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Stealth transit fare hike deserves scrutiny: critic

TransLink
TransLink's new Compass cards won't offer as generous a discount as the existing FareSaver pre-paid tickets.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A TransLink critic says the new Compass card payment system arriving next year unfairly sneaks in a stealth fare increase for the many transit riders who use booklets of pre-paid FareSaver tickets.

Sustainable transportation advocate Patrick Rault says passengers who normally use FareSavers will pay roughly 12 per cent more to travel one zone when the new Compass cards take effect in 2014.

FareSavers now cost $2.10 each for a one-zone trip – 24 per cent less than the $2.75 cash price – but users who get a Compass card will pay $2.35 for one zone, a slimmer discount that will add up to considerably higher transit costs over the course of a year.

TransLink officials say the current discount on FareSavers is larger than it has historically been because the last fare hike was applied to cash fares while the price of pre-paid tickets was frozen.

"If you look at it on a global perspective, the way we've designed it is revenue-neutral," TransLink vice-president Mike Madill said.

Many passengers who now pay cash will switch to Compass cards, he predicts, and save up to 14 per cent compared to what they now pay.

Rault contends that under TransLink's legislation, the change in fare pricing should have gone to the independent TransLink Commissioner for approval and to a vote of the region's mayors' council.

"It's not being done in the spirit of the law," he said. "TransLink is doing whatever it wants with the fare structure."

Madill said changes to discounted fares like the "stored value" rates with the new Compass cards do not count as short-term fare increases that are subject to approval of the commissioner, who can veto cash fare hikes.

Other changes to the system mean other groups of users will also pay more.

TransLink has eliminated its Employer Pass Program that gave employees of participating companies large discounts.

TransLink had intended to eliminate FareSavers as of Jan. 1, but the delay in rolling out the Compass card means FareSavers will still be sold until next summer, when most passengers are to be offered the new cards.

TransLink's 2014 base plan shows combined revenue from cash fares and either FareSavers or its Compass card stored value equivalent is forecast to rise 12 per cent from $188.1 million in 2013 to $210.4 million in 2015.

Over the same period, ridership is forecast to rise just three per cent to 244 million.

Rault said he suspects the increased revenue compared to ridership means passengers will end up paying more on average.

But he added much of the revenue gain may be the result of TransLink's projection that fare evasion will be reduced once SkyTrain faregates are activated.

Rault also believes TransLink is underestimating the number of passengers who pay by cash on buses and transfer to SkyTrain, where they face having to pay again if they refuse to use a Compass card.

Officials estimate just 6,000 riders per day now use bus-to-SkyTrain cash transfers that will no longer be accepted at SkyTrain faregates.

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