TransLink's Compass fare card could create big challenges for Vancouver's poor

The rollout of TransLink’s new Compass fare card could make it impossible for social-service providers to continue to offer transit assistance to people living in poverty, several groups have warned.

The Carnegie Community Centre Association’s Tamara Herman explained that some organizations working in the Downtown Eastside give people FareSaver tickets for transport to important meetings like medical and counselling appointments, job interviews, and court appearances.

“With the Compass cards, we are not going to be able to buy them at $6 a card every time we need to give somebody a bus ticket,” she told the Straight. “It is really going to put a strain on our already strained budgets and just make that impossible.”

TransLink recently announced that it is phasing out FareSaver booklets, packs of 10 tickets purchased for the price of nine. If travellers want a similarly discounted fare, they will have to purchase a Compass card for $6, and load it with enough money to pay for a ride.

“While it might not sound like a lot to some residents of Vancouver, to others $6 is a massive chunk of money,” Herman said.

She also noted that the Compass system will not allow bus-to-train transfers on cash purchases. With gentrification of the Downtown Eastside pushing low-income earners out of the area, but with many social services still located there, that transfer restriction “becomes a huge problem”, Herman said.

Susan Henry, a legal advocate with the First United Church Community Ministry Society, told the Straight that she expects the introduction of the Compass system to hamper services provided by a number of community organizations.

“We will not be able to assist people [with transit] anymore,” Henry said. “Right now, it’s costing us the equivalent of $2.10 to help them for a single zone. If it’s going to cost us $8.75 [$6 for a Compass card plus $2.75 for a one-zone fare], we’re not going to be able to do it.”

Representatives of the YWCA and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre shared similar concerns.

Derek Zabel, a spokesperson for TransLink, said that meetings with stakeholders are ongoing. He argued that the Compass card will come with benefits for low-income earners, explaining that it will provide a 14-percent discount compared to cash payments.

Zabel described the initial $6 charge as a deposit, and added that it will include a “safety net”, allowing an individual to dip into a negative balance for one transit ride. “It’s guaranteeing people one safe trip home,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has suggested that the Compass cards will be fine for most travellers, but will create “very, very difficult” challenges for the marginalized.

“That $6 deposit is a huge barrier in itself,” Meggs told the Straight by phone.

He added that the recent announcement about bus-to-SkyTrain transfers is “frustrating”.

“That’s said to be only 6,000 travellers a day, but that is quite a few people,” Meggs said.

Henry suggested that the root of the problem is TransLink making decisions without considering implications for the poor. “Coming up with $8.75 is difficult for someone on basic assistance,” Henry said.

Comments (41) Add New Comment
A Smith
I am confused. I thought the Compass cards were going to be reloadable via your bank account like paying a bill. It is implied in this article that you can go to any fare save dealer and just buy the cards with cash but what about reloading the cards..? I thought the point was so you wouldn't have to get multiple cards, people just buy one Compass card and that is it until it wears out or gets lost? I am surprised the banking barriers for some poor people was not mentioned in this article. For some poor people, now that almost all banks require a credit check in order to open an account they no longer have the luxury of having a bank account at all. If this Compass card is reloadable through your bank account like paying a bill this means poor people without bank accounts will have no choice but to pay the $6 minimum for a new card every time their current card runs out. Am I understanding this correctly? Or was I misinformed about how these will work?
Rating: +10
Is funny so see how an article about a rich, drugs addicted actor, who killed himself in a posh hotel in Vancouver draws so much attention, and this one about basic transportation needs for low income people has not drawn attention at all, at least not one single comment yet
Rating: +19
What about those of us who actually pay taxes and take the train to work every day who are losing the Employer Pass?
Rating: -6
While I can sympathize with marginalized individuals being impacted by the Compass Card, Susan Henry is completely misinformed. The $6 deposit gives you a Compass Card that comes with $5.50 pre-loaded on it, more than enough to pay for a one-zone trip in both directions.
Rating: -21
Miranda Nelson
@Joe, if that's the case, I would LOVE a link to that information. Because I have been reading about this for weeks and have not once heard that or been able to find information to that effect on TransLink's website.

Of course, I can't even find an official statement on TransLink's site about the $6 "refundable deposit" to begin with, so...
Rating: +18
It's all relative. It's costing me $25 more a month to get to work plus they are going to start charging to park at the park and ride daily which is currently free. I have to drive part way to work as there is no transit to my area. So I have to have a car, insurance, gas and maintenance. Do you want me to go on? This transit rate and service garbage hits everyone! For me, it will be about $800 more plus car expenses in 2014. So, maybe I'll be looking for a free ride come 2015. Can I get in line?
Rating: -119
I'd love the chance to donate money so that I can help low-income people pay the $6 fee compass card fee. I'd even be okay with tacking an extra $10 to my monthly fee so that these people can use the system at a subsidized rate. However, some conditions would need to be met:

1. Pass a drug test every month.
2. If you sell your card and you don't get another subsidized one.
3. If you're seen yelling at people going in to restaurants in the DTES, you lose your card and have to wear a t-shirt that reas "I eat at McDonalds and protest small business. Why yes, I am an asshole!"

