Open letter to TransLink on Compass Fare Hikes

Dear TransLink,

I’m writing about what I’ve decided to call the Compass Fare Hikes.  You don’t call them that, but more on that in a moment.

It’s come to light over the last couple of months that with the full implementation of Compass a number of changes will also come to the way we will pay our fares.  Specifically:

  • To obtain a Compass Card, which you have suggested will be the primary method of fare payment, users have to pay $6 in exchange for only $5.50 of credit, meaning riders will be incurring an extra 50 cents on each card purchase.
  • This will entitle users to a 14% discount on fares, which is significantly less than the FareSavers currently offer.
  • The elimination of FareSavers also eliminates the ability of anyone without a monthly pass to prepay to avoid the AddFare at the YVR stations, since your questionable interpretation of the Commission’s ruling suggests you think Compass is NOT “non-cash fare media.”
  • Bus riders who currently pay cash and subsequently transfer to SkyTrain or SeaBus will be forced to pay twice to continue their trip.  TransLink Police recently confirmed this isn’t just because of faregates, and that bus tickets will be completely invalid within the system (presumably even if the gates are open).
  • This is all in addition to the Tariff Changes announced last month, made under the guise of what “makes sense” and a suggestion that TransLink has too many riders.  These changes affect those who used Employer Passes, monthly passholders with family who ride with them, and West Coast Express riders.

Call these things what you like, but for anyone who uses these fare media or routes, these are fare increases.  Anyone who buys a Compass Card is paying more for their ride than we would have before.   Casual riders who use FareSavers will pay more than we would have before, both in general and at YVR stations.  Bus riders who transfer to SkyTrain after paying cash will pay more than they would have before.  These changes undoubtedly increase the amount of money riders are paying and, in turn, the amount of money received by TransLink on account of fares.

Some of these things have come as a surprise to many – such as the policy change on the YVR AddFare and the bus transfer issue.  They haven’t been announced clearly or publicised, at best hidden stealthily in texts about how great Compass cards will be.  And when they do surface, you have told half-truths about the alternatives (insisting the cost of allowing bus transfers was $25M when the cheapest alternative was only $9M) in order to distract from the fact that you are effectively increasing fares.

I worry about what other surprises TransLink has in store for us.

I’ve heard the arguments about these things affecting a small number of riders, though I question whether that’s still true after you add up all of the people affected by these things.  I’ve also heard all the spin that suggests these are just making things make “more sense” or that they are meant to encourage Compass use.  But at the end of the day, these things are fare hikes for a lot of people.

I love that we are upgrading to a smart card system – it’s about time. I want Compass to succeed.  This is why this frustrates me so much – if Compass is blamed for all of these fare hikes, you will only continue to build public opposition to it, and the data you so covet will be less useful to you.  You are also putting at risk what I think is a very positive reputation in the community – of all the cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never known one where most people look at the transit authority and say “yeah, they’re pretty good” the way people in the Lower Mainland (particularly in the city of Vancouver) do.  Your planning, quality, and customer service are phenomenal compared to other transit agencies.

So I ask of you: be honest with us.  It’s so blatantly obvious to me and other transit users that these changes are intended to increase funds flowing from riders to TransLink.  We know you have budget issues – we can’t escape this news.  So tell us the truth and call these changes what they are: fare increases.  Tell us that you’re sorry you have to do it, but that you have no other choice but to make up for budget shortfalls.  We might not like it, we might not sing your praises for it, but we’ll appreciate your honesty.  And, eventually, we’ll accept it.  Stop the lies, and stop the distractions.

Tell the public the truth and maybe some people will be on your side.  Until then, I will continue to find it hard to believe the sincerity of your statements on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings


11 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent letter, but go further at the end there. Ask translink to directly connect – in all public statements – these fare hikes to funding constraints. To moneys used on the major road network, to the lack of other revenue options like property tax thanks to total provincial leadership failure. Use these public statements to educate the public, ask how the next million people will move around Vancouver: do you want your children and the immigrants adding to the car traffic in front of you, or do you want them to choose the bus and the bikeshare?


