After years of delays, there are finally some answers to why the Compass Card has yet to be fully implemented as TransLink’s new fare payment system – why mobile card readers and fare gates have been sitting idle.
Metro Vancouver transit passengers might no longer be required to ‘tap-out’ their smart card at the end of a bus ride due to a glitch in the system, according to the Vancouver Sun.
The transportation authority has indicated that it might no longer force passengers to tap-out on an interim basis until it finds a resolution to the issues. This allows TransLink to proceed into additional implementation phases that would open the card to other user groups, but there could be higher fares through a new single zone fare as the system will not be able to determine where passengers began their ride.
Passengers were originally required to tap-in at the start of their ride and tap-out one more time before they exit the bus. The tap-out aspect was meant to calculate the payment for zones traveled and allow for the future introduction of a precise distance-traveled fare payment system. It would also provide TransLink with valuable user data, which could be used to optimize transit service schedules.
However, the tap-out process is currently taking several seconds instead of the goal of 0.3 seconds per card interaction on mobile card readers. In addition, the current error rate of 8 to 10 per cent on buses has been deemed far too high to open the Compass Card system to other user groups such as U-Pass cardholders.
Some have also argued that the tap-out function is not only inconvenient, especially on crowded buses, but could also be costly for passengers who forget as they exit a bus.
While bus passengers will be a given a “grace period,” SkyTrain passengers will still be required to tap-out on the fare gates; there are no issues with the Compass Card at SkyTrain stations as they are fixated to ground networks.
To date, only 80,000 units of the smart cards have been introduced to user groups that include low-income seniors and TransLink employees.
The Compass Card was a projected mandated to TransLink by Kevin Falcon in 2009, who was the BC Minister of Transportation at the time of the decision. Fare payment smart cards are commonly used in hundreds of transit systems around the world and touted as a way to fight fare evasion and train station crime.
In 2011, the transportation authority contracted its smart card program to San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems and IBM Canada – a $171-million deal that includes design, installation, testing and the operation of the system for a period of ten years. There is also an annual operational cost of $12-million to maintain the fare gates, mobile card readers and data storage systems.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the Compass Card’s implementation will now cost $194-million due to the ongoing trouble with glitches.
A local RFID card technician, who has asked to remain anonymous, told Vancity Buzz that TransLink and its contractors could be fighting a spectrum of latency-causing issues.
“From my knowledge the system runs on Windows CE and there are no issues with that as far as I’m concerned, as long as it’s the newest and most updated system,” he said. “But what is more likely the culprit is the local telecommunications system that the [mobile card readers] are operated on. Our wireless network can be unreliable and even spotty particularly with data.”
“Where the data is stored is potentially another problem… if it’s not local and somewhere else on the continent, that could add to delays. In any case, two-tap systems where you require riders to tap-out before they leave a bus are rare, there are so many problems that could come out of it so it’s not commonly done.”
TransLink has stated that it will provide the public with an update on its progress with the Compass Card in October 2014. An official update is expected sometime before the weekend.
Feature Image: Steve Chou/Flickr