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

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      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.

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      A Smith

      Aug 21, 2013 at 10:26am

      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?


      Aug 21, 2013 at 10:33am

      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


      Aug 21, 2013 at 10:42am

      What about those of us who actually pay taxes and take the train to work every day who are losing the Employer Pass?


      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:02am

      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.

      Miranda Nelson

      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:09am

      @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...


      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:17am

      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?


      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:18am

      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.

      fair evador

      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:18am

      translink = scumbags.


      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:24am

      @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.

      Miranda Nelson

      Aug 21, 2013 at 11:28am

      @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.