Most folks are surprised when I tell them that TransLink spends 10 cents of every farebox dollar on the process of actually collecting that dollar. Economists refer to this as the “friction cost.” By comparison, the collection of income tax is incredibly efficient, with a friction cost so small that it amounts to a rounding error on the amount collected.
At the end of the day, funding public transit through farebox revenue is a very poor policy choice if for no other reason than the costs involved in collecting this revenue.
This brings to light another big issue with TransLink’s recent introduction of the Compass Card. Over-budget and more than two years behind schedule, it will apparently provide TransLink with better data on ridership. But we already have all the data we need on the really important item to be accounted for — the number and location of bus stops where passengers are bypassed and left behind to wait because buses are already so full.
How much more data do we need?
Not only is the Compass Card system late, incredibly expensive, and entirely unnecessary as a data collection tool, I am sad to say that it quickly became apparent on the rollout January 1 that it would make our public transit system inaccessible to many folks such as myself. Let me explain.
The Compass Card must be used in order to gain access to all modes of public transit by “tapping in” (and, on SkyTrain, “tapping out”). But transit riders lacking the physical ability to do so — in my case, for instance, I cannot raise my arms at all — discovered January 1 they could no longer use the SkyTrain or buses.
For me, this is not a major problem because I bring an attendant with me to help steer my chair or assist me in other ways. However, it is for many folks with limited arm function who were quite capable of using public transit on their own until the introduction of the Compass Card.
Activists in the disability community are bewildered. Why was this problem not identified and solved by TransLink at any time during the multi-year planning process before rollout?
To make matters worse, the Compass Card cannot be used at all — even if you do have the arm function to tap in — on HandyDART, TransLink’s service for folks with disabilities who can’t use public transit. TransLink chose not to install Compass Card readers in HandyDART buses. So for someone like myself who uses HandyDART for some rides and public transit for others, we have to purchase a monthly pass for HandyDART as well as a Compass Card for TransLink.
I’m not complaining about paying a bit more because I’m a lucky guy with a full income. But for a lot of people with a disability and low income, this increased cost will take a big bite out of their disposable income.
Most of us are now tapping in and tapping out each time we use public transit. I think it’s high time we “tapped out” the senior management at TransLink.