Single zone bus fare signals Translink heading into home stretch on Compass card, tough decisions to come

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The single-zone bus system implemented to launch Compass is a temporary measure. Tough debates lie ahead on the fare system.

The new single zone for bus riders under the Compass card system, announced by acting Translink CEO Cathy McLay yesterday, signals Translink’s surrender, at last, on its requirement for Compass users to “tap off” on buses.

The “tap off” requirement was intended to monitor the length of rides and pave the way for “distance-based” fares, but Translink couldn’t make the policy work, a key reason the Compass rollout was seriously delayed. The solution: a single zone fare, no tap off.

The only way the single zone would fly with riders was if the fare was frozen at the current single zone rate. That way it would be a financial win for some riders but no one would pay more. Equally significant: any fare increase on the base fare must go to the Mayor’s Council for approval, not a great idea at the moment.

The single zone also means Translink has abandoned the very heavy fines it was proposing to levy, right or wrong, on anyone who didn’t tap off. Despite the constant references to technical flaws in the system, I believe these policy issues were at least as much to blame for the delay in the Compass rollout.

“Distance based fares” may make a return; the current system is temporary.

Very tough conversations will follow, given the failure of the funding referendum and the general agreement fares cannot increase without killing ridership. Still to come: resolution of important fare issues like Compass cards for the homeless.

McLay’s first day is actually Aug. 11. Until then, former acting CEO Doug Allen is technically at the wheel. It’s safe to assume this announcement had his approval, as well as that of incoming provincial Translink czar Peter Fassbender. It is also likely that the departure of a platoon of senior staff, engineered by Allen in recent weeks, was a curtain-raiser to yesterday’s announcement.