Compass card tap-out failures could mean extra fares for riders
Published Monday, March 14, 2016 6:53PM PDT
Hundreds of thousands of riders a week aren’t “tapping out” with their Compass Cards – a problem that hurts TransLink’s data gathering effort with its new smart card system and may also result in widespread overcharging.
Documents obtained by CTV News show as many as 220,000 riders a week in 2016 were given what’s called a “forced exit” – a designation by the system that can result in a three-zone fare, even if the rider only travelled one or two zones.
“I’d like to know how much money they’re taking in and what they’re going to do to address the problem,” said NDP TransLink critic David Eby.
At a maximum of $2.10 more each trip, the extra take could be as high as $462,000 a week – though that is likely an overestimation, given that many types of passes, including monthly passes or the U-Pass, don’t trigger a higher bill without a tap-out. Someone not tapping out after going three zones would be charged the correct, maximum fare.
“There is no correlation between a forced exit and an amount charged to a customer, as not all forced exits result in financial charges,” a TransLink spokesperson said in a statement.
However the agency had no better estimate.
“There is no helpful way to answer this question,” the spokesperson said. “If someone did not tap out, we have no way of knowing if they were travelling one, two, or three zones.”
There are about 675,000 cards on the system. About 200,000 cards, such as the BC Bus Pass, the U-Pass, company employee passes, West Coast Express passes, and three-zone monthly passes, won’t result in any extra bill. As well, every trip to downtown on a West Coast Express train – about 30,000 trips a week – will register a “forced exit” on the system, but won’t create an extra charge.
TransLink has been offering refunds to those people who call to complain, but the agency couldn’t provide figures on how much money that was.
A similar system by the same supplier in London, Cubic Corporation, resulted in media reports claiming some 60 million pounds were obtained in 2013, or about $110 million dollars.
The Compass system was some $30 million over budget, and years behind schedule. When the system is fully implemented on the Skytrain, Canada Line and West Coast Express, riders will only be able to open fare gates by tapping in and tapping out.
In that case, these extra charges are designed to stop people from jumping over fare gates to get on or off the system – meaning it will be very difficult to be overcharged accidentally.
But while the gates are open, it’s possible for riders to get on and off the system by innocently walking through open gates – and find out much later their card has been debited for more than they expected.
That’s what happened to rider Robert Clark - twice.
“If you’re not going to be able to remember what you did with your car keys, how can you remember to tap out?” Clark said, adding that more people go through the open gates because the closed ones are slower.
CTV News waited at a Canada Line station and asked people who failed to tap out if they had forgotten. Of about 20 people in 10 minutes, three-quarters said they used fare products that did not require a tap out, a handful were still using paper passes, and one said he didn’t remember.
“I’m in a rush,” said that man, Justin. When reminded he could save the $2.10 just by going back and tapping the card, he said, “I will do that.”
Two young women said they didn’t bother to tap out because with a U-Pass they didn’t have to.
“The tap-out thing doesn’t apply to us,” one said.
That attitude means that TransLink doesn’t collect data on ridership that is supposed to help it plan its routes.
The solution seems simple: close the gates. TransLink intended to do that months ago, but could not as closed gates would bar some people with disabilities from using the rail systems.
In early March, B.C.’s minister responsible for TransLink, Peter Fassbender, ordered TransLink to keep the gates open until a solution could be found.
Starting April 4, the agency plans to close the gates during peak periods when there is an attendant that can help someone through. However the gates will be opened again if the attendant isn’t there.
That’s not a good long-term solution, said Jane Dyson of Disability Alliance BC.
“It’s really crucial those gates stay open. For (people with disabilities) it’s more than just a higher fee. It means they can’t access public transit with dignity as they currently do,” she said.