Bus riders could be paying a one-zone fare no matter how many zones they cross – one temporary solution proposed by TransLink as it admits problems with Compass Card readers are harder to solve than previously thought.

The bus-based electronic readers aren’t fast enough or accurate enough when users “tap out” at the end of a fare, meaning that the $200-million system can’t figure out how far riders have gone and can’t charge them accordingly, TransLink spokesperson Colleen Brennan said.

“We have an option in our contract to put in a grace period for tapping out. What that would mean is on buses, our customers would not be required to tap out,” Brennan said.

Under the new Compass Card system, which was supposed to be operational 18 months ago according to a contract with manufacturer Cubic, passengers will use an electronic card rather than paper transfers.

The system calculates the fare based on where a user “tapped in” with the card, and where the user “tapped out.”

If half of that system – tapping out – doesn’t always work, users could be charged the wrong amount. There’s no way for a Compass Card user to pay for distance travelled in advance.

One solution: eliminate fare zones, at least temporarily, for bus riders, said Brennan. It’s early going, she said, so TransLink brass don’t yet know how much the new one-zone fare could be.

“We haven’t dotted our is and crossed our ts on that one yet,” she said.

NDP Transit Critic George Heyman told the BC Legislature it’s one more problem for a beleaguered system that was troubled from the start. The program was supposed to stop some $8 million in fare evasion, but it costs about $12 million a year to run.

He blamed a cozy relationship between the B.C. Liberals and Cubic.

“Then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon forced this costly system on TransLink after (former deputy minister) Ken Dobell lobbied on Cubic’s behalf,” Heyman said.

“When will this government stop wasting money on failed insider deals and act on the Lower Mainland’s real transit needs?” he asked.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he had phoned TransLink’s board chair to express his displeasure, but his claims that the system was about saving money lost to fare evasion were shouted down by MLAs.

Speaker Linda Reid called for order.

“For the program to be successful TransLink needs to get its act together, TransLink needs to be accountable and it needs to fix this problem, and I’ve communicated that to the chair,” Stone said.

A TransLink spokesperson told CTV News that the agency did attempt to test the readers on a single bus, five buses, 24 buses and finally a whole bus depot, but it was only during a test of tens of thousands of riders the agency noticed the problems.

TransLink is forging ahead with the system, vowing to fix the problems, and plans to get Compass Cards to 145,000 students by September.

“Over the long term, we are totally committed to tap out. It provides very important information for tapping out,” Brennan said.

“We want to make sure that when we roll this out everybody has a positive experience from the beginning. And if that means bringing in a temporary no tap out period on buses that’s what we’re looking at,” she said.