Thursday, June 5, 2014

TransLink's Compass Card and Calgary's CONNECT Smart Card

TransLink has been working towards implementing a smart card fare payment system to replace the current system of cash, tickets, and passes. Funding for this program was announced in April 2009. Along with implementing a smart card system, TransLink was forced to install expensive faregates at SkyTrain stations by the province. This made TransLink one of two agencies in North America (the other being Los Angeles’s Metro) to move away from a proof-of-fare system for rail-based transit.

Smart cards are replacing traditional payment on transit systems throughout the world. Along the west coast of the US, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles transit agencies current use smart card systems.

All these transit agencies had delays in implementation their smart cards systems due to the challenges of rolling out a technologically complex system. Though once the smart card systems got implemented, the experience of using transit greatly improved. You simply tap your card to use transit, and the system figures out the rest.

In Metro Vancouver, the cost of implementing TransLink’s Compass Card system has increased from $171 million to $194 million. In addition, the system’s full launch date has been delayed. This is not surprising as other transit agencies have faced similar challenges.

As I’m in Calgary this week, I thought I’d highlight Calgary’s smart card system.

Calgary Transit is also implementing a smart card payment system. Unlike TransLink which uses a zone-based system which requires tapping-on and tapping-off when using transit, Calgary Transit uses a simpler flat-fare system.

Calgary received funding to implement its smart card system back in 2010. As Calgary Transit wasn’t installing costly fare gates and has a simpler fare structure, the system was supposed to be in service by June 2012. The original price tag for the project was $8 million. The system was not in service by mid-2012 and due to problems with implementing the system, Calgary Transit cancelled the project.

Last late year Calgary Transit relaunched its smart card fare payment project. The total cost of the project could rice from $8 million to $19 million. A date has not been determined for when the system will go live.

TransLink’s major issue with the Compass Card system appears to be with the time it takes for smart cards to be read when tapped on a bus. Once that issue gets resolved, it appears that TransLink will be able to roll out the system to more transit users.

While delays and cost increases are never good, TransLink is unfortunately not the first transit agency to experience challenges implementing a smart card fare payment system.

1 comment:

Stephen Rees said...

There are quite a few issues with smart card systems around the world. I think your blog p[ost could have mentioned some of the experiences people have had. For example, card readers failing to register the proximity card held near them, or also deducting fares from credit/debit cards near them, or failing to note when someone "tapped out" resulting in a maximum fare for a short ride. That last one looks like a revenue maximising strategy to me.

The problem is that the onus of proof is on the user, not the system. So users get penalized but have little or no recourse.

Maybe you need to look a but further afield than Calgary