Thursday, July 10, 2014

Waiting on Compass Card

TransLink has had a tough go of it in the PR department when it comes to the roll-out of the Compass Card system. The Compass Card system is really two parts: the modification of SkyTrain stations and two SeaBus stations to handle fare gates, and the roll-out of a smart card payment system.

One of the major issues I have with the Compass Card is that the Provincial Government forced TransLink to install costly fare gates. The Province wanted the fare gates as they calmed it would reduce fare evasion, maybe hoping this would fund some of the much needed transit expansion in the region. Sadly when it is all said and done, the fare gates will cost more to operate than the revenue that could possibly be recovered from reduced fare evasion.

The actual Compass Card smart card payment system, on the other hand, is a great idea as it will enable greater payment flexible for transit users, make the system easier to use, and provide accurate data about transit usage in the region.

While I’m excited about the introduction of the Compass Card, maybe a bit more than the average person; by the way the roll-out of the Compass Card has been portrayed in the media, you’d think that transit service is being impacted by the delay in fully launching the system.

The reality is that nothing has changed with how to use, or pay for, transit for the vast majority of transit users. You can still pay by cash, debit, and credit card. You can also still buy day passes and monthly passes.

One of the issues that is worth monitoring is the cost of the overall Compass Card program which changed from $171 million to $194 million. This is a difference of $23 million or a 14% increase of the total budget. Of that $23 million increase, about $9 million is due to the smart card readers on the bus. From my understanding, the performance of the bus smart card readers is what is holding up the launch of the full system.

TransLink is claiming that $194 million is all then need to complete the Compass Card program though they won’t commit to a timeline. From personal experience with IT projects I’ve worked on, when you have to write software, deploy software, test software, and fix bugs in software, it can be really hard to put an exact date on things. When it comes to a system like the Compass Card, I’d rather have a rock solid system from day one, then a system that is pledged with bugs and glitches.

As long as the Compass Card program remains within this new budget, I happy to wait for my Compass Card. Considering I’ve been using a paper monthly pass since I’ve moved to Metro Vancouver, I’m not too concerned if I have to use it a little bit longer.

1 comment:

Stephen Rees said...

You need to separate two distinct aspects. The fare gates on SkyTrain were intended to eliminate fare evasion. They won't and can't. They cost far more than could ever be recouped from reduced evasion.

A cashless payment system was probably worth looking at except that Translink actually turned its coin counting and rolling business into a money maker.

The supposed benefits of smart cards are small once you already have a semismart magnetic stripe system. Building on that using swipe rather than dip readers could have gained most of the benefits you ascribe to Compass. The marginal costs far exceed the marginal benefits.

The main reason Translink is pursuing smart cards is it thinks it can increase revenue by going to fare by distance. I think they are wrong about that too, for simple economic reasons to do with users' perceptions of value for money and the growth of competing user responsive systems. One day the provincial regulator will have to allow these and then the game really changes.

Right now the whole thing is stymied by the inability of bus mounted card readers to work quickly enough. And Vancouver is not the only place to have noticed that.