Stephen Rees's blog

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

Starting April 4, They’re Closing All Fare Gates

with 7 comments


So I have a Compass card, and used up my last FareSaver, so I cannot say I am directly impacted. And, since I can afford to not only buy a Compass card but also keep it loaded against possible future needs I will now enjoy a more convenient system. But that doesn’t mean that the decisions that have been taken up to this point are not acknowledgements of failure. When a transit system adopts new fare technologies there do have to be some adjustments – but mostly that ought to be adjustments of the technology to meet the system’s needs and not the other way around. When the transit agency invites bidders to tender for their system’s requirements one of the things that both sides have to look at is how well the proffered technology meets the specification. In the case of the Compass card, Cubic have not been able to meet that test, yet it is Translink that is taking both the criticism and adapting to suit the shortcomings of what it has bought.

They have already abandoned one of the pillars of the fare system: three zones during daytime on weekdays. Yes, in some distant future they may be able to switch to fare by distance, but not with the existing equipment on buses. Now three zones have often been challenged, as arbitrary and based on a region centered around Vancouver (Zone 1) where fares rise based on distance to that centre which is not exactly what this region is now like. A short ride across the harbour costs more than the ride from Langley to Ladner. And since the bus route network has been designed and adapted over the years to feed passengers into the SkyTrain there are not that many opportunities to get a cheaper ride by staying on the bus: though I do wonder if the #19 has seen an increase in use recently. But the reason that the bus is a one zone fare no matter how many zone boundaries it crosses is simply because the tap out reader on the bus doesn’t respond quickly enough. A very basic system requirement, and an equipment failure. In other word’s Cubic’s fault, not Translink’s.

But that one ticket ride – which is so admired in places where multiple transit agencies serve the functional economic region – will no longer be available to the casual – cash paying – user. Who could be a visitor, or someone who either doesn’t need or cannot afford to use transit frequently. If you use the bus to get to SeaBus or the SkyTrain and pay on board you will have to pay again – as there will no longer be a usable transfer between bus and “rapid transit”. And will impact people travelling within one zone quite significantly: their fare has been doubled, just because Translink decided NOT to install a magnetic swipe reader on some gates. Or buy machines that could issue Compass tickets on board buses. I am sure that Translink has talking points about how that is not financially worthwhile, but then the whole Compass system is a financial disaster. It is supposed to improve revenue collection and deter fare evasion, but will never be able to pay for itself that way and the province has had to accept some responsibility for that.

For the “choice” rider – those who decide to stop driving for every trip and try transit – this is going to look like a deterrent. If Translink was able to stick to the idea of increasing transit mode share, that might be an issue. But the reality now is that Translink cannot cope with current demand – let alone increases even if they only come from a growth in population and transit share stays static – or even falls!

When the current generation of electronic fare boxes was bought for buses, adaptation to future needs was one of Cubic’s selling points. The decision to only go to magnetic swipe cards and not  smart cards reflected what was then available – but with the knowledge that the technology would change and the electronic farebox was specified to be adaptable to meet that possibility. In other systems, magnetic stripe cards are still in use alongside newer card readers. I have seen that for myself in a number of cities in North America and Europe, including ones using Cubic equipment and many more than three fare zones. Indeed the choice of Cubic as supplier for the new Compass system was influenced by compatibility of the new and old systems.

The issue over the accessibility of the system to people with disabilities ought to have been settled much earlier, and is a profound failure of a transit system which at one time was trying very hard indeed to improve accessibility. There seems to have been a significant unwillingness to listen to what was being said – or a willingness to ignore a small number of users over the need to install and get working a fare system bedevilled by delays and other failures. That is a failure of Translink, not Cubic.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 18, 2016 at 2:27 pm

7 Responses

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  1. TransLink has a committee of community members and customers with mobility concerns that meets frequently. It is called Access Transit. Hence it is false to state that on-going consultation is not taking place. The meetings are open to public to attend.


    March 21, 2016 at 11:19 am

  2. It would be false to state that. That is why I did NOT state that. This is what I did state

    “a significant unwillingness to listen to what was being said – or a willingness to ignore a small number of users”

    Just because consultation takes place does not mean that concerns are addressed effectively.

    Stephen Rees

    March 21, 2016 at 11:24 am

  3. I still have FareSavers and I live in downtown Vancouver. What am I supposed to do when I go visit my Dad in Richmond? What are the social service agencies who hand out FareSavers transit tickets to clients who are trying to find or go to work, training, one medical services?

    This is utterly stupid.


    March 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm

  4. Yes, this compass card deployment has been a big disapointment so far.

    First we will pass on the lame excuse of the “new high tech technology”. that could have been true in the 90s…Since rfid system have been deployed flawlessly around the world in many cities such as Jianshui China, picture below

    North America could have been slow to catch the trend, but that doesn’t make any excuse for Translink and its supplier to deliver: they didn’t have.

    Then come the system accessibility.

    The discussion seem to be a rehearsal of the one we get in the 80’s and 90’s on the relevance of low floor buses or trams (yes they are accessible, but carry less people…and people in Wheelchair have access to specialiazed transportation, so why accomodate them on the main system?..
    Granville station not coming with an elevator. It was not a big deal as late as 1986 (!)…but nowadays it is hard to imagine such a shortcoming could be politically palatable…our societies have evolved in the right direction.

    Of course each time, we need to accomodate people with special needs, this has a cost (supported by Translink), but exclusionary solution has also a social cost (not necessarily supported by Translink). so a right balance need to be found, and at the end it shouldn’t be to Translink to do this kind of choice, but its political master (transit accessibility is a political choice).

    What is curious is why this accessibility issue popped up so late in the deployment of the Compass card.

