Translink: ‘screwing the poor is our business model going forward’

Here in Vancouver, we’re serviced by a combination of light rail and buses. Both of which are fairly regular, and cheap. I’ve lived in a couple of different countries, visited many cities, and I have to say that the transit system here is easily one of the best in the world. (Do I need the standard caveat of “of course, there’s room for improvement”? I’m assuming I don’t)

The company that runs the show, Translink, is bringing in a new RFID card called the Compass Card. I have to admit, I’ve been looking forward to this as it’s a standard of convenience that I got somewhat used to in Japan. To some extent, this should speed up boarding on buses (fewer people using paper tickets means less waiting for cards to feed, and less mis-feeds or dodgy tickets). It’ll have about zero effect on the skytrain, however. So really, the benefit is minimal.

On the other hand, this card is really about screwing the economically disadvantaged.

“One” of the benefits (and the one I’ve seen most often touted) of this card is the reduction of fare evasion. I’m not going to get into how the capital costs of the fare gates are going to take 10+ years to recoup in reduced fare evasion, largely because I think the idea of these cards reducing fare evasion is foolish.

But who is affected by this most? Who is the most likely to evade fares? Those of us with monthly bus tickets? Or those of us who can’t afford tickets? There are many people in Vancouver, of which category I’m sure the homeless fall into, who simply cannot afford even the reduced rate of $55 a month for a concession monthly ticket. This is a large upfront cost for people who may be operating day-to-day on significantly less than that. Secondly, even if those tickets are procured, they need to keep track of them for a full month. Moving around a lot is going to make that difficult, and this is going to be compounded by mental health issues.

Even those people who aren’t homeless, mental health is also going to be an issue. Keeping track of a monthly (or yearly!) card is going to be difficult for some people, and allowing some level of “fare evasion” takes this into account.

But wait, there’s more! When the new compass system comes in, paper tickets purchased on the bus will not be transferrable to the skytrain.

TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said that at $25 million, it was too expensive to upgrade all bus fare boxes so they would dish out Compass-compatible tickets.

Just so we’re clear here: people who buy these tickets are going to be people who have chosen to take transit who would typically not (likely drivers going out for a drink), people who can’t afford monthly tickets. I’m sure that there are many varied reasons why people would buy the one-off tickets, and translink has basically just said “screw those guys”. The cost to implement this system is significantly lower than the cost to narrow the entry-ways into the skytrains (sorry, I mean ‘to implement faregates‘).

This is a pretty bad smell, Translink. So tell me: what will the cost be in two years from now when public reaction forces you to fix this? And why is screwing the working poor ok?

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4 responses to “Translink: ‘screwing the poor is our business model going forward’”

  1. I’ve been thinking along similar lines. Everything Translink is doing with these faregates seems to be about keeping the homeless from using the system. It’s very narrow-minded and unhelpful of them.

  2. I agree. The cost of people dodging fares (as opposed to the ‘missed profits’) is minimal, and is sooooo much lower than the cost of all the infrastructural changes Translink have implemented.

  3. Some questions i have that after reading this: the monthly passes people will buy – do they act like a compass card? Also, do ppl on social assistance get transit passes? Do bus drivers still have discretion to let someone on the bus who hasn’t paid? Or is that even a thing? Very cool to think about how this change will affect people, and which people.

    [Edited by Brian for case]

  4. Once the card is implemented, people won’t be buying the physical monthly passes anymore: they’ll be paying money to enable their compass card for a month. So this has minimal impact on that particular cross-section of people.

    People on social assistance still need to purchase passes, but they can get them at a discounted rate ($52 a month). This article, however, is more about the folk who simply can’t afford to lay out $50 in a single lump: up until the compass card comes in, if you buy your bus ticket with physical money, that same bus ticket can also be used on the skytrain. As of the Compass implementation, that will no longer happen: you’ll need to pay for the bus, and then for the skytrain.

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