Translink is in the process of introducing the Compass Card, which is a new fare card system for riding transit in the Greater Vancouver area. In the past, we’ve used a paper-based honour system – you either had a paper monthly pass or paper tickets (that you validated at a machine) and then just walked onto the bus/Skytrain/Seabus – on the bus you either showed your monthly pass to the driver or stuck your single use ticket into a machine to verify that it was good for that day & time – and on Skytrain you just walked on, though there was sometimes Translink staff checking fares either on the train or in the fare paid zone of the station (I rarely take the Seabus, so I don’t remember if they checked your fare when you got on or if it was an honour system like Skytrain).
Now we have the Compass Card, which requires you to tap your card on a reader on the way in and out of a Skytrain or Seabus station, or just tap in on the bus. The reason for tapping in and out is that there are different fare zones, so they need to know if you traveled in one, two, or three zones to know how much to charge you. If you forget to tap out, they will charge you for the full 3 zones, so it’s really important to remember to tap out. At the moment, we are in a transition period where you can use either the Compass Card or the old paper passes/tickets, so they haven’t closed all the fare gates (as the paper users don’t have any way to get the fare gates to open), so it’s actually easy to just walk through the fare gates and forget to tap out. The buses only require a tap in because it turns out that the system – which cost way more and took way longer to get implemented than they had planned – is too damn slow so if they required everyone to tap out, it would slow the buses down so much that they’d never be able to maintain a reasonable schedule, so they had to make it that buses only charge a 1 zone fare, regardless of how many zones you actually traveled through.
I got my Compass Card on Oct 16 – just a bit before they were released widely to the public – because Kalev told me that you could get one early if you went to a machine at Waterfront Station that is close to the West Coast Express. WCE users were one of the groups that got earlier access to Compass Cards as part of the phased roll out of Compass. I figured I’d get mine there so as to avoid being caught in a lineup once they were released at all the other machine.
One of the nice things about the Compass Card is that you can register it online so that you can (a) get any money stored on your card back if you lose the card, (b) pay for your monthly pass online (so you don’t have to stand in that giant line up at Safeway (or other fare dealer) at the end of the month), and (c) set up an auto re-load of money on the card if you are just paying per trip, so you never need to buy a ticket – you just always have money on your card!
I’ve been using my Compass Card for two months now and while it’s more of a hassle than having a paper monthly pass, which only required me to buy a pass at the start of the month and then leave it in my wallet and just walk on and off the Skytrain at my leisure, it’s more convenient than having to validate a single use paper ticket every time I went on Skytrain, especially at New West station, where the ticket validating machines are located in such a way that I had to go out of my way to validate them and then double back to go the train. And given that a monthly pass is only worth buying if I’m transiting to work on the vast majority weekdays – and between September and November I wasn’t, as I drove to work on Wednesdays due to having to go up to Burnaby Mountain to teach at SFU (and transiting up there and home afterwards would take eleventy thousand hours) – I’ve actually preferred having the Compass card as I don’t have to go out of my way to validate those paper tickets for each trip.
However, one challenge I have is where I should keep my Compass card. When not in transit, I keep it in my wallet. But while transiting, I need to take it out to tap it on the card reader and it doesn’t seem worth putting it back in my wallet each time, as my daily commute involves four (4!!) taps – I have to tap into the Expo Line at New West, out of Expo Line at Waterfront, into Canada Line at Waterfront, and then out of Canada Line at Broadway-City Hall. On Skytrain, I’m usually reading stuff on my phone or my eReader, so I generally just hold onto my card with my device, but it seems like I’m going to drop the damn thing one of these days. And once I’m done all the transiting, I end up holding it until I get to my office, as it’s a big rush of people and I don’t want to stop in the middle of all that to put my card into my wallet. I should probably get a case for my phone that has an easily accessible pocket for my card. But I’m curious as to what other people do with their Compass (or similar type transit fare card in other cities). What do you do with yours, dear readers?
Update: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this! When you register your Compass Card online, they ask you to name it. Mine is named “Trillian” (cf. Zaphod Beeblebrox the Car).
Compass card photo is my own photo.
Fare gates photo posted by Go To Van on Flickr with a Creative Commons licence.
Card reader on bus photo posted by Ian Alexander Martin on Flickr with a Creative Commons licence.