Point/Counterpoint: The Compass Card


The new Compass Card will take some getting used to. It will be launched into our transit system in late fall of this year and is aimed to be fully implemented by summer 2014.  System changes such the the Compass Card can be difficult to grasp for us university students, because our U-Passes remove us from the average user’s experience.

TransLink is doing away with the paper transfers in favour of all fares being paid through a single card. They have installed fare gates at all skytrain stations and Compass Card readers on its buses.

Point: Compass is good
By: Tara Nykyforiak

Users have long complained about Vancouver’s primitive transit system, citing the successful systems of London, New York, and Paris. The Compass Card program is a response to these complaints, an overhaul that is long overdue.

Other major cities have fare gates in effect, whether as electronic gates themselves or as worker-operated booths such as those in New York and Montreal. They ensure transit users remain honest riders and actually pay to get on the train. The Compass system brings with it fare gates that will finally prevent riders in our city from getting on for free — a huge frustration under our current system.

Moreover, the Compass Card will change Vancouver from a paper-driven system (bus transfers, monthly passes, faresaver booklets, etc.) to being a more electronic one. This places users in a more participatory role, because card holders will be able to register for previously unavailable options. On their website, TransLink explains that Compass Cards will come with a “Balance Protection” feature in the event that a card is lost or stolen, and an “AutoLoad” feature for pass renewals and card top-ups.

On their website, TransLink also explains how Compass will help remove current stressors for riders: “Figuring out the fare you need to pay involves checking the time you make your trip, how many zones your route covers, how long it will take . . . Compass will do all of that for you automatically!”

Because the new fare gates will not accept paper transfers issued on buses, criticism has arisen that riders will have to pay a second time at the station. While this is a valid concern — TransLink spokesperson Derek Zabel states that an estimated 6,000 riders pay with cash daily — I feel that it’s a concern rooted in the time-old fear of change.

Adaptation is possible, and these users need only get used to the system changes and take in the information provided regarding the program. San Diego introduced the Compass Card in May 2009, and successfully eliminated all paper tickets and passes. Vancouver will be able to do the same, and it will be a change to the betterment of our transit system.


compass card

Counterpoint: Compass is bad
By: Alysha Seriani

Just because Vancouverites will “get used” to the Compass Card does not excuse TransLink’s consistently behind-the-times approach to public transit.

At first glance, the Compass Card seems to be the logical approach to emulate the transit of other cities. However, unlike cities like London, we do not have more than three million riders daily on 11 train lines. TransLink’s SkyTrains see about 405,000 riders per day on only three lines. Instead of looking at Vancouver’s unique public transit needs, it seems we are implementing a system we can’t afford, without a shred of innovation.

In terms of finances, the Compass Card system is illogical. In 2005, TransLink itself predicted that a fare gate system would cost more than $30 million per year to install and operate to reduce fare evasion by less than $3 million. Fast-forward to now where TransLink is spending more than $170 million to reduce annual fare evasion by $7 million. This means the Compass Card will pay itself off right around the time of my midlife crisis.

Also under this new system, the paper fares that cash-paying TransLink customers receive will be useless as soon as they reach a fare gate (as found at any SkyTrain, SeaBus or West Coast Express Station). This means they will have to buy another fare to transfer.

Simply put, the Compass Card system seems to have been designed by those who have never taken public transit in Vancouver. Perhaps I’m lacking in imagination, but I can’t see how “tapping out” is going to enter into the sardine-like entering and exiting of the 99 B-Line. There are too many people nearly being shoved off the bus to worry about waiting for everyone to tap out.

This is all considering that those without a monthly pass already loaded onto their card haven’t considered how easy it is to “tap in” at Hastings and Granville to board the 160 bus, then “tap out” when it stops one block later and instead of exiting the bus, sitting back down and riding it for three zones to Coquitlam Centre. Those who want to avoid paying for transit will find a way.

Although I agree TransLink needs to collect data about how its system is used, I don’t think implementing the Compass Card to do the work for them is the right approach. Bus drivers will still let people on without paying, because a safe ride home shouldn’t be something you can’t afford.