The Compass card readers on buses were initially so slow and error prone that TransLink abandoned plans to make bus passengers tap out and made the entire bus system one zone only for payment.

Bus tap out could still be imposed: TransLink

One-zone buses defended for Compass launch, but CEO says policy change still possible as system improves

TransLink might yet require bus passengers to tap out with their Compass cards, according to acting CEO Cathy McLay.

TransLink abandoned the bus tap out requirement last fall and switched all bus fares to one zone – giving an instant break to passengers who used to pay more on bus routes that cross two or three zones.

Slow performance of the Compass readers on buses was the reason – TransLink feared major bus service slowdowns would result if all riders had to tap out, and that too many passengers would forget, be overcharged the maximum three-zone fare and be furious.

“We’ve not closed any doors,” McLay told the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation at a meeting Wednesday.

She said the error rate at Compass readers on buses is down considerably to less than two per cent and TransLink might reconsider a bus tap out policy if it improves further to about one per cent.

Many of the errors are believed to be human not mechanical because of riders not tapping correctly, she said.

McLay was responding to queries from Metro Vancouver mayors concerned that TransLink won’t get accurate enough data on rider movements – promised under Compass – if bus passengers don’t tap out at the end of their trip.

That data is supposed to help inform a two-year fare policy review TransLink is about to launch that could change how passengers are charged.

TransLink is using other analytic methods to estimate passenger movements. For example, if someone taps on to a bus and then later taps on at a SkyTrain station, the system infers that they rode to the end of the line and transferred even though there’s no bus tap out data to prove that.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan also demanded to know how much revenue TransLink has lost by going to just one zone and forgoing two and three zone fares on buses.

“It’s probably net zero,” McLay said, but was unable to give an accurate number.

She noted 85 per cent of bus routes are only one zone anyway.

McLay defended the decision to move to one zone only fares and abandon the bus exit tap out – at least to enable the launch of Compass.

“If we required bus passengers to tap off the error rate would have been so high during that learning curve our ridership would have permanently declined and we didn’t want to risk that.”

As for the fare policy review, McLay said one potential change under consideration is a loyalty program – regular monthly pass buyers might get their 12th month of the year at a discount.

TransLink says 137,000 former monthly pass holders have now converted from paper passes to Compass card monthly passes.

The next change is that TransLink is halting distribution of FareSavers – pre-paid booklets of discount tickets. They’ll no longer be delivered to dealers come February, but some may still be available for some weeks and passengers can use them until all gates are finally closed. Unused FareSavers can be converted to Compass card stored value.

Fare dealers are now selling pre-loaded Compass cards that are ready to use immediately without any set up or need to load cash on them.

McLay also outlined some of the major challenges facing TransLink this year – trying to secure federal funding that could put transit expansion plans back in high gear, the rehabilitation of the Pattullo Bridge, and integration of the Evergreen Line with the rest of SkyTrain.

She called the Pattullo work set to begin this spring a “balancing act” because TransLink needs to keep motorists safe but doesn’t want to over-invest in a bridge that is slated to be rebuilt soon.