Tuesday, October 1, 2013

TransLink to introduce distance-based fares in 2016

With the Compass Card system in the beta testing phase and ready to launch with the general public later this winter, TransLink has been musing about switching from the current zone-based fare system to a distance-based fare system. This is a good idea as it will make a more equitable system than the current system in place today. With our currently zone-based system, I can take a bus from Maple Ridge to Tsawwassen (a considerable distance) and only pay one zone. If I go from Joyce-Collingwood to Patterson SkyTrain station (within walking distance), I have to pay a two zone fare.

With the tap on/tap off system using either a Compass Card or hopefully a credit card, it will be simple to transition from a zone-based to a distance-based system for most users of the system. The only challenge will be for cash-only users who are become an increasingly smaller percentage of transit users over the years.

Some people are concerned that the move to distance-based fares is nothing more than a cash-grab from TransLink. While some people may pay a bit more for transit, and some a bit less, fares are regulated by the independent TransLink Commissioner who has denied fare increases proposed by TransLink in the past. I’m not too concerned that my $5.50 one-way fare will jump to $8.00. The only area where there will be confusions is if or how TransLink keeps unlimited ride daily and monthly passes.

Seattle’s Link Light Rail system uses distance-based fares and offers monthly unlimited ride passes that can be loaded on their Orca Card system. If you normally travel $1.50 as a one-way fare, you’d buy a $54.00 unlimited ride monthly pass. If you normally travel $5.00 as a one-way fare, you’d buy a $180.00 unlimited ride monthly pass. If you travel beyond the distance-based monthly pass, say for example $5.50, you’d be charge the difference and it would be deducted from your stored value which is loaded on the card. While this may sound confusing, the monthly pass and stored value can be automatically loaded onto the card. It can be a set and forget type system.

The BART transit system in the San Francisco Bay area also uses a distance-based fare system. Unlike Seattle, they don’t have an unlimited monthly passes, instead they offer a 6.25% discount for cards that are loaded with more than $45 dollars. This is similar to how TransLink plans to use the Compass Card when people load any value onto the card.

My hope is that TransLink will take the best of both systems and offer regular stored value fares, discounted stored value fares when loading more than say $20 at a time, and distance-based unlimited monthly passes.

In order for the system to work, Compass Cards need to be easy to buy and load values onto. While most people will be able to get a Compass Card and load passes and stored value onto the cards online, TransLink also needs to make sure that Compass Cards can be purchased, and passes and money can be loaded onto the cards at vending machines throughout Metro Vancouver. Right now Compass Card vending machines will be at every SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express station, and even London Drugs, but TransLink must also put vending machines at major transit exchanges as many places and people in the region don’t use rail-based transit. TransLink should also enable the credit card payment feature on buses as soon as possible.

While change can be challenging, I’ll excited about the Compass Card system and distance-based fares. It will make our transit system easier and fairer to use in the long run.


Kyle Zheng said...

I personally oppose distance based fares because they result in a significantly higher costs for the suburbs (assuming distance fares across the whole region will be equal). For example,a trip from Langley to Surrey which currently only costs 2.75 will surely cost at least 1.5X that.
Distance fares also discourage occasional trips (my opinion) in the suburbs because they are more complex and would require everybody to possess a compass.

I would prefer a system similar to copenhagen's: http://257vancouver.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/a-look-at-metro-vancouvers-fare-structure/

Nathan Pachal said...

The Copenhagen system is pretty interesting. I think as far as occasional trips are concerned, it will be important to ensure there is an unlimited monthly pass type system like in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Vancouver used to have something similar - lots of fare zones. The current system is created to "simplify" the fare system.

Here is an old fare zone information from 1952:

Just looking at it you'd be pulling your hair out... And note that it only include Vancouver, North Van, Burnaby, New West, Richmond, and a tiny bit of Coquitlam (Fraser Mills).

Kyle Zheng said...

@Anonymous: that's great!

Sure awesome looking at old Transit goodies. Here's a report from 2007 that also looks into that.


Sorry that my post is a bit outdated, but the idea of multiple zones is still the same.

Anonymous said...

Well the Compass Card was not put into use "this winter" as you have posted and as of July 2014 it's use is still up in the air.

The best way is to get rid of zones and distance based fares if your objective is to get more people using transit.

The two examples, Seattle and San Francisco have dubious transit use rates: Seattle only 8% use transit and San Francisco only 14%! Does distance based fare systems promote transit use or prevent it from expanding?

Anonymous said...

In New York where more than 30% use transit and more walk to work or school one can purchase a week long transit pass for the entire Metro region for only $29! In Vancouver you'll pay $9.75 a day or $68.50 for the same 7 days with less than adequate service.