Or Translink could waive the fee on a case by case basis instead of leaving it up to the non-profits to sort out.
Rating: -43
fair evador
translink = scumbags.
Rating: -74
@Miranda You can charge the machine from your bank account or you can go to any of the machines scan the card in and put cash into the machine to put money on the card.
Rating: -4
Miranda Nelson
@Bryan, I know how the thing works. Believe me, I know. But what if you don't have a bank account? What if you have mobility issues and have difficulties getting to a machine. What if you don't even have a phone or credit card? Did you know that lots of impoverished people don't have ANY of those things?

And I reiterate my question: where is the proof that the $6 Compass card comes preloaded with $5.50 worth of credit? If this is true, I really would like to know.
Rating: +16
The Compass card was conceived of and implemented by people with great economic privilege, who never ride the bus.
Rating: +34
on the translink website. it does not mention anything about $6, as for myself and anyone that does not use regulary this is a scam. typical of translink. fill their coffers ,screw the little guy.
Rating: +7
it should be
like most other systems with cards soon it should be 1) reloadable without a bank account (credit card) 2) if no credit card, reloadable at a pay station with cash 3) if no pay station, reloadable at your current fare dealers. Thats how its usually done.

For the homeless, it should be in translink's PR campaign to give to community groups free compass cards that are pre-registered. The community groups can distribute the cards and pre-load them with whatever amount they were going to give out before. If they need to provide more transit fare since the cards a pre-registered they just need to reload the card on behalf of their users.
Rating: +13
Alan Layton
Good god, the world does not revolve around the small ratio of poor people in Vancouver. Changing to the Compass Card took a lot of thought about many different groups and scenarios. Having said that, it does cause a dilemma for the entities that have been providing fare savers to their clients. Using Compass Cards is not the answer because the majority of people are not going to return them and the societies will lose their deposit. If you give them the correct change chances are they'll just spend it something else. Clearly Translink does need to come up a viable solution, because the fare savers were perfect - they were disposable and you can't buy drugs with them.

Rating: -88
hattie's hat
@miranda nelson:

Page 22, section 6 b.

If i read it correctly, You would need a minumum of 1 cent on a $6 deposit card to be able to tap in to transit other than the WCE, and your fare would be deducted from the total $6.01.
Rating: -17
There are two cost estimates to a project - the actual cost done the most practical way possible, and the estimate by a corporation that doesn't want to do it, done in the most off-the-wall manner.

For peanuts a bus fare box could be installed next to one of the tollgates in every Skytrain station and one wire connected from the said box to the "open" switch in the gate parallel to the Compass feature.

Old style Transfer tickets could then be read, validated, and give acccess to the Skytrain system but freeloaders could be kept out.

These days even with cash in the pocket seems you are a non-person without internet and a smart phone. Translink is more interested in user data metrics than user service.

Rating: +8
Miranda Nelson
Thanks hattie. I've read through that entire document and there isn't a single mention that the $6 deposit would come with $5.50 of credit. You do get $2.75 worth of credit to ride the West Coast Express if you buy an adult monthy Compass pass (according to the chart on in appendix three).
Rating: -2
Ken Hardie
TransLink will make special limited use Compass tickets available to social service agencies to hand out to clients who qualify for their assistance. These tickets will work exactly the way FareSavers work today.

As such, the very poor who are getting support from an agency will not have to lay out $6 for a Compass card, and the agencies providing the assistance can get a supply of these limited use Compass tickets (that will open faregates and allow all transfers) pretty much the same way as they get FareSavers today.
Rating: -17
well, why didn't these people come an discuss this situation early....the compass program was initiated and discussed years ago. How is it 100% translink's responsibility to think about situations like this which none of their staff ever deal with. And considering smart cards have been implemented in most other major cities in the world now....why can't these social service groups think research how agencies hand out bus fares for the poor in those cities? this should really be the social agency responsibility to figure out, NOT translink.
Rating: -31
I worked for a DTES shelter, we gave out faresaver tickets when a client needed to go to appointments and such. Of course, we didn't give them out like candy and was to more responsible clients, but accidents happened plenty of times. Either way, $6 a pop is too much.

What is the alternative? We use taxis, which is much more money, especially since DTES is pretty compact and one doesn't need to go short distances.

What do support workers do outside of Vancouver, in areas like New West and Surrey if we can't use a faresaver? Uggg, we have to again use taxi or most likely drive the client ourself. Driving clients around gets us understaffed at the workplace, wear and tear on the car, and plus not too safe for the worker. With that, it's also just dumb to put one more car on the road that could be done with public transit.
Rating: +13


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