Bugs in my compass

I had a slightly different commute schedule last Wednesday, in that I had a morning meeting in one of New Westminster’s western suburbs, and had one of those multi-leg trips to work. Instead of riding my bike or joining my carpool partners, I took the SkyTrain on all three legs.

My transit commuting is irregular enough that FareSavers have been the most logical and economical way to pay. Since the FareSavers have become about as rare as white rhinos, I have been buying tickets at the kiosk, pretty much because that is the pattern I have fallen into. On the first leg of my Wednesday journey, I reflexively bought a 2-zone ticket and although I noticed a few weeks ago that the new tickets are essentially disposable Compass cards, it took me one of those overstuffed train moments of self-realization to ask: why the hell haven’t I bought a Compass Card?

My thinking place
My thinking place

So on the second leg of my journey, after my meeting in that distant western suburb (I like what they’ve done with the place, not sure why anyone would want to live there), I popped for the $6 deposit and a nice float of $60. The number seemed to me prudent: large enough that it will keep me for a little while as I try out these new-fangled ideas, but not so large that I will hate the world when I inevitably lose it. Tap In at Waterfront; all good.

My first problem was at Brighouse. Like many of my cohort, I was riding with earphones, listening to a Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, and as I left the station and performed my first Tap Out, I was uncertain if I heard a beep. Actually, I heard multiple beeps, as people were tapping in and out all around me, but did MY kiosk beep? I think so, and with people behind me rushing out of the station to the busses, I didn’t want to break momentum to make sure. Even if I did, would Tapping Out twice somehow mess the system up, and count as re-entry? When did I become so old that new technology confuses me? Was it before or after I completely lost touch with popular music? Is Beyonce still a thing?

Fortunately, I can go on-line to see the status of my Compass Card. To do this, you need to set up an account, and aside from the frustratingly archaic, patriarchal and gender-normative mandatory “Mr/Mrs/Ms” data field (really, TransLink? It’s 2015), the interface was easy enough for gramps like me to navigate. I was able to confirm that, sure enough, the Tap Out didn’t take. My card balance showed $55.80, meaning I was charged the FareSaver Rate of $4.20 for a three-zone ride, instead of the $3.15 FareSaver Rate for a 2-zone ride. To fix my Tap Out mistake, I needed to call the 1-800 phone number, which launched me on yet another metaphysical debate about whether that hassle was worth $1.05 of my time.

I go through life like this, folks. It is harrowing.

Being interested in taking the ride to see where it goes, I did nothing. After work I once again hopped on transit, this time Tapping In at Brighouse Station at 5:10pm (90% sure it beeped for me), Tapping Out at waterfront at about 5:45 (70% sure, as the exit from Canada Line at Waterfront is a serious traffic pinch point that I am still certain will be the failure of the entire FalconGate Fiasco), Tapping In again across the lobby at Waterfront (100% sure, as the FalconGate was operating), and Tapping Out again at Columbia Station at about 6:15 (lets put this one at 95%). I made it to my 6:30 meeting at City Hall just in time. Thanks TransLink!

Curious to see how all of this activity showed up on my card, I logged on (after resetting my password, because who remembers those things?) and this is what I get:


Clearly, Compass is confused, or I really need to work on my tapping skills. My 5:10 Tap In was apparently registered, as it appears to have made the system aware I didn’t tap out, but none of the subsequent taps was registered. Fred Astaire I am not. As far as tracking my movements, we have a 2 for 6 on Taps. I suppose the two Waterfront taps cancel each other out, I’m surprised it didn’t catch me leaving Columbia Station. The good news is:


The confusion of my movements has resulted in TransLink charging me for one three-zone trip, and not for the two 2-zone trips I made, so I guess I am $2.10 up on the deal.

I hasten to note this problem is very likely to go away once the FalconGates are fully operational, as it will be pretty much impossible for you to miss a tap-out. The current bugs in the system should probably be expected, and at least there is a method for you to receive a refund in the case you get overcharged.

As an interesting aside, I have two travel options on transit getting from my work to New West. I can take the Canada Line to Waterfront, then SkyTrain to New West, or I can hop on the 410 bus to 22nd Street station then one stop on SkyTrain. Both take almost exactly the same time, one hour station-to-station. I have always chosen the SkyTrain because it is more comfortable than the 410 bus and (traditionally) more reliable as it doesn’t get stuck in the east-west-connector single-occupant-vehicle Stockholm-syndrome traffic-radio-reality-program plebiscite-free fustercluck that our regional transportation system is becoming.

However, now that we are in the Compass world there is another difference:


The ride on the bus will cost me $2.10 with my loaded Compass Card, the Train ride $3.15. If I was a daily commuter, that would be a difference of more than $500 a year. This makes me wonder if people will actually engage in this type of “toll avoidance”, trading convenience and comfort for a few dollars a day.

11 comments on “Bugs in my compass

  1. I use transit ever more infrequently lately so I still have books of tickets. And I am a concession fare user and I am still uncertain as to how that gets noticed by Compass. I did pick up a Compass booklet at a supermarket but that wasn’t exactly helpful on the concession issue. I am not eager to find out how Compass is going to work for me, and this post is not exactly encouraging. I will keep using tickets for as long as I can.

