Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The whole Compass Card shemozzle is the province’s fault

Yesterday was the first weekday for TransLink‘s new “one zone fare, bus anywhere” fare structure. Why did TransLink have to create a flat fare structure for its bus network?

With the huge political pressure to get the Compass Card/fare gate system launched, especially after the failed referendum, I’m sure that an edict came from on high to launch the Compass Card/fares gate system now! What has been holding up the full launch of the system to this point was the requirement for people to tap-off when leaving buses.

Because some people do not wait for the readers to process their cards and/or the readers do not validate their cards properly on the first try, some people would be charged for a three-zone fare even if they only travelled one-zone. While it is easy to blame TransLink, it is actually Cubic Transportation Systems that committed to delivering a system with working “tap-off” bus functionality, and the provincial government that wanted the system in the first place.

TransLink never wanted the Compass Card/fare gate system. In “December 2007, Premier Gordon Campbell’s former deputy minister and former special adviser Ken Dobell visited TransLink on behalf of Cubic Transportation Systems. Dobell, a former TransLink CEO, registered to lobby Falcon on behalf of Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. Approximately two weeks after [the lobbying], Falcon announced he wanted to see TransLink bring in controlled-access gates to SkyTrain.”

The whole Compass Card/fate gate program was provincially mandated.

A City of Burnaby Staff report from 2011 presents a timeline on how the Compass Card/fare gate program came to be. Here are some excerpts from that report:

2002 June: TransLink rejected the use of faregates on the SkyTrain system. A report to the TransLink Board estimated SkyTrain fare evasion at 8.7%, amounting to $3.3 million per annum loss to the system. The capital cost for faregates (then on only two SkyTrain lines) was estimated at $83 million, with incremental operating costs of $22 million per year.

2005 December: The TransLink Board again rejected faregates. SkyTrain fare evasion was estimated at this time at 6.3% of passengers, or $4 million per annum… the annualized cost (capital and operating) for faregates was estimated at $25 million.

2007 November: In a surprise announcement, the then-Minister of Transportation, the Honourable Kevin Falcon, announced that the Province would pay the capital cost of installing faregates on the SkyTrain system.

2009 April: Senior governments committed $70 million ($40 million provincial and $30 million federal) for faregates, about 41 % of the estimated capital costs of faregates.

2009 December: The TransLink Board decided to implement smart cards and faregates, based on a Business Case that they received [which was co-authored by the provincial government.]

2010 December 8: The TransLink Board awarded a ten-year contract to Cubic Transportation Systems (with IBM Canada) to design, build, and operate the smart card and faregate system.

Even as TransLink is rolling out the Compass Card/fare gate system today with the one-zone bus policy, the endgame for TransLink is to move to a distance-based fare system. This is only possible if you can tap-on and tap-off of every form of public transportation that TransLink provides. The question is, will Cubic be able to delivery on their original commitment?

The whole Compass Card/fare gate program was driven by the whims of a former provincial Transportation Minister. It amazes me that time and time again, the provincial government can muck around with Metro Vancouver's transit system, yet somehow deflect the blame for their mess-ups onto local governments and agencies.


Dave Hall said...

So Nathan, you were all gung-ho on wasting $7 million on the last doomed referendum, how do you feel about wasting another $7 million on a new one as announced as a requirement today by the Minister of Delay and Translink Peter Fassbender. So here is the government's plan B - keep offloading responsibility for sustainable operating costs on Mayor's but once again handcuff them in terms of any "new Sources" of revenue as apparently the only non-referendum source is increased property taxes but the Mayors will have to agree to that. So a public that is told that they simply didn't understand the "vision" of the province moving forward and "unfortunately" (their words) voted based on confidence or lack of in the governance of Translink is expected to vote again with no changes to either governance (other than a couple of government appointed Translink governors) or transparently better efficiency and management (wow- Compass card disarray and a very minor reduction in CAO salary). Who could honestly believe that the next referendum result can be any different than the one just passed. And don't tell me now that there is no Plan "C".

Nathan Pachal said...

So what is plan c?

Dave Hall said...

Well the Province's plan is likely to simply lay blame at the first failure at the feet of the mayors and, if you read Wednesday's Vancouver Sun, Christie's plan is to set up the mayors again in the event of failure #2. Fassbender's plan seems to be as always to delay, spout the rhetoric that we need to bring everyone back to the table, and position those on Councils and at the Mayor's Council to pad their resume's and jump ship as he so admirably demonstrated himself.Meanwhile the government can stall through another referendum and once again perhaps avoid any real decision making (that's likely to be dangerous to their re-election) and continue to divert blame. You didn't answer my question Nathan -- Where do you stand on this waste of money on another referendum? For a change I agreed with your previous blog that suggested that the province needs to step up and make a decision to deliver on a clear vision and need for improved transit long term.If you were mayor---why would you continue participating in the current sham? Plan C -- my bet is ultimately the Province will impose an increased property tax despite opposition from mayors but later rather than sooner. This is all nonsense because the Province could raise operating costs through a variety and combination of options (there were 9 at one time) rather than insisting on a single referendum identified choice and the property tax being the only other non-referendum item.

Nathan Pachal said...

I think that a referendum is a waste of money... The province needs to find a way to fund transit, or give the mayors the tools they need to fund transit.