Compass is coming to Vancouver’s transit network, and for the past week I’ve been merrily tapping my blue card as an official Compass Beta Tester. If you think introducing smartcard technology to Vancouver will be a challenge, imagine doing the same thing across an entire country!
The Netherlands is a nation of almost 17 million people, but their landmass equals less than 5% of British Columbia’s. Being so densely populated, the need for a tightly integrated transit network is great. Many Dutch citizens travel by train, bus and/or metro in their daily commute to work or school.
During the five months I lived in The Netherlands, the transit authorities were finishing the implementation of the OV-chipkaart, a smartcard much like Vancouver’s Compass Card. The task was a big one: every train, tram, metro and bus in the whole country was moving to the OV-chipkaart, and paper tickets and cash fares were being phased out. Even public bike shares were connected to the system!
Many Dutch citizens weren’t keen on all this big change. They had been using paper tickets for years, and there were privacy concerns with the cards carrying the user’s personal information (something Compass users won’t need to worry about).
There was also a learning curve to how the system worked. As a foreigner, I saw it as my responsibility to educate myself, or else I’d be going nowhere fast. It ended up being super simple: buy a card, put some money on it, and go.
Today, nearly fully adapted to the OV-chipkaart, The Netherlands runs one of the most advanced transportation networks on earth. There are always hiccups, but the card is definitely making life easier for the Dutch and their visitors.
If you find yourself intimidated by the Compass changeover, my advice is this: pretend you’re a tourist understanding a foreign city’s transit system. With five minutes of research, you’ll have all the information you need to get around Vancouver using the new technology. If you’re a casual bus rider, I promise it will be as easy for you as it was for me with the OV-chipkaart: buy a Compass card, put some money on it, and go!