800,000 customers now using Compass Card: TransLink CEO

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The number of transit users who have switched over to using the Compass Card to get around Metro Vancouver’s public transit system is creeping up towards the one-million mark.

During a press conference on Thursday, newly appointed TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said 800,000 people are now using the Compass Card on a regular basis and over 1.3 million taps are recorded on a daily basis on average.

Moreover, 94% of all trips on the transit system are now made using a Compass Card or a single-trip Compass Ticket from a Compass Machine and 149,000 people are loading their monthly pass into the Compass Card.

Desmond, who was previously the general manager of King County Transit and has been on the job as TransLink’s leader for barely three weeks, says the results have been relatively impressive compared to his previous experiences with automatic fare collection systems in New York City (Metro Card) and Seattle (Orca).

“To get to 94% boardings using the Compass system within a four month transition is pretty astonishing from where I come from,” said Desmond. “Even to use Seattle as an example, we launched the system in 2009 on the King County Metro system… only 70% of the boardings are with the ORCA system.”

There has been some criticism on TransLink’s handling of the functionality of the fare gates for individuals with disabilities without the use of their hands and the revelation of a hack that enables free single-trip rides. But Desmond says the incidents are small in number and efforts to find a fix will not affect the continued implementation of the Compass system.

The so-called hack reprograms the NFC computer chips embedded inside the single-trip Compass tickets by using a smartphone app that duplicates valid fares. It only affects single-trip paper Compass tickets from a Compass Machine; reusable Compass Cards are not affected.

“TransLink knew about this in advance and asked Cubic, and in fact other Cubic properties throughout the world use the same systems,” said Desmond. “A decision was made to go ahead and bear that risk because there was a back-office way to minimize that potential outcome. A hotlist is run continuously, and within an hour in the back office Cubic is able to detect a ticket and kill it.”

Since December, there have been just 35 detections of fake tickets, resulting in a total loss of $150 in fare revenue.

As for the fare gate disability access issue, Desmond says a more permanent fix is being worked on. In the meantime, staff are still in the process of transitioning into the new staff protocols of leaving one disability gate open when fare gates are left unattended.

“We recognize we haven’t been perfect at that,” he said. “The other day we heard news that someone at Burrard Station had to wait for 10 plus minutes. That is not acceptable.”

“We’re going through a transition, this is a big change for our customers and employees,. We did all the training and preparations in advance, we’re learning as we go. We have a list of things we need to attend that we’re learning over the last 10 days since we closed the gates.”

Permanent solutions for the accessible gates could include a pedestal that allows passengers to call the control centre to open the gate or more manpower.

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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