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.