When news emerged Wednesday that fare gates at SkyTrain stations won't accept bus transfers when they come into effect next year, the Internet unleashed its fury.
An online petition was started, a torrent of angry tweets rained down on TransLink's Twitter account, and a Reddit thread had hundreds of indignant comments. The transit authority was widely accused of instituting a double fare, because anyone without a Compass card would have to pay twice for a bus-to-rail trip.
While SkyTrain stations will have terminals allowing cash purchases of a single-use Compass ticket that will work on the whole transit system, TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said it just wasn't worth it to spend $25-million – on top of a Compass budget already at about $180-million – to retrofit every bus with the same capability. Out of 930,000 daily customers who use the transit system, TransLink estimates about 6,000 pay a cash fare on a bus and then transfer to the SkyTrain.
Mr. Zabel said the hope is for cash fares to drop significantly once the Compass system is in place, because the cards give a discount over cash fares of up to 14 per cent. "We understand there are going to be some people inconvenienced … but we have a solution to that," he said. "And that's the Compass card."
The cards will require a $6 deposit when purchased, and will be available at SkyTrain stations and some retail locations around the city (the details are still being worked out). If the card is registered, the funds on the card are saved even if the card is lost.
The fare boxes currently on TransLink buses will need to be replaced in the next three to five years anyway, Mr. Zabel said. Once TransLink has an indication of how many people are still using cash fares, it will decide whether to replace them with fare boxes that print Compass tickets. "That is a possibility, or you might move to a cashless system," he said. "We have no idea until people start going out there and using it."
Collecting and analyzing card data is key to TransLink's plan for a successful switch to the new system, and it starts next month with a beta testing period.
Mr. Zabel said about 5,000 people will be testing the cards for a month, and then TransLink will work on fixing any glitches. After that, a transition phase will start where the Compass cards are available to the public, but the old fare system remains in place.
Once TransLink feels the public is comfortable with the Compass system, the old fares will be discontinued and the SkyTrain fare gates will close. Mr. Zabel said the transit authority hasn't made a decision on how long the transition period will be, but the hope is to have the Compass system in full operation some time next year.
TransLink will use the transition to make a concerted effort to move people away from the cash fares, Mr. Zabel said.
"When we did focus groups, we did talk to some people who have made those bus-to-rail transfers … they indicated that if we have a Compass card, there's a robust education program, there's that transition, then they would be inclined to just keep a Compass card."
Mr. Zabel acknowledged there will likely be lingering concerns about the impact on low-income residents of disallowing bus transfers to SkyTrains, but his response was a familiar refrain. "The answer to that is that if you get yourself a Compass card, you're saving money. Even if it's on a casual trip."