    I love that Douglas Adams quote and had not seen it before. I sure I will find a use for it.

    1. The way I understand it, as long as you pre-load your Compass Card, you always get the “Fare Saver rate”. A concession Compass Card is a different card than a regular one, even a different colour, so you cannot put a concession fare and a regular fare on the same card. Of course, exactly how they will tell who is using which is a loaded question – and demonstrates that the FalconGates alone will not solve fare evasion, and ticket-checking by human beings will still need to be part of the operation.

      Of course, I imagine nothing exists to prevent a person from carrying both, and using the regular card whenever security is around and the concession card the other 90% of the time. As you dig into it, the anti-fare-evasion aspects of compass and FalconGates seem pretty dubious, but I guess that is an argument we are all past having now.

      I count Douglas Adams as a major influence to my world view – he is seen as a humourist, but few realize his contributions to scientific scepticism. He is also an amazing bounty of quotes. Including this one, perhaps apropos to TransLink:

      ““We notice things that don’t work. We don’t notice things that do. We notice computers, we don’t notice pennies. We notice e-book readers, we don’t notice books.”

      1. they have tools that can detect if a card has tapped in, so if you’re illicitly trying to have a decoy compass card to mask use of a concession pass, you’ll get dinged because you wouldn’t have tapped in your decoy pass.

        1. So, like a hand-held device? That would make sense. And also demonstrates what happens when you (in this case, me) assume the experts haven’t thought of something that your “common sense” triggers. Thanks for the info.

      2. You do not get the “FareSaver rate” if you’re getting an AddFare for monthly passes. I have a one-zone for Surrey/Zone 3, and every trip to Vancouver using the SkyTrain has docked $2.75 from my stored value.

        This is making me strongly consider the toll-avoidance route of going to Scottsdale and taking the 340 to cross the river rather than taking the 96 to the Skytrain, and even possibly getting to my East Van haunts by going up to Hastings on the 130 from Metrotown. Really not happy at how TransLink has evidently decided to gouge monthly pass holders this way =/

  2. I’m using up the last of my FareSaver tickets, so I have not yet used the Compass card that I bought. But while in the Bay Area earlier this month, I got some practice with a Clipper fare card on BART (rapid transit) and buses. As far as I know it all worked smoothly and correctly (not being online there, I couldn’t check). I noticed that Clipper says to “tag” rather than “tap.” To me, “tag” implies a longer, more certain contact, whereas “tap” sounds very brief — perhaps too brief to work correctly. I noticed while using Clipper that it was best to make good contact between card and sensing device. Of course, having fare gates working is a sure-fire way to know whether the tag worked or not.

    As you may know, BART uses distance pricing. I fail to understand why Translink insists on zones. A one-stop trip from Patterson to Joyce-Collingwood is a two-zone trip, whereas one from Joyce to Waterfront or Patterson to Lougheed or Columbia is a one-zone trip. How does that make sense? I don’t know if users would actually do worse overall with distance pricing rather than zones, but I guess they’re used to it in the Bay Area.

    Thanks for a preview of what I will soon be dealing with!

  3. This makes me wonder if people will actually engage in this type of “toll avoidance”, trading convenience and comfort for a few dollars a day.

    For those for whom their time cannot be exchanged for money, I hazard, almost certainly.

  4. Just so you know, when you register your compass card, if you report it stolen or lost they will transfer your outstanding balance to the new card. No need to limit yourself to $60

  5. Not sure why you pumped up your card to $60. Any cash balance gives you the “fare-saver” rate so why not just keep a $10 balance with an automatic top-up when your balance drops below $5?

  6. I’ve been using the Compass card for a while now – I commute to work in Vancouver on transit about 4 days a week (I drive one day a week because I go up to SFU to teach after work and there’s no way I’m doing that trip on transit – I value my time! – and have the occasional day where I can work from home). 4 days a week is not enough to make getting a monthly pass worthwhile, so I use Stored Value too.

    When you are tapping in and out, in addition to the beeping (which, as you point out, you can’t always tell if the beep is coming from your machine or someone else’s), words appear on the screen. When you tap in, it says “proceed” with a checkmark and when you tap out, it tells you how much you just got charged and what the balance is on your card. It means you have to slow down a bit as you pass through the gate, but I think it’s worth it to make sure my tap registered! As you point out, once the FalconGates (omg, I love that name!) are operational, you’ll know that you tapped. (I’m also dreading the the day they close all the FalconGates, as they are going to be a huge bottleneck!)

    As for whether people will use buses to avoid the extra cost of Skytraining in multiple zones, I think it will really depend on where you are coming from and going to. Your commute time would be the same whether you bus or Skytrain, but mine (going from New West to the Broadway/Cambie area of Vancouver) would increase by an hour each way if I wanted to avoid Skytrain! An hour of my time is worth a lot more than $1.05!

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