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TransLink expects Compass card cheating to be rare

TransLink vice-president of enterprise initiatives Mike Madill holds a Compass card at New Westminster
TransLink vice-president of enterprise initiatives Mike Madill holds a Compass card at New Westminster's Sapperton SkyTrain station.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

TransLink's new Compass cards will be vulnerable to a new form of cheating but officials think it will be rare and say the transit system will still be policed to root out those who board without paying the right fare.

The new payment system rolling out over the next several months charges a default three zones when a passenger taps in to board and reduces the fare charged to one or two zones if they tap out after travelling the lesser distance.

Fare evaders who board a bus could tap out using the reader at the exit door without disembarking and pay just one zone while continuing to ride further for free.

But TransLink vice-president Mike Madill said the loophole to underpay on buses isn't one cheaters can exploit anywhere.

Eighty per cent of the 250 bus routes run within the same zone anyway, so it will only be an issue on the other 50 routes that cross zone boundaries.

And he said only buses between Coquitlam and Vancouver pass through three zones – the rest just span two.

It could be a bigger problem in the future, he said, if TransLink eliminates the current zones and shifts to a system that charges fares based on the actual kilometres travelled.

Madill said SkyTrain passengers who try the same thing – tapping in to get past faregates and then immediately tapping out without exiting to pay for just one zone before riding for two or three – won't be able to get out through the gates later without tapping out again. And the system will detect the second tap out and charge the user two or three zones accordingly.

TransLink officials have long cautioned the gated system, like others in the world, will not be invincible to determined cheaters and Madill doubts most of them will use Compass cards.

"If somebody's going to evade the issue on the SkyTrain then they'll find a way to evade the gates going in and going out," he predicted.

Some may leap over or slide under the gates at SkyTrain stations, or pull an unpaid friend or two through on the tap of just one card.

Fare evaders who now walk onto buses past the driver without paying won't face any new obstacles. High-tech cheaters might try to hack or counterfeit smart cards.

All of that underpins the need for continued fare checking and enforcement in the fare-paid zones on both buses and SkyTrain, which TransLink says has always been its plan.

Transit Police and transit security officers will be equipped with handheld readers that let them check passengers' cards to ensure they aren't cheating.

Anyone caught faces a $173 fine, which escalates if left unpaid.

It may be easier to spot cheaters – particularly ones who vault the gates.

"We'll have teams around to watch for things like that," Madill said.

But although there are live cameras that monitor the faregates, there is no plan for officers to use the video feed to catch violators.

Madill said the cameras are more for customer service so attendants can assist people having difficulty.

"Theoretically, they can alert staff if somebody jumps the gate but I don't think that's going to be the main activity," he said.

"We don't have the resources to have people monitoring video all the time," added Transit Police spokesperson Anne Drennan.

The Compass card and faregate system is now estimated to cost $194 million, up $23 million from earlier estimates.

TransLink originally opposed turnstiles, arguing revenue recouped from fare evaders would never cover the costs.

But the system was mandated by the provincial government and TransLink planners decided smart cards would bring many advantages, including convenience.

Better data on passenger movements is expected to help TransLink craft more efficient routes and schedules. More financial benefit is projected to come from that than the estimated $5.3 million per year in reduced fare evasion.

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