Compass Card systems causing problems in other cities
A variety of problems in transit payment systems built by the manufacturer of TransLink’s Compass Card have critics wondering if they have anything to do with lengthy delays in getting the system started here.
Complaints of double-charging transit riders in similar “tap-in, tap-out” systems built by San Diego’s Cubic Corporation have resulted in lawsuits in one city, and accusations of tens of millions of dollars of overcharging in another, a CTV investigation has found.
The Compass Card – a new electronic farecard in Metro Vancouver – was supposed to be ready in 2013, with a promise of riders being able to load money and check balances online, as well as recover money on lost cards. Riders will tap compass cards in to start a trip and tap out when they’re done.
Instead the system’s rollout has stalled, with some 85,000 users so far using them as they would a monthly bus pass. The gates at train stations are not operational.
TransLink says the delay is because of problems identified in the beta test phase in September 2013. That’s when the agency found out that it was taking as long as a second and a half for some riders’ taps to be registered.
That’s now down to a second, but the contract between TransLink and card manufacturer Cubic Corporation requires a 300ms time – about a third of the time, and getting it down to that level has been a struggle, said TransLink VP Mike Madill.
“That’s not the level that we need it to be at the moment for our customers,” Madill said. “It hasn’t met our standard yet.”
Madill said he believed it is possible for the problem to be solved. In the meantime, TransLink isn’t giving Cubic any operational payments, he said.
But looking at other Cubic systems around the world has shown there may be other reasons for caution before Translink rushes in.
In Chicago, riders have complained that the card readers for their Ventra card system read cards too readily – it will debit a Ventra card, but it will also charge a contactless Visa or MasterCard at the same time. That’s led to reports of double charging.
The system is so sensitive some media have reported cases where people’s cards will be debited just by standing near a reader.
“If it charges someone’s card for having them just stand there, that’s a problem,” Lonnette Alexander told ABC News in Chicago, after her card was debited when she was just standing at the front of the bus.
It came to a head in the past few months with three lawsuits from angry riders alleging overbilling. The Chicago Transportation Authority is also seeking $1.2 million back from Cubic because they say rides were given away for free.
TransLink says that Vancouver’s system is fundamentally different from the one in Chicago. Chicago’s is an open payment system, which can charge a variety of cards. But Vancouver’s will only charge the Compass Card, Madill said.
In London, England, many riders say tapping out with their Oyster cards doesn’t always work. And, just as in Vancouver, when the system doesn’t register a tap out, the rider is charged the maximum fare.
When you add together all the overpayment in London, the figures are huge, according to the BBC: an overpayment of as much as £64 million a year, the equivalent of about $110 million. The Greater London Authority disputed those figures, saying they are closer to £14 million a year.
The equivalent in Vancouver, a system about a fifth of the size of London’s, would be between about $5 and $23 million a year.
Caroline Pidgeon, a member of the London Assembly, told the BBC that overcharging of that degree can’t be blamed just on people forgetting to tap out.
“It says to me there has to be something wrong with the technology. It can’t be that passengers aren’t swiping in and swiping out. There’s something wrong with the technology,” she said.
And critics here are concerned riders here too will be dinged – leading to a big revenue bump in Translink.
“I think these examples prove there’s going to be a cache of money that you’ll find in a vault at the end of the year,” said bus drivers’ union president Nathan Woods.
Translink says that they will be cautious in demanding riders to tap out, beginning first by educating riders. However Madill said he was confident that riders would soon get the hang of it. However, London’s system has been in place for 10 years and the problem remains.
Cubic told CTV News that the complaints are in the minority, with some 38 million riders using their system across some 30 cities around the world.