses and trams.

    I then checked Japan, even asked the question on a blog to confirm–and buses either have one zone only or several zones, and in the later case on must tap in then out when exiting.
    One interesting detail, provided by one Japanese transit user, is that one must wait at least 1 second for the validator to do its routine..
    TransLink mention a much shorter time, 0.3 second, and that could be part of the problem..

    In a related matter, TransLink has said for ages that they want to charge fares by the distance. My point is that zones ARE distance-based fares…both in Paris and London they are quite happy with their zones system.. even if in Paris some politicians would prefer a single zone.

    There are few transit systems that charge by the actual distance travelled..trains mostly. .

    Seattle Sound Transit does it, on the Sounder trains as the distance between stations is big enough to make a difference.
    They have a different system on the Central Link tram that–currently–goes from Westlake in downtown Seattle and SeaTac airport.
    Not counting Westlake, the departure station, there are 12 stations on the line.
    The fare for the first 6 stations is $2.00; for the next 4 stations it is $2.25 and for the last 2 stations it is $2.75. It looks like fare zones to me…

    Red frog

    November 3, 2014 at 10:19 pm

  5. yes Redfrog

    here a reprint of a comment done on pricetags in response to another one from Ken Hardie,

    The Translink SmartCard system could be described “as very complex” by North American Standard but Smart card system are staples in Europe or in Asia…where probably more than 1000 of them exists…some cover an entire country like in Netherlands, most cover complete region, with many different operator fares, transportation modes….the vast majority of them get unroll without trouble.
    The Seattle’s Orca system covers an area more complex that the Translink one with different transit authorities, fare zone,…includes 2000 buses, ferries, LRT…

    Orca has costed $40 millions…

    Even if you remove the faregate component, we are north of $100 millions for the Compass program suggesting we have already overpaid a system by a very significant margin.
    Hong Kong could not have zone system per sei but doesn’t have flat fare either (route base fare with sorta disatnce pricing), and still no tap out on buses

    The Hong Kong system (Octopus), developed 25 years ago, was also facing wireless transmission issue: they roughly used the strategy you mention (that is “data caching”: fare transaction speed is independent of the network quality, the bus sync with the server, once a reliable network is available: that is a matter of seconds usually unoticeable to the user):

    My understanding is that it is still done that way on most of the systems because

    1/lack of network reliability (and bandwidth availability) can be still an issue
    2/Fare transaction time is utterly critical in Transit world (and the whole rational to switch to a smartcard is to reduce them)
    3/ Falsely accepted transaction (due to lack of funding and sync between onbard data base and central server) could be neglictable and involve individually insignificant amount of money…

    It is mindblogging that the Cubic solution doesn’t cache data (That is the explanation advanced by Translink for the Compass delay.


    November 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

  6. I’ve never heard why Translink went with San Diego-based Cubic, rather than Fare Logistics, a Victoria based company.

    “Notably, Canada also produces fare collection devices for various transit agencies in North America. Fare Logistics Corp., located in Victoria, British Columbia, currently manufactures and develops high tech fare collection solutions. They are best-known for having the most modular and customizable products available on the market today with offerings such as the Voyager farebox and the Talisman.”


    November 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

  7. Thanks Voony
    To say–as Ken did–that smart cards have problems with multiple zones is ridiculous. Paris Navigo card has no problems with 5 zones, and London transit doesn’t have problem with 9 zones plus what I call “in-between” zones;
    For example Zones 1-2/ Euston – Zone 2*/ Zones 1-3/ Euston – Zone 3*/ etc. etc. all the way to Zones 1-9/
    Zones 1-9 + Watford Junction/ Euston – Watford Junction*

    The smart card used in Reims-France (metropolitan population 300 000) since April 2011 is: a Visa credit card, an ATM card, an E-purse for purchases under 20 Euros, a transit smart card that can be loaded with tickets and/or one pass for the urban transit, another pass for commuter trains or buses. It can also be used to pay for parking, the library, the swimming pool, renting bikes etc.

    They likely got the idea in Japan…or it is sheer luck…just like the automated transit systems–with rubber tires– the Japanese and French invented within a few years of one another…in the days before internet..

    A single trip in a big town Japan may involve taking a bus from home to a suburban rail station. Once in the big town the commuter will use the subway (with a change of lines), then take another bus or a tramway or a monorail or an AGT (automated light rail transit).
    All these various transit systems are likely owned by several independent private companies…The card has to “pay” each one of them, without the commuter being involved, save for remembering to tap in-out here, tap in only there etc.

    These cards (there are 10 major ones in Japan) give you a special discounted monthly fare in your region BUT you can also us it anywhere in Japan. In all the other places you will have to pay the full single fare for each trip, but it still more practical than having to find out how they pay for transit in a town where you have never been until today.

    Red frog

    November 5, 2014 at 1:30 am

  8. Dave,

    Gordon Campbell’s former right-hand man Ken Dobell was the lobbyist for Cubic.


    November 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

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