With TransLink’s decision to switch from a 3-zones to 1-zone fare system on buses to accommodate the launch of the Compass Card, there has been many questions about how this will impact transit ridership and the agency's bottom line.
While there will certainly be some impact, it will only be temporary as the 1-zone fare system on buses is temporary. TransLink is actually in the process of starting a complete review of its fare system.
The current zone-based fare system was introduced back in 1984, and according to TransLink, it is no longer a fair way to collect fares due to changes in travel patterns in Metro Vancouver over the years.
The long-term goal of our region's local governments and agencies is to shift away from zone-based fares and gas tax, to mobility pricing. Mobility price results in people being charged for the distances they travel with a direct user fee.
When it comes to driving, some might consider gas tax a form of mobility pricing; the more you drive generally translates into the use of more fuel. The challenge is that different vehicles uses different amounts and types of fuel. This means that two people driving two different vehicles, would pay different amounts of gas tax. Gas tax is also hidden. For mobility pricing to work, people need to see the direct relationship between how far they travel, and how much they pay.
While the switch from gas tax to mobility pricing for our road network is likely a decade away, mobility pricing on our transit network may be coming as early as 2017.
By mid-2016, TransLink plans to have a list of possible options for an updated fare system for the transit network. Mobility pricing will be on the table.
If TransLink moves forward will mobility pricing for the entire transit network, the outstanding issues with Compass Card readers on buses will need to be resolved.
With mobility pricing and a distance-based fare structure, some people will pay more than they do today while other will pay less to use transit. Making such a large-scale change to the transit fare system will confuse and/or upset some people. TransLink’s did a poor job of managing people’s expectations during the roll out of the Compass Card. During the failed transit referendum, TransLink came into the discussion a day late, and a dollar short.
While TransLink plans to host a series of public consultations about new fare system options for the transit network, the agency will need to do a much better job of engaging with the region if it wants people to understand and support a new fare system.