U-Pass to transfer to Compass Card in 2014


WEB-compass translink-Mark Burnham

With TransLink starting beta testing on its widely publicized Compass Card system, SFU students can expect to see their U-Pass transferred onto Compass sometime next year. TransLink is currently in the process of implementing the new system as a digitized way of paying transit fares.

The system presents minimal changes to the way SFU students access TransLink services, though presents more concerns for those not eligible for a U-Pass or similar institutional cards. TransLink’s official website claims the card will be very easy to use, and is an appropriate advancement for the modern transit system.

The Compass Card has been touted as a reflection of the increasing digital/card-based representation of finances in modern North America, and features include eliminating the need for loose change, reloading online or via a phone call, and ability to be replaced if lost or stolen. To use, the cards must be scanned in and out when entering or exiting a transit vehicle or area, with appropriate fare being deducted from them.

With the Compass Card, students will no longer need to pick up their U-Pass on campus each month, and can instead top up their existing Compass Card with unlimited fares online or by phone.

“The Compass Card is new technology that has been successful around the world, and it has been very successful in very large transit markets,” said Derek Zabel, TransLink Media Relations. “They offer customers a lot of flexibility and a lot of convenience as well, and students will find that flexibility and convenience aspect of it is going to save them a lot of time.”

Zabel said that the U-Pass “tradition will continue,” with the Compass Card adding no additional costs to students, and offering an unlimited amount of fare on each institutional card. The main difference, Zabel explained, is “a little bit more peace of mind,” as, unlike the current U-Pass cards, lost Compass Cards can be cancelled and replaced.

Soon, the “massive IT project” that comes along with implementing the card will begin with a testing phase. Testing in the early fall will involve volunteers using the system to detect potential problems, a phase which will last for about three or four weeks. Zabel said that phasing in the new cards will involve a “slower transition,” starting later in the year and continuing into early 2014.

NEWS-quotation marksThe Compass Card will give students a little more peace of mind.”

– Derek Zabel, TransLink media relations

Online criticism of the new system exploded when it was announced that with the Compass Card bus fare tickets purchased with cash will not be transferable onto SkyTrain, meaning that paying with cash and starting a journey on a bus will require one to pay two fares. TransLink has cited the cost of upgrading the fare boxes on buses, an estimated $25 million, as too high to justify.

Possible future uses of the new system have also raised some privacy concerns, as both TransLink and the provincial government have suggested linking the Compass Cards with BC identification cards. Zabel has been quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying that TransLink is “really interested” in doing so.

The same idea is suggested in the government’s white paper for the new ID card program, as well as the BC Transportation Ministry’s technology plan for 2012–13 and 2014–15.

A similar idea is already being put into practice at UBC, where the new UBCcard will be used as a student’s ID, access card for the gym, library, and other facilities, a prepaid debit card, and the U-Pass.

This use of the Compass Card would provide a convenient means to store information, make payments, and facilitate travel, but as Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has pointed out, this would also seemingly increase the ease of tracking people’s movements by the organizations with such information, as well as stealing identities, with the cards holding so much personal information, according to The Vancouver Sun.

Zabel has said that TransLink is keeping Compass “strictly” as a fare payment card for the time being.