Test-drive TransLink's Compass Cards

Get a first look at TransLink's tap-on tap-off farecard system and enter transit-geek Nirvana.

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Test-drive the Compass card

Public transit guinea pigs

Hey, wanna test-drive TransLink's new tap-on tap-off Compass cards? Now's your chance. If you're a transit geek, the Pavlovian drool is already flowing.

TransLink has opened up registration for beta testing, and you can sign up here:

Beta testing a product basically means using it in the wild. If you're un/fortunate enough to be chosen to test the new card system, you'll be issued a dummy Compass card. Note: You will not get to ride Translink for free.

You'll have to pay your fare as normal; via single-trip tickets, ticket packets, and the various farecards. In addition, you will tap on and tap off with your test card against those modules that are popping up near the bus doors, and which control the as-yet-dormant faregates at our SkyTrain stations.

5,000 riders will be chosen from the pool of applicants, provided they can find 5,000 people who actually pay to use the SkyTrain.

Also, 19 and up users only, please.

Comparisons with 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to glimpse the beta testing process for Yarra Trams' Myki in Melbourne, which now handles fares for the largest tram network in the word. The testing period was, of course, fraught.

Myki: Awesome idea, poorly implemented

There's a lot that can and will break with such a complex fare system:

  • The card can fail to reload if the user adds money to it online. (This was-- and is-- a big problem for Myki, which takes up to 24 hours to recharge your card. WTF.)
  • The card readers can straight-up fail to read your card.
  • The fare gates can malfunction on entry or exit.
  • User error: forgetting to tap off of a bus could result on your being charged for a longer ride.
  • ... And many, many more.

With dummy cards, there's one aspect of the system that will be hard to test: what happens if your Compass card is short a buck or two? If the cards only read as Valid/Invalid, this will be hard to test.

London's Oyster Card system uses the deposit paid on the card as a sort of overdraft, whereas Washington, D.C.'s SmarTrip has kiosks on the train side of the fare gate, where users caught short must do the transaction of shame.

Also, if anyone from the Compass card team is reading this, look at what Yarra Trams did with their Myki recharge machine placement as of 2011... and do the opposite. Those machines need to be everywhere for them to be useful to the average commuter. When working and loaded, I found Myki to be a breeze to use, and it reduces the clog around onboard and platform ticket machines.

Transit geeks, unite!

You better believe I signed up. It's fun to be in on stuff like this, especially since Compass stands to redefine the character of Vancouver's mass transit system.

[Note: The video above, created by TransLink, provides absolutely no information about the beta testing program, but the music is insanely groovy.]

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