Passengers boarding buses won't be under any new pressure from bus drivers to pay fares once new Compass cards roll out. The union says driver assaults are up and remain a concern.

TransLink bus drivers won’t push riders to pay fares

Compass cards have union wary of conflict, assault risk from fare-evading passengers

Unionized bus drivers say they won’t be pressured into helping enforce fare payment by passengers when new Compass smart cards roll out.

TransLink had asked drivers to “actively interact” with passengers to inform them about how to pay and that they could face fare evasion fines if they refuse.

Nathan Woods, president of the union representing drivers, says the proposed training program would have put drivers in the “precarious position” of being at greater risk of assault due to conflict with fare evaders.

“We’re not going to stop them,” he said. “The passengers don’t want fights on their bus and neither do we.”

Woods said drivers will still answer passengers’ questions about fare payment and “meet and greet” as usual, but they won’t apply any new pressure to comply.

It’s up to Transit Police and Coast Mountain Bus security staff to patrol for fare evaders, he said.

The launch of the Compass card system in the new year will bring challenges for bus drivers.

Under the new system, people who pay cash will no longer get a valid transfer to  SkyTrain.

Woods predicts more passengers will then refuse to pay as they board buses to avoid being double charged – or to at least claim that’s what they’re doing.

“I think fewer people are going to pay cash fares on the bus and they’re simply going to walk by us and say ‘I’m paying at the SkyTrain.'”

Bus drivers can push a button to record when someone boards without paying. If a pattern is detected of a fare evader boarding at the same place consistently, Transit Police could respond.

Despite the attention fare evasion gets, Woods said he doesn’t think it’s a large problem on buses now and faregates should reduce the problem on SkyTrain.

“On the buses, there are going to be people who are going to scam the system eiither way,” he added.

One expected scam is where people board a bus and soon tap out with their card at the back door so they pay one zone but ride further for free.

Woods noted only a small number of bus routes actually cross a zone boundary so it won’t be a big issue.

The main concern for the union remains attacks on bus drivers.

There have been 115 assaults so far this year, up more than 10 per cent from a year ago.

Woods predicts that statistic would worsen if drivers took a more confrontational stance.

He suggested assaults may be up because TransLink efforts to wring more revenue out of the bus system are leading to more overcrowding and more passups by full buses, frustrating passengers.

Driver assaults include acts like spitting, verbal threats and splashing drinks.

TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said drivers are expected to observe as passengers tap in with their cards and assist those who have difficulty.

He said the request to the union was mainly to have drivers provide “options from a customer service perspective” while also reminding riders non-payment is punishable by a fine.

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