Mike Madill

A fifth of transit riders fail to tap out in Compass card test

TransLink boosts budget to $194m, eyes fixes flagged by volunteer testers

A three-week beta test of TransLink’s new Compass card payment system found nearly a fifth of the 10,000 volunteers forgot to tap off with their cards as they exited the transit system and may have paid too much.

Users tap their Compass card against readers to board a bus or pass through new SkyTrain faregates.

They’re supposed to tap off again when they leave to record how far they went and have their account debited accordingly and those who forget are billed for the maximum three zones, when they might have only travelled one or two.

Eighty one per cent of users remembered to tap out during the test period, which recorded a total of 568,760 taps.

TransLink vice-president Mike Madill said overall the system performed well, but testers flagged several problems TransLink is working to fix.

They found the validators on buses were often slow to detect cards.

“I’m pretty comfortable we’ll be able to get that remedied before we roll it out to the general public,” Madill said, praising testers for their valuable help.

Many passengers also found the green screen colour of the Compass card readers hard to read.

Another glitch is the card readers on buses only work when the bus engine is running. Madill said TransLink is looking for a fix so drivers aren’t forced to keep buses idling more than necessary.

He noted many testers waited for the screen to confirm their card was read when they could just proceed through as soon as they hear a beep.

Making sure people know that will be part of an intense public education campaign ahead of the full rollout.

Madill said the budget for Compass card public outreach has been raised to $8 million from around $5 million previously.

That’s budgeted separately from the Compass card/faregates project itself, which is also costing more than originally anticipated.

The initial $171 million project cost has now climbed to $194.2 million, a 13.5 per cent jump.

Madill said much of the nearly $23-million increase stems from inflation – the budget was drawn up in 2009 – along with some higher capital costs and system changes.

TransLink plans a phased rollout of the new fare payment system, issuing the first cards to West Coast Express train users later this fall, with more groups of users being added through the winter and into the spring of 2014, when Compass cards will be available to all.

Faregates at stations won’t be closed – terminating the old fare passes and tickets – until everything is working and ready, likely next spring or summer.

Despite the increase in costs, there are no plans by TransLink to reconfigure so that passengers who pay with cash on buses can transfer to SkyTrain without paying twice – a change it estimated would have cost another $10 to $25 million.

Others who face a higher bill are Fraser Valley residents who until now have been given a $3.25 transfer credit when they take a local bus to West Coast Express.

Those Valley passengers will have to pay full fare to board the TransLink system – on top of their local bus fare – starting in the new year.

“Transfers are not valid from TransLink to their system so we decided we needed to end that,” Madill said. “Those folks do start outside the TransLink region in terms of tax funding.”

He said WCE users will be the first offered Compass cards because they’re a small, well defined group.

More information will be offered through a dedicated website, askcompass.ca.

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