Rezoning transit fare zones spurs debate in Vancouver

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A shift to distance-based fares may hurt poor transit riders, a Vancouver city councillor worries.

      Geoff Meggs is concerned that charging people by the kilometres they travel could lead to higher fares and discourage transit use.

      “The basic purpose of the public-transit system is to let people get around at a reasonable cost,” Meggs told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      TransLink recently indicated that a fare-policy review may be done in 2016. The transit authority expects to gather information on how far people travel and at what times when its new fare gates become operational next year.

      With riders tapping in and out with their Compass smart cards starting in 2014, TransLink will know if there’s a case for doing away with the current three-zone system, which is a basic form of distance-based fare scheme.

      The three fare zones are in effect weekdays from start of service until 6:30 p.m. It’s one zone across the system after 6:30 p.m. and on weekends and holidays.

      “I think you can argue that if you wanted to grow the transit ridership, you might want to make it somewhat cheaper for people to travel long distances so they won’t be so inclined to use their cars,” Meggs said.

      Fares make up a third of TransLink’s revenues. According to a review by the Ministry of Finance, fare revenues grew 36 percent from 2007 to 2011, to more than $433 million. TransLink’s 2012 annual report notes that fare revenues increased by almost $15 million in the previous year.

      Coquitlam councillor Brent Asmundson suggested distance-based fares may be more fair for riders.

      Asmundson has been driving for TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Company for about 28 years, and he said that there are a number of “complications” with the three-zone setup.

      Some riders, for example, get charged for travelling two zones even when they are only going a few blocks to their destination. But those coming from Kootenay Loop on the east side of Vancouver, just a few blocks from Burnaby, pay for only one zone even if they travel all the way west to UBC, he noted.

      Asmundson said that depending on how TransLink structures fares based on distance travelled, a shift may even increase transit use and benefit users.

      “People are already paying two zones, three zones and sometimes just going a short distance, and so I think that it may work out better for low-income people and people in general,” Asmundson told the Straight in a phone interview. “You won’t be getting stuck with that short two-zone trip or that three-zone trip where you’re just entering the next zone.”

      A study commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario notes that smart-card technologies “facilitate” not only distance-based fares but also the alternative of “time-dependent” fares. The latter means charging people more during rush hours and less during off-peak times.

      The January 2013 report, Financing Roads and Public Transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, also states that “fare differentiation according to distance and time of travel can boost revenues by exploiting differences in fare-price sensitivity across market segments.”

      Public-transit advocate Nathan Pachal travels three zones to get to work in Vancouver from his home in Langley. He believes he gets a good deal. Even though he may end up paying more with a distance-based fare system, he still thinks that such a shift would be in a
      positive direction.

      “One of the good things about it is that it really adds some equity into the system,” Pachal told the Straight by phone.

      According to the founder of the South Fraser Blog, riders in Vancouver who go about their business without leaving the city may actually save money.

      Pachal also noted that the distance-based fare models of Seattle’s Link light rail and San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit have proven to be successful.

      In Vancouver, councillor Meggs allowed that people may pay more to travel farther “if they get there quickly and it’s a quality experience”.

      “But if they have to pay more to stand for 45 minutes or an hour on a jammed bus that’s only coming every 20 minutes,” Meggs added, “they probably won’t continue.”




      Oct 2, 2013 at 11:38am

      It's about time! The current zones are so biased in favour of users who stay within the City of Vancouver's huge single zone. Crossing a zone line for even two stops costs you 2 zones.

      Jarek Piórkowski

      Oct 2, 2013 at 1:08pm

      In distance-based fares, there's usually a pretty high base fare. On Seattle light rail, going 2 km within downtown is $2, then continuing 20 km more to the airport is only $0.75 extra. In Vancouver we'd at best see a ~$2 base fare and maybe 5 cents/km, for Marpole-downtown fares around $2.50, Joyce-UBC around $3, and Surrey Central-downtown fares around $3.50. White Rock to downtown or Langley to Renfrew would be around $4 with this scheme. Fares closer 10 cents/km seem more likely.

      People trapped in edge cases around the edges of the fare zones will benefit, but it's not like going two stops will now cost a dollar.

      Speaking of huge zones - Kootenay loop to UBC is 19 km, same as White Rock to King George station. Horseshoe Bay ferry to Lynn Valley is 21 km, to Deep Cove 28 km.


      Oct 2, 2013 at 1:28pm

      I predicted this a few weeks ago because it is another way to force people to use the card. They have already announced that bus users who pay cash will have to pay again to transfer to skytrain but how will the distance fares be calculated for those who pay when boarding? Will they be adding conductors to buses?

      I spend enough time in London that I have an Oyster Card, a grown up version of Compass where they considered convenience for users a priority. They don't have an "exclusive" retailer where you can get the full range of card services, within a short walk of my family's home in Ealing there is a newsagent and a grocery store that each have an "Oyster Ticket Stop" where one can do everything except get an Oyster Photo Card. That is in addition to the 2 machines and human ticket window at the underground station across the street. Somehow they managed to find a way for turnstiles to accept both the Oyster touch card & the magnetic stripe single issue tickets! Something the overpaid geniuses at Translink decided wasn't worth the additional expense because they could double charge those without Compass.

