No plans for Compass smartphone app anytime soon, says TransLink CEO

Dec 29 2019, 4:59 pm

TransLink 2019 is Daily Hive’s six-part, end-of-year series with Kevin Desmond, the public transit authority’s CEO, on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.

Part 6 discusses the future of mobility platforms, specifically whether there could be a smartphone app for the Compass Card.


For years, a common request from regular public transit riders has been the creation of a Compass smartphone app that provides a new way to pay for transit and access route information. This also happened to be a frequently submitted idea in TransLink’s recent public consultation for Transport 2050.

However, there are currently some technical obstacles with the Compass system’s ability to process information from an app-based platform.

“We’re not going to have a Compass app anytime soon,” TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told Daily Hive Urbanized in an interview.

“Our view is that right now, the better approach is to tap on your smartphone if you have NFC or a chip with your contactless credit card. A smartphone app will require a new generation of our Compass system that you can use an app on your phone.”

Besides the Compass Card and wearable products, the fare gates and card readers accept all three major credit cards, as well as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

Limitations with the current Compass system, designed and operated by San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems, have also forced TransLink to delay the transition of the existing three-zone fare system to a distance-travelled fare system for SkyTrain and SeaBus. The business case for the technology upgrade allowing for distance-travelled fares is expected to be finalized in 2020, and the changes will take at least two years to implement.

When it comes to a better platform that provides transit information more readily, this past fall TransLink relaunched its website, including a new user-friendly mobile website that makes it easier for riders to find their next bus and plan trips.

Desmond reiterated the emerging idea in the transportation industry of mobility as a service, with a one-stop shop mobility app that identifies and optimizes any individual trip across multiple modes, including transit, bike share, carshare, and ridehailing.

But TransLink will not be developing this mobility app, as it does not have the expertise to do so. Instead, it is counting on the private sector, with the public transit authority potentially providing some support through its new mobility programs, but such an app cannot be controlled by any one company nor can it provide any particular service with an unfair advantage. The data collected must also be controlled in a transparent way.

“Everyone in my industry is talking about this, it is the future,” he said. “I want entrepreneurs to figure it out. But I want them to figure it out in such a way that it is an open field of play.”

“It needs to be open, transparent, and a very diverse playing field. When is that going to come? Maybe early in the next decade, we’ll see the killer app.”