Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I 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 questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.

Hello,

I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: http://www.translinkcommission.org/html/yvr_add_fare_decision.html . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.

Sincerely,

Neal Jennings

 

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One response to this post.

  1. 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: http://www.translinkcommission.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Commission-Order-14-01-FINAL1.pdf

    Reply

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