TransLink's 3-zone fare system could be abolished entirely

Dec 20 2017, 3:03 am

There are renewed discussions at TransLink to end the antiquated three-zone fare system, potentially replacing it with a distance-based fare or regional flat fare. These alternative fare structures, used widely elsewhere in the world, are made possible with the use of the Compass Card and the associated infrastructure of card readers and fare gates.

A decision will be made after a comprehensive 18-month review on the fare structure, which has not changed since it was first adopted in 1984, two years before the opening of the first SkyTrain line. Travel patterns, population, and transit services have significantly changed over the course of the past 31 years.

“The Transit Fare Policy Review is a major initiative that will allow TransLink to actively listen and receive feedback from its customers on a topic they care deeply about and deliver on the full potential of Compass,” reads a report submitted to TransLink’s Board of Directors.

“The agency has the opportunity to consider evolving the existing structure and related products with a policy that provides clear value to both the customer, improves the efficiency of the system and gets better transportation outcomes for the region.”

The data collected from Compass Card’s tap in and tap out usage will be vital for the development and evaluation of alternative fare structures.

In other cities, distance-based fares are measured in a similar way to the current cab fares. These fares are charged based on the total distance traveled and are much more equitable than the existing three-zone system and its arbitrary pricing borders.

For example, on buses a distance-based fare could begin with a $1.25 base fare, with increases of 10 cents for every kilometre traveled. A similar measure on SkyTrain for station-to-station travel would also be in place. In contrast, with the existing three-zone fare system, a short trip merely across Boundary Road or the Fraser River necessitates a two-zone fare.

Distance-based fares can easily be introduced to SkyTrain and SeaBus with the usage of the fare gates, but it remains to be seen whether such a system can be rolled out onto buses.

A preferred fare policy recommendation will be made in the first quarter of 2017 and there will be at least four formal public consultation phases from early-2016 until then.

In the meantime, the recently introduced one-zone flat fare policy for any and all bus travel in the region is intended to be an interim transitional system before the fare changes. It also allows TransLink to launch the much-delayed Compass Card, which was delayed due to latency and reliability issues with the ‘tap out’ function on buses.

The implementation of one-zone bus fares, which began on October 5, were not expected to make a significant impact to TransLink’s revenues given that most of its bus services operate within one zone regardless. As well, the agency expected that it would be revenue neutral given that it could attract new transit riders.

A 1.1 per cent increase in bus ridership is attributed to the introduction of the new one-zone fares and launch of the Compass Card.

But the discounted fares from the stored value of Compass Cards are affecting revenues, given that adult fares start at $2.10 instead of the cash fare of $2.75. In effect, Compass Cards provide FareSaver pricing for all transit users who use the reloadable smart card.

TransLink estimates it will lose $1.1 million in fare revenue in 2016 when the final phases of the Compass Card are enacted. Approximately $500 million in fare revenues will be collected in 2015, which goes towards the agency’s $1.46-billion annual budget.


DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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