Compass card demand overwhelms TransLink

Sign ups for new transit payment card surge with elimination of old paper monthly passes

TransLink vice-president Lloyd Bauer is heading the rollout of the Compass card payment system.

A last-minute rush by regular transit users to get Compass cards now that paper monthly passes are no longer sold temporarily overwhelmed TransLink staff over the weekend.

It led to complaints of long waits to get customer service help by phone and excessive hours-long delays for passes bought on new Compass cards to become active in users’ accounts.

Lloyd Bauer, TransLink’s vice-president heading the Compass project, said passes and stored value purchased online for Compass accounts are supposed to be usable within two hours, adding TransLink is working with the system contractor to get the delay down to that target.

Passes or value added to Compass cards at station vending machines or at London Drugs outlets did not have a delay problem and were available immediately.

He suggested the delay for online transactions was temporary because of the roughly 70,000 new Compass users who signed up in the first few days of 2016 – a huge jump from the rate of 1,000 to 2,000 per day previously.

“The last few days have been a big challenge for our system,” Bauer said. “We expect that this peak we are getting now is an unusual peak.”

About 450,000 out of roughly 800,000 regular transit users in Metro Vancouver are now using Compass cards.

Bauer said more people are getting the hang of how to use the new payment card and that they must tap out as they exit a station or else they’ll be charged the maximum three zones even if they’ve only travelled one zone.

About 80 per cent of cards are now being tapped out on exit, up from 70 per cent earlier in the fall. It’s not clear how many of the remaining 20 per cent are paying too much as a result of failing to tap.

There’s currently one gate left open at each station, while the rest are closed and Bauer encourages passengers to use the closed gates to make sure they tap out.

He said most passengers are happy with the new system once their card is set up.

Unlike with old paper passes and prepaid tickets, Compass holders need never go to a retail dealer again if they set their account to activate a new pass each month or to automatically reload stored value when their card’s balance runs low.

TransLink also says it will stop distributing FareSaver tickets to retailers this month, although the booklets of 10 prepaid tickets may be sold at some locations beyond January until they run out.

FareSavers will still be valid until there’s a final decision to close the last faregates on the system – there’s still no target date for when that will happen – after which unused FareSavers can be converted to Compass card stored value.

Bauer said people riding on the system can be stopped and fare checked by Transit Police carrying mobile Compass readers. They can issue fines to people who enter through open gates without tapping in with their card or otherwise carrying a valid fare.

Concerns have also been raised by some seniors that concession Compass cards aren’t available at Compass vending machines in stations.

TransLink says that’s not unusual – concession passes were only sold through retailers in the past, not the machines.

Concession passes can be bought at participating retailers, as well as online through compasscard.ca.