TransLink moving to single-zone fare system for all buses
TransLink has announced it’s moving to a single-zone fare system for buses this fall as it continues rolling out the troubled and long-overdue Compass Card program.
The transit provider revealed Thursday that starting Oct. 5, bus and HandyDART riders will pay for one zone no matter how far they travel.
TransLink CFO Cathy McLay said the system is temporary but will remain in place until further notice, and that one-zone fares will stay at the current cost of $2.75 – at least for the time being.
“There is no plan for a fare increase at this time,” McLay told reporters Thursday.
Compass Cards are designed for users to tap-in as they enter transit and tap-out as they exit, but the program has been delayed for years because of technical issues with the electronic readers.
TransLink said the technology can now read cards at four-tenths of a second, but that the first Compass users – largely post-secondary students and West Coast Express riders – have still experienced trouble tapping off.
“What we heard, especially after the West Coast Express launch, is it’s very, very difficult for our customers to tap-off the bus,” McLay said.
The announcement of single-zone fares will mean Compass users on buses won’t need to worry about tapping out to ensure they don’t get charged for a longer trip than they actually took.
McLay, who will become acting CEO of TransLink starting Aug. 11, denied the move to a single zone is an admission the Compass tap-out doesn’t work.
“We’ve listened to our customers,” she said. “We’re adjusting the zone to help us with the transition.”
Despite the years TransLink has spent developing the Compass card system, which was originally intended to launch in 2013, McLay said it was “too early” to tell if the tap-out system will ever work for bus passengers.
Unlike bus users, people taking SkyTrain, West Coast Express and SeaBus will still be charged for the number of zones they travel.
For those passengers, “tapping out will still be required to ensure the correct fare is charged,” TransLink said in statement. Turnstiles, once active, are expected to help ensure they tap-off successfully.
After news of the new fare system broke, many on social media raised concerns about whether they would get charged twice if they move from a bus onto a SkyTrain or SeaBus.
McLay insisted that won’t be the case because a Compass tap-on, like current fares, will be good for 90 minutes, and the system will simply top up the fare if riders move to a new zone.
“Our smart card’s smart enough to know that you got off on a bus stop and are getting on a rail,” she said. “If you’re still in the same zone, [there will be] no increased cost.”
The Compass Card has always been touted as a way for TransLink to gather valuable data about bus usage and trips, which would allow it to utilize resources more efficiently. Though the loss of tapping out on buses will hurt those plans, McLay said staff will still be gathering important information through Compass.
“We’re going to be able to get all the tap-on data for all of our bus customers” and “all the information on rapid transit lines,” she said.
TransLink said the move to a single zone for buses shouldn’t mean much lost revenue because 80 per cent of trips are currently within one zone anyway, and the flat rate could lead to more usage.
The transit provider also announced its moving forward with the next phase of the $194 million Compass program by installing card vending machines at SkyTrain stations and SeaBus terminals this month.
At first, only single-use Compass tickets will be available at the machines, but by late October they will be stocked with full Compass Cards.
TransLink said the cards will also be available at retail outlets, customer service centres and by mail come November.
Currently, about 135,000 customers have switched to Compass Cards.