British Columbia

Compass Card program delayed again by TransLink

TransLink's Compass Card program has been delayed once again and there is no date set for the roll-out of the automated fare-gate program for Metro Vancouver transit services.

Automated fare-gate system was originally supposed to be in place by 2008

TransLink's Compass Card fare gates have been installed, but are only being used by a limited number of cardholders. (CBC)

TransLink's Compass Card program has been delayed once again and there is no date set for the roll-out of the automated fare card program for Metro Vancouver transit services.

The $200 million system is supposed to stop cheaters and make riding transit easier, but testing shows the card readers are too slow and inaccurate.

The fare gates and card scanners have already been installed and about 85,000 people, including transit employees, disabled transit users and low-income seniors, are using cards to test the system.

But TransLink spokesperson Doug Kelsey says testing shows the cards have more than an eight per cent error rate.

"We have quite an inconsistency around the speed. Some are fast and some are slow," says Kelsey.

"We need a very small error rate on a high-volume business, and that's why it's not ready for our customers, but we're very optimistic Cubic is working on the solve right now."

A system by the same company, Cubic, used in Chicago has led to two class action lawsuits for overcharging. Similar problems have been reported with Cubic systems in London and Brisbane.

But TransLink won't say if those problems contributed to the decision to put the brakes on its Compass Card roll-out.

Costly and delayed

TransLink is promising  another update on the system in October.

But Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who has been opposed to the new system from the start, says the constant delays are just a sign the whole fare gate system is a problem.

"They're being evasive on exactly how much money is being spent on this" says Corrigan.

"It's such an expensive addition to the system and was something that is going to cost massive amounts in maintenance over the next years. It will far outstrip any of the moneys that are a benefit as a result of avoiding fare evasion," says Corrigan.

There have been calls to install fare turnstiles ever since the first SkyTrain line opened for Expo 86, but TransLink's board of directors long opposed the idea, mostly because of cost.

Then in 2007 then-B.C. transport minister Kevin Falcon ordered TransLink to install turnstiles within a year in order to crack down on fare evasion and petty crime on the SkyTrain.

By 2009, just a month before the provincial election campaign, then-premier Gordon Campbell announced the provincial and federal governments would spend $100 million to put the gates in place by spring 2010.

After the election, TransLink announced the system would not be up and running before 2012. By 2013 TransLink was promising the system would be operational sometime in 2014.

With files from Natalie Clancy and Mike Laanela


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