Remember when FareSaver booklets were still a thing? Well, today marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Compass Card on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.
The paddles on the fare gates at SkyTrain stations and SeaBus terminals closed the following spring, on April 4, 2016.
TransLink’s digital fare payment system revolving around the use of smart cards made it far more convenient for transit riders to pay for their fares instead of relying on physical vending machines or purchasing transit passes in stores.
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Fundamentally it enabled riders to go cash-free, especially for bus fares. In fact, according to TransLink, currently just 4% of passengers pay with cash.
The low use of cash fare payment led to TransLink’s decision earlier this year to revert the entire bus system to paper tear-off tickets for the remaining segment of passengers who still pay in coins. Due to their high operating cost, lowered utility, and the supplier’s decision to discontinue the electronic magnetic stripe fare box model, all 1,500 buses have seen their electronic fare boxes replaced with mechanical fare boxes. This conversion began in 2019 when all community shuttle mini-buses saw the first wave of conversions.
Over the years since launch, TransLink has also added new components to the Compass system, including the world’s first universal, touchless fare gate access that allows passengers with disabilities unable to tap a Compass Card to pass through the fare gates.
It also rolled out the Compass wristband, which is the first wearable transit fare payment technology of its kind in North America, and introduced Canada’s first Tap to Pay on transit — the ability for passengers to pay for fare directly with any of the three major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express) or mobile wallet digital payment (Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay).
TransLink has also created four limited-edition collectible Compass Cards to date, including special cards commemorating Remembrance Day, the opening of the Millennium Line Evergreen Extension in 2016, Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, and most recently a COVID-19 design bearing the trademark six-word phrase of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry: “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.”
Aside from added convenience, the collected trip data from the Compass system has provided TransLink with the markedly improved ability to plan and deliver the level of services, where it is needed.
The Compass system has also enabled the public transit authority to pursue a new distance-travelled fare structure for SkyTrain and SeaBus, similar to many other major rail systems around the world that use smart cards. It would replace the existing three-zone system, which is a move that would particularly benefit shorter trips, especially for trips that are just across the existing zone boundaries.
TransLink will expand targeted off-peak discounts to better reduce overcrowding on the system during the busier peak periods. There could also be discounts for children, youth, and low-income residents if subsidy funding is provided by senior governments.
The adult pre-paid monthly passes as we know it will end. It will be replaced with a new pre-paid pass based on kilometres. Passengers with the new pre-paid monthly pass will have unlimited SkyTrain and SeaBus trips based on the distance purchased.
Last year, TransLink announced the transition to distance-travelled fares would be delayed to beyond 2020 due to the need for a technology upgrade. The existing three-zone fare system has not been changed since 1984.
The Compass Card system was first launched in August 2015, after a delay of about two years and cost overruns due to technical issues. The fare gates were rolled out under a provincial government directive to help deter fare evasion, and it worked, with fare revenue increasing by about $30 million over the first nine months of the fare gate closures.
Over the years, Transit Police has credited the fare gates for their increased ability to catch criminals with outstanding warrants. There has been an increase in the number of warrant arrests as a result of officers’ observations and enforcement of the misuse of fare gates.