Transit passengers with disabilities, who are unable to physically tap their Compass Card on a SkyTrain or SeaBus fare gate card reader, can now access the system without doing so.
On Tuesday morning during a press conference, TransLink launched its Universal Fare Gate Access Program, which is enabled through the installation of radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors that detect the presence of a special RFID Compass Card.
The overhead sensors can detect the RFID Compass Card within a distance of up to two or three metres away. Upon detection, the wide accessible gate with RFID capability – identified with an RFID decal – will open for the passenger.
Eligible passengers can apply for the RFID card online, and will be required to meet with an occupational therapist to determine if an RFID card is necessary for them.
While RFID technology for fare gates is certainly not new, TransLink says this is the first time it is being enhanced to improve how transit passengers with disabilities use fare gates.
“This is the first of its kind in the world. We are not aware of any transit system on this globe that has put a program like this,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.
“It’s a program that allows people with disabilities to freely use the Compass media to access the gated transit system independently. And independence is the key. Commuting to work, getting to appointments, visiting friends… this is mobility we take for granted.”
TransLink contracted locally-based Hyperlight Systems to install the special RFID infrastructure needed for the program.
Currently, more than 40% of the stations with fare gates have been outfitted with the RFID sensors, and it is expected all stations will be equipped with this technology by the end of 2018.
“The Universal Fare Gate Access Program is the result of collaboration between TransLink and the community,” said Jane Dyson, Executive Director of Disability Alliance BC.
“This partnership and technological innovation is an example for public transit systems everywhere. We congratulate TransLink and the disability and seniors communities for their hard work and commitment to ensuring that all individuals can use our transit system with independence and dignity.”
The program costs $9 million, part of the $740-million Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, with 50% from the federal government, 33% from the provincial government, and 17% from TransLink.
The public transit authority previously proposed installing new special stand-alone fare gate swing doors with long-range RFID sensors, but that approach was later abandoned in favour of a modification of existing fare gate equipment.
As of today, the program already has four applicants. According to a June 2016 TransLink report on fare gate accessibility, it is estimated that between 15 and 50 people who use a wheelchair in the region are unable to tap on the fare gates.