    Are the disabled people association guilty of not have warmed Translink soon enough or is it effectively the Translink choice to not address the problem and not even mention it in its business case making the case for the fare gate (Yes Translink did a business case for that, and the mayors council approved it !)?

    I lean for the second solution: as mentioned by Stephen, the discontinuation of the integrated fare system was welknown from Translink from day one, but didn’t pop up until very lately, when such thing (pricing policy change) should have been put in front of the decsionmakers well ahead of the decision to go with the t tehcnical solution: this has not been done (and also hidden in the business case drafted by Translink)

    Clearly technical and ergonomic solution able to accomodate people with little or no hand ability in a dignified manner exist: you can see them at work at Whistler:

    It could have been very simple to have a similar solution (gate activated by a compass card attached on the side of a wheelchair) if planned well ahead. Now it seems much more complicated!

    Why that has not been explored is a mystery: Translink seems fully accountable for it (unless it prove it could not be reasonnably aware of it, but a 2005 case study prove otherwise), and that give reason to its contemptor: why pour more taxpayer money on an organization running out of control?




    March 22, 2016 at 11:43 pm

  5. Voony, I feel that NOT accommodating universal accessibility in every aspect of mobility (transit, streets, urban design, buildings…) is a mistake of the first order.

    If by referring to “alternative” transportation for people with disabilities I assume you mean HandiDart. Well, my mother lost her independence in 2003 and passed last year, so that’s 12 years of experience trying to rely on the horribly inadequate HandiDart service. She gave up and spent her final three years cooped up within the walls of her care facility, never venturing outside. I challenge you to rely only on the HandiDart service for a month, let alone 12 years, as your sole mode of transportation besides a wheelchair before passing judgement.

    Her life would have been far better had her care facility been located in a high density neighbourhood linked to rapid transit rather than road-only access in the suburbs. It is feasible with holistic urban planning and architecture to designate portions of denser developments for not just the catch-all “senior’s housing” but for better delineation of senior’s needs, like top line care facilities where residents could travel by wheelchair and elevator to an indoor shopping mall linked to a rapid transit station, and therein have the city at the base of their wheels. Roll-on, roll-off. 100% barrier-free everywhere. The cost of universal accessibility is peanuts compared to the overall cost of transit systems and other city infrastructure, and it’s a crime it is overlooked or downplayed as an “extra” cost and therein subject to cuts.

    That assumption about alternatives also applies to people who are simply ageing and are still mobile on their feet but slower, like me. Or to people with parcels, baby buggies and baggage. Applying the principle of UA to everything mitigates their concern.


    March 23, 2016 at 12:32 pm

  6. […] We will pass on the lame excuse of the “new high tech technology” to justify all the troublef deployement of the Compass card. That could have been true in the 90s…Since then rfid systems have been deployed flawlessly in countless cities around the world: North America could have been slow to catch the trend, but that doesn’t make any excuse for Translink and its supplier to not deliver…and they didn’t,  as reminded by Stephen Rees. […]

  7. Being a low-income kind of guy, more than once I have been in a scenario where I have had to walk for miles to avoid the bus-to-station double charging–in my case because the ‘stored value’ of my Compass card had completely depleted, and I did not have the $10 minimum to ‘top’ it up, and would otherwise had to have initiated my journey with a bus ticket with my last two or three bucks. Only to be charged again, once reaching the station. It has always amused me that ‘fare-cheating’ by an individual is treated as an invidious crime, but Translink’s fare duplicity is not.

    Translink’s imposition of the fare gates and Compass reminds me of the prosecution of a war–one pretext follow another as they are exposed, all to obscure the real reason. First, it’s the evil fare-cheaters. That’s exposed. Then, it’s about ‘security’. That is disproven–there is no real improvement to security. Then it’s about ‘data collection’. Well, how much data do you really need? I remember when they just hired people to stand around on street corners and count people getting on and off buses. Then, when they’d used up all the excuses, they went into a full blown marketing blitz about the ‘convenience’ of the card–as if nothing else mattered, that the whole exercise of spending $200,000,000 was just for ease of payment.

    I presume that ultimately, it’s all about the Compass Card, and the miraculous ways it can enhance revenue. Money never, ever leaves the financial system, allowing everyone concerned to profit in various ways. Automatic top-ups from your bank account means greater and continuous access to more money. The six dollar deposit times a million users is a gift of six million dollars to Translink’s ‘float’. The ‘stored value’ aspect means Translink gets bigger chunks of money upfront which they get to keep in their pocket, instead of yours. Accidental overcharges they get to keep until you notice, which you just might not, ever. And it’s been shown that people just love shiny plastic–they are more complacent and careless with cards than with cash, as if a card was free money. When using my card I now have got into the habit of checking the time against the stopwatch function of my phone, since, of course, there is now no indication either with your card or with the single use tickets when the expiry time of your trip will be. It’s too easy to forget, and ring up extra fares without even realizing it. That more than makes up for the discounts on trips the card offers, I would guess, along with everything else. Oh, and there’s that little scam where Translink helpfully suggests you buy multiple single-use tickets for convenience–but doesn’t tell you that they expire in 24 hours. And then there’s all the money that might be made if the Compass Card is expanded and deployed for other commercial uses.

    I have tried many times to get Translink to explain rationally why they double-charge, and have never got the remotest sense out of them. My conclusion is that it is a very ham-fisted way into bludgeoning the public into getting a card–they want the six bucks. They really are that greedy. It’s either the six bucks or the equivalent in multiple fares. It’s greed, incompetence, and a petty-minded vindictiveness that is typical of the political affiliations of the Translink management.


    November 27, 2016 at 9:29 am

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