TransLink's switch to distance-travelled fares pushed to beyond 2020

Jun 20 2019, 5:54 am

TransLink originally anticipated it could switch to distance-travelled fares for SkyTrain and SeaBus later this year or in 2020, but that is no longer possible as the Compass fare system is in need of a technology upgrade to accommodate the switch.

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During a public meeting today, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond explained the Compass system’s smart card, the Compass Card, is a card-based system that retains all the information on fare payment.

The card’s value and payments are updated when the card is tapped onto the card readers, and its functions are partially determined by card memory.

The existing card can accommodate the current fare table information it needs to process the simple three-zone fare system and monthly passes, but a distance-travelled base system is far more complicated and requires more account-based processing to manage the data, which is similar to how contactless credit cards work.

Currently, the Compass system uses a combination of both card-based and account-based processing.

“There is not enough space in the card to manage a much more complicated fare table,” said Desmond. “To be able to manage a much more complicated fare table, we need to get to something called account-based processing, and that will take longer to happen.”

TransLink staff released their detailed recommendations for the new distance-traveled fare system in the summer of 2018, and staff have been working on an implementation strategy ever since.

The public transit authority is currently aiming to finalize the business case for the required Compass technology upgrade in 2020, which entails working with San Francisco-based firm Cubic Transportation — the supplier and manufacturer of the Compass system and fare gates — to determine the necessary changes.

After this stage of work is complete and TransLink staff receives final approvals, it will take at least two years to make the technology changes, which could push the start of distance-travelled fares to 2022. But any implementation timeline also depends on when the business case is approved.

“The current understanding of the costs of such a move are greater than contemplated during the Transit Fare Review. With increased understanding of the magnitude of effort and resources required, staff believe that accelerating a technology upgrade ahead of regular anticipated refresh timelines would not be warranted for the full complement of Transit Fare Recommendations,” reads a TransLink staff report.

“The functionality of broader account-based processing technology is not constrained by available space on a physical card or processing capability at the reader/device, opening up more possibilities for finer grained fare structures, account customization, personalized rewards, loyalty programs and notifications, and allowing payment and account management for an unlimited number of additional third-party mobility providers.”

How distance-travelled fares will work in Metro Vancouver

Distance-travelled fares are already in use on transit systems in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore, and across Japan.

TransLink’s application of distance-travelled fares would be limited to SkyTrain and SeaBus only; there are no plans to implement the system on buses, as it would make it difficult to predict and calculate fares and creates an added passenger measure of tapping out before disembarkment, which could discourage bus use and add to travel times. For this reason, buses will retain the existing one-zone fare, until there is a proven technology that does not require tapping out.

Distance-travelled fares begin with a base fare, with fares increasing in small increments based on distance, until a maximum fare is reached, which would occur at around 20 kms or 13 to 15 stations.

Passengers who travel long distances within one-zone trips on SkyTrain can expect to pay more, such as trips between Waterfront Station and Marine Drive Station or between Sapperton Station and Gilmore Station.

Two-zone trips that travel long distances within two zones will also pay more, such as Waterfront Station to New Westminster Station.

Those who will be paying less than today’s zoned rates include passengers travelling short two-zone trips on SkyTrain that cross a zone boundary, such as trips between Joyce-Collingwood Station and Metrotown Station or between Production Way-University Station and Burquitlam Station.

Some three-zone trips on SkyTrain will also be cheaper, like trips between Scott Road Station and Joyce-Collingwood Station as the passenger only crosses the next zone boundary by only a few stations.

SeaBus trips, which are currently a two-zone fare for a three-km-long travel distance, will cost less as well.

TransLink distance-based fares

TransLink distance-travelled fare changes. (TransLink)

TransLink distance-based fares

TransLink distance-travelled fare changes. (TransLink)

With these changes, the maximum fare would be equivalent to the current three-zone fare, and evening and weekend off-peak discounts would be maintained.

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. If there is a trip that exceeds the distance covered by the pass, passengers would pay the difference for that trip using Stored Value from the Compass Card, similar to the current system.

Unlimited bus travel regardless of distance is retained for all pre-paid monthly passes.

Based on TransLink’s data, it anticipates 66% of monthly pass holders will see less than 10% of a price change while 17% will see an increase of more than 10%. It is expected 17% will see a decrease in price of more than 10%.

For instance, the current one-zone monthly pass price of $93 will only cover a five-km-long distance in the new pre-paid monthly pass system. Current SkyTrain travel within Vancouver on a one-zone pass currently allows for a distance greater than 10 km, but this will cost about $30 more under the new system.

Pre-paid passes for concession passengers will remain as a flat rate over the interim.

The existing three zone-based 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 bugs. The fare gates became fully operational in April 2016, when their paddles closed.


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