      Translink is another very expensive bureaucratic boondoggle joining BC Ferries, BC Hydro, ICBC as well as the Ministries of Health & Education as expensive examples of bureaucratism. Funds that should be used to improve services are misspent on more managers and administrators even as frontline positions are eliminated. There is no effective oversight of bureaucrats: they ignore government hiring freezes and hide some of the costs of their operations under frontline clinical services.

      Translink is a great example of how governments use accounting shenanigans to make the bottom line look better. The NDP created Translink to bury some debt and left the company with few funding options. The Liberals ranted and raved but saw the genius of that idea and developed their own version of it with BC Ferries. Meanwhile Translink has been a money pit where for every good idea, I love the Canada Line, there are millions of dollars misspent on boondoggles like Compass and a top heavy management structure.


      Oct 2, 2013 at 3:34pm

      A distance based fare system makes much more sense than our current zone system. Imagine that you can go from Belcarra to White Rock while staying in Zone 3 (probably over 50km). Having a time-variable cost would also be a great idea. This may help to relieve some pressure during the extremely busy periods.

      Truth Seeker

      Oct 2, 2013 at 6:00pm

      The biggest problem with anything Translink is the way the organization is structured. No public accountability, obscenely high salaries for the chairman and the fact that the people running it are completely out of touch with the reality of the average transit commuter.

      The local and provincial government spent how many millions of taxpayer dollars flying politicians to "observe" various European transit systems (that more or less are run efficiently and get the job done). They also commissioned numerous "studies" on how to build and operate a metropolitan public transport system.

      And what do we get? A fare-gate system that will result in massive bottlenecks, too-small trains that even with short headway times are overcrowded, kooks talking of building a streetcar down Broadway to UBC - one of the busiest transit routes in Notth America. Hell, they can't even get the #20 running on schedule....four buses show up and then it's a 3/4 wait until the next one.

      And how are they resolving these issues? Obfuscation, propaganda and squabbles amongst themselves. This ostensibly world-class city (ha!) is a joke.


      Oct 2, 2013 at 8:08pm

      @Graham I just used the Translink trip planner to go from Belcarra Village to White Rock center which recommends catching the C26 transfer to the 160 downtown, Canada Line>Bridgeport then take the 351 into White Rock. Duration? 2 hours and 59 minutes so you would just squeak in after purchasing 2 x 90 minute tickets. And 3 zones each way makes for a $11 trip. Yes that does, somehow, make sense.


      Oct 2, 2013 at 10:52pm

      Geoff, you came from Toronto having the longest commutes in Canada. What do you know? Go back to Toronto where you belong. Don't turn Vancouver into another Toronto with your ignorant views on transit.

      Sure make transit cheaper, I drove from Vancouver to New Westminster last Saturday for a concert. I could have taken cheap transit, but I have a frickin car and care more about getting there on time and dry. It was pouring and it would have taken me four hours round trip on transit. Geoff, fuck off.

      A Smith

      Oct 2, 2013 at 11:11pm

      Whatever system they come up with it needs to be simple, consistent and reliable if they want to increase ridership. The best way to do that would be to have one flat rate that is good for a set amount of time no matter the distance or time of day, day of week and scrap the whole distance-based-fare idea all together.

      Bus Driver

      Oct 3, 2013 at 9:31am

      With the number of scammers riding the system, something had to be done. Compass, while not perfect, should fix some of this issue. I don't know how many times I've had riders say my transfer just expired or all I have is paper money.
      As for zones, they need to go and be replaced by distance charges the way you pay for a cab. Base fare plus distance travelled seems most fair.
      On the issue of Translink, they need about half as much staff and especially management. This would save millions each year which could be used for more buses and drivers to better serve the public demand. Instead they and Coast Mountain, cut drivers run times, placing more and more pressure on them, and thereby causing them to run behind, resulting in missed connections and further passenger frustration. I know first hand from not only driving but riding the system.
      No system is ever going to be perfect but all in all, we provide a pretty good service to the public.

      Take transit

      Oct 3, 2013 at 11:01am

      @Casper: Toronto or the GTA actually has the second longest car commutes after Vancouver due to its 400 series of highways and three lane streets outside of the older neighbourhoods, public transit commutes are longer for obvious reasons i.e greater distances. double decker commuter GO trains relieve pressure off the city transit systems, for example if you have to travel from white rock to dntn you just hop on a commuter rail and don't need to switch three buses and then get on the sky train all of which are already over crowded and run on crowded streets. Also, 80% of the operating costs of the Toronto transit comes from the fare box and the fare is only $3 no matter how far you go(which is part of the deal made with the outlying neighbourhoods that don't have subway or street car service just buses). Surely Toronto is doing something right and yes there is per capita more transit ridership in the GTA than GVRD.