    • I absolutely agree with you. I think the first step is getting TransLink to admit it has a problem. But the end goal should absolutely be a properly funded transit authority that has its spending priorities straight.


  2. I should also add – I submitted this through the TransLink feedback form, since they do not provide any other method of communication. The character limit is much smaller than this would allow so I gave them the link instead. Anyone with further suggestions is more than welcome to post them here, in fact I encourage it.

    One person on Twitter, for example, suggested a broad-based fare hike to deal with these things rather than burying them in lies about “makes sense” and “too expensive to allow the transfers we used to allow.” I would support this – though I do think a fare hike should be a last resort and not the first.


  3. I just received a (very prompt) reply from TransLink, who apparently missed the whole part about me asking them to stop lying (particularly about the $25 million bus-machines being the only alternative to allow cash payments on buses be transferable). Their response also includes a slightly more cryptic, somewhat less costly-sounding, explanation of the $0.50 fee built into Compass purchases – perhaps this actually is just a minimum purchase? The text is below.

    Dear Neal Jennings,

    Thank you for your feedback. The changes to the fare media were to be consistent and fair to all of our customers rather than only certain customers getting discounts. The easiest way to travel across the system will be to use a Compass Card. When you use a Compass Card, you will be able to transfer and take advantage of discounts over using cash fares. Options were explored for the bus to rail transfer for cash tickets. Unfortunately, converting the bus fareboxes to issue passes that would access the fare gates would cost about $25 million and is not a cost effective solution. In focus groups, our customers told us they would prefer we not spend the money on replacing the fareboxes and instead focus on rider education and have an extended transition period for our customers (which is what we are doing). Compass offers additional flexibility and convenience. There will be a robust education plan and customer support during the transition period to get customers used t
    o it. The $6.00 deposit is fully refundable if customers don’t want their Compass Card anymore. The full deposit can be used towards fare if customers are low on their balance of the card. The $6.00 will need to be topped up each time customers reload their card. The $6.00 will always provide customers with a fare if for some reason they have not had a chance to reload their card. We have assigned your comments to the head office at Translink.


    Customer Relations Department


    • Update: a Twitter discussion with someone else led to a clarification on the $6 thing, which is outlined in a footnote to a Buzzer Blog entry, here:

      So the $6 “deposit” is exactly that: basically a loan to TransLink where we earn zero interest, in exchange for the ability to have our balances drop below zero on any given trip. The most transit usage we can get out of this at any given point in time is $5.49, assuming a three-zone trip and our balance (excluding the deposit) was $0.01. So unlike the link I posted above, the $6 deposit will NOT give anyone a 3-Zone ride included in it… but you will theoretically be able to reclaim your $6 deposit if you ever decide to trade in your card.

      All that said, this is to most transit riders a cost – presumably, we would not be buying a Compass Card only to dispose of it months later. We’re paying $6 up front for the privilege of paying our fares at higher rates than before.


  4. The compass cards should be free. Asking those on low income and those on fixed incomes to donate $6.00 to TransLink in order to use the system is blatantly unfair. It is just as unfair to force fixed and low income transit users who must bus their children to school every day to pay for children from age 6 to 12. The amount of money that is charged adds up to more than half the budget for the monthly food bill. When you add in the cost of the fares for the accompanying adult, it is more than the monthly food budget. Really TransLink, give you head a shake.


  5. Further update!! TransLink appears to have realised they can’t actually increase fares without public consultation, at least when it comes to the YVR AddFare. They quietly, the night before Christmas Eve, filed an application to allow this extra charge.


  6. […] mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I […]


  7. Final update: Despite 70 submissions opposing this change, and ZERO supporting it, the TransLink Commission has allow the change in the AddFare to go ahead. The full report, in which I am quoted as “One person wrote that,” is here:


  8. […] I previously wrote about the Compass Fare Hikes (as I’ve called them) in 2013, TransLink had announced that Compass Card would provide […]


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