Thursday, October 30, 2014

TransLink Compass Card Tapping Out

This week, TransLink updated the region on the status of the Compass Card smartcard program. The first major piece of news was that TransLink will start rolling out the card to post-secondary students this winter. The roll-out is projected to complete by next summer.

The second piece of news is that TransLink may be suspending the requirement to tap-out of buses at system launch time. This means that the system won’t be able to automatically determine how many zones a riders goes through. TransLink is still planning to require people to tap-in/out when on the SkyTrain.

The root cause of the delay in fully launching the Compass Card system, and the reason that TransLink may be temporarily suspending the need to tap-out, seems to stem from the slow response time of the smartcard readers installed on their buses. The readers can take up to 3 seconds to read a smartcard. Because of this delay, many of the current Compass Card users aren’t waiting long enough for the system to recognize a tap-out event. This means that some people could be charge for three zones, even if they only travel in one zone.

Are the current bus smartcard readers even able to handle the sub-second transition time required for a tap-in/out system to function? It would certainly be bad news if TransLink had to replace all the readers on their buses. The SkyTrain readers are currently able to handle sub-second transition times.

Some have called into question the overall value of the Compass Card system. I believe that the Compass Card will be a valuable tool for TransLink and will make using transit easier in the long-term; it has on other transit systems that have deployed smartcard systems. Unfortunately, it seems that every transit system that has deployed a smartcard system has had major start-up pains.

As TransLink is now planning to launch the Compass Card system with no tap-out feature, many people are concerned about how the Compass Card could work in our current zone-based fare system.

Seattle has the Orca Card for their transit systems. While their light rail system is tap-in/out, on King County Transit buses you simply tell the driver how many zones you are traveling. He pushes a button, then you tap your card. If you register your card online, you can also automatically select how many zone you normally travel. Fare inspectors check the Orca Card to make sure that you’ve paid for the right zones.

Our current zone-based fare system could work with a tap-in only Compass Card. Of course, tap-in/out functionality would simplify the use of our transit system.

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