TransLink is cautioning users of its new Compass card that they must remember to tap out as they exit SkyTrain stations or they could be charged for more zones than they travelled.
It's a particular problem for regular transit users who load a one-zone monthly pass on their Compass card.
If they take a short hop on SkyTrain within Vancouver or Surrey and fail to tap out, the system assumes they rode to the far end of the line and charges them the maximum three-zone fare.
If they were riding on a one- or two-zone monthly pass, that means an AddFare surcharge is debited from their account.
TransLink's Compass card call centre saw a spike in complaints last week about overcharges, which resulted in nearly 3,000 account adjustments worth more than $7,000 for people who failed to tap off.
"It's a behavioural change," TransLink spokesperson Jennifer Morland said. "They're not making that call again, so they're learning how the system works – that they need to tap in and tap out."
This month marks the first time large numbers of Compass holders have begun using the cards with monthly passes loaded – 28,000 of them now have November passes on their cards.
In the past, holders of paper monthly passes typically kept them in their wallets and only had to pull them out to board buses, not SkyTrain.
Compass card users who load money directly into their account as "stored value" can also end up paying more than they should if they travel just one or two zones and fail to tap out.
TransLink eliminated the tap-out requirement on the bus system, declaring all bus travel to cost just one zone, but the zone charge system remains in force for the rapid transit lines, SeaBus and West Coast Express.
The challenge for SkyTrain riders is expected to be temporary as TransLink intends to gradually close more and more of the station fare gates.
So far one gate is closed at each station and the rest are left open but it's expected that all the gates will be closed off some time in the new year, and then passengers will have to tap out in order to exit the turnstiles.
"Once we've seen that there are more customers using Compass we'll look more at closing the fare gates," Morland said. "But it's really about getting it right for our customers, giving them the time to learn it, and not as much around hard dates."
The full Compass rollout to most transit users began last month. University students on U-Passes, West Coast Express riders and other special passholders had previously switched to Compass.
Morland said about 300,000 Compass cards are now activated and about 100,000 unique cards are now in use on the system each day. TransLink expects that number to climb to 500,000 eventually.
Prepaid paper FareSaver tickets are also to be phased out as the fare gates are fully activated.