Compass card beta testing: Vancouver learns how to tap

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The purpose of tapping off is to tell the system, "I'm done with my journey." Tapping off is defined as tapping the exit gates of a SkyTrain system or tapping the card reader of a bus which you've already tapped on to board. Should you leave the system wondering where you'll end up, it'll make the decision for you in terms of the fare: three zones.

Let's see what this thing can do

I don't live anywhere near a SkyTrain station, so for my next journey downtown I chose a circuitous route that would involve the Canada Line. I tapped on aboard the eastbound #84. Once I reached the Olympic Village SkyTrain station, I purposely avoided tapping off and exited the bus along with a hipster dude in grey skinny jeans. He... the best verb I can think of is "scampered", so, yeah, he scampered across Cambie, and I followed at a more leisurely pace until I reached the once-dormant faregates.

I tapped into the SkyTrain station; the faregate recognized that I was still traveling on a valid fare. I still had no idea how much last night's one-way journey cost, because, remember, no balance-remaining info is shown until the journey is over.

I took the SkyTrain to Waterfront Station, where I once again avoided tapping out of the system. Once the faregates are operational, this won't really be doable. Indeed, the SkyTrain will be Compass-only once those faregates are active. (I still think it's stupid that the gates don't accept paper tickets. Do you really think two cruise-ship tourists in town for the afternoon will screw around with the Compass machine? Hell, no. They'll take a cab. It'll be faster, and cheaper.)

I crossed Cordova and hopped on a #6 bus. I tapped on and tapped off on the next block, thus completing my journey. This little jaunt set me back $1.75, and the balance remaining was $92.80, so, let's see, that means the one-way trip from the other night cost $3.70.

So, a three-zone trip, as expected. There's no reason to make the rider do that much math; seriously, just display the Card's current balance whenever it's used.

Having forgot to take a photo of the remaining balance, I ran back into the SkyTrain station, tapped in, and then tapped back out at another entrance. 


There were probably only a few minutes left on my 90-minute fare. To be sure, I had to check my paper ticket, which of course has the expiry time printed on it. Compass has nothing similar. Again, this should be fairly easy to incorporate into the display. The system knows, it's just not telling you.

The double-tap

With only a few minutes remaining, it was time to try tapping multiple times when boarding a bus. As you know, the double-tap is Rule #2.

For the first time since I moved to Vancouver, a #22 bus pulled up just when I needed it. The bus driver began to tell me how the Compass reader was supposed to work, but I interrupted him with "I'm trying to break it."

He nodded sagely, telling me that he had no idea what was happening with the card beyond whether or not it was valid. He showed me that no transaction information was appearing on his own screen as I tapped. As he put it, "It's a driver ignorance system!"

This continues the policy of not saddling bus drivers with fare enforcement.

So, after the initial tap, I just. Kept. On. Tapping. I got the expected curt-yet-polite "Proceed" message with the initial tap, and then my next two taps were ignored. The fourth tap was met with this stern message:

The driver said, "I was wondering what would happen if someone did that."

Exiting the bus, I tappity-tappity-tapped again, and was met with the same "Card Already Tapped" message.

What happens if you run out of money?

If your Compass card empties, it has a sort of reserve tank. That $6 deposit serves as an overdraft, so you can use it once when it's empty. After that, you'll have to top it back up.

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