Compass Notes – Getting a Card and the October 5th Confusion

So we’re finally here in October 2015. I’ve already got my Compass Card and loaded it with a 1-zone monthly pass. I get to use the full version of this Compass Card for the first time today. That’s exciting for a transit geek like me. So you might be wondering how I got my Compass Card when it’s not readily available. Also what’s with this October 5th thing I keep hearing about?

image from

Where did I get my card?

I went to the Compass Customer Service Centre just outside of Stadium-Chinatown Station. It’s at the top of the stairs on Beatty Street. The Compass Customer Service Centre is only open 8am – 4pm on Mondays to Fridays at this moment. That means there’s a lot of people who can’t get to the Service Centre to get their cards at this time.

The other option, which is what my co-worker is doing, is going to Waterfront Station and buying a ticket from a Compass Vending Machine inside the West Coast Express area. Because the West Coast Express has already (I think…) completely transferred to the Compass Card for fares, the actual cards are available for purchase from only those Compass Vending Machines at the moment. Since my co-worker can’t get to the Customer Service Centre during their limited business hours, she can at least go and get the card at Waterfront Station.

How much does the card cost?

It cost me a $6 deposit to obtain the card. The deposit is used to pay for any fares which make your card have a negative balance. So if you have only $2 on your card and you need to pay $2.10 for your 1-zone fare, then extra money is covered by your deposit amount. That way, your card can hold a negative balance temporarily until you can reload the card with money.

How did you put a monthly pass on your card?

When I bought my Compass Card, the monthly passes were not available for purchase. I had to wait until September 21st. I went up to an active Compass Vending Machine at one of the SkyTrain stations. I selected the “Load Compass Card” option on the touch screen. The machine asks you to tap your Compass Card to the circular card reader to start the loading process. After tapping, it gave me the option to buy “Stored Value,” a “Day Pass,” and a “Monthly Pass.”  I picked “Monthly Pass.” Then there were the 3 options for different Monthly Passes. I picked the “1-Zone Monthly Pass” since most of transit travels happen only in 1 Zone.

Then a payment options screen popped up. One can pay by Cash, Debit, or Credit. I picked my payment option. Once payment is processed. The machine asked me to tap my card on the reader again. Once the machine registered my card, it loaded my Monthly Pass onto my card. Sweet!

What is with October 5th?

There are a lot of people asking me about October 5th. October 5th is the day that all the buses become 1-zone only for travel everywhere in Metro Vancouver. It is also the day that Compass Card users are not required to “tap out” of the bus.

Currently, if you take a bus from Joyce and Kingsway in Vancouver to Metrotown in Burnaby, you must pay a 2-zone fare. If you are using a Compass Card, then you must “tap in” when you get on the bus AND “tap out” when you get off the bus. The tap out is required to properly calculate the 2-zone fare.

Starting October 5th, the same bus trip from Joyce and Kingsway to Metrotown will only be a 1-zone fare. That means great savings for many bus travellers. However, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express will continue to operate with zones and one will be charged accordingly when passing a zone boundary (e.g. Boundary Road, Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River, etc.). For Compass Card users on the bus, you will have to still “tap in,” but you will no longer be required to “tap out.”

Why is TransLink making all buses 1-zone fare areas?

The Compass Card has be unceremoniously slow when “tapping out” of a bus. It’s created a slower transit experience because if everyone on the bus had to “tap out,” the buses would have to stay longer at bus stops. This is TransLink’s way of dealing with an imperfect smart card system (which a totally blog post of its own).

The only bus system where I had to “tap in” and “tap out” was in Japan. And yes, it is much slower for a busy bus to unload passengers when everyone has to “tap out” and/or “pay with cash” upon exiting a bus.

But I have an October monthly pass. What do I do about the first few days of October?

The only days to worry about are October 1 and 2. These are the only weekdays before October 5 when the 3-zone fare structure will be in operation on buses. The headache here is what monthly pass to buy – a 1-zone, 2-zone, or 3-zone? My recommendation is to buy the Monthly Pass that will work the best for you after October 5.

image from The Buzzer Blog

For example, if you travel from Langley to Vancouver by a combination of bus and SkyTrain, you need to figure out what are the number of zones you travel by SkyTrain. If you take the bus to Surrey Central and take the train Downtown, then the SkyTrain crosses 2 zone boundaries – the Fraser River and Boundary Road. That means you will need a 3-zone Monthly Pass like you use now.

However, if you travel from Langley via the #555 Lougheed Station/Carvolth Exchange and then take the SkyTrain from Lougheed Station to Downtown, then the Monthly Pass you need is different. Even though the #555 crosses the Fraser River zone boundary, you only pay for 1 zone on this leg of the trip because it’s a bus. Then when you use the SkyTrain, you will cross only 1 zone boundary (Boundary Road). This means that you will pay 2-zones for the SkyTrain portion. So for the Monthly Pass, you only need to buy the 2-zone Monthly Pass to cover your travels.
So what do you do about Oct 1 and 2 for the #555 to SkyTrain rider? For those two days, you will need to buy AddFare when you get on the bus. If you are using the Compass Card, then you should load your card with “Stored Value.” Your card will automatically deduct the correct AddFare when you “tap in” and “tap out” of the SkyTrain stations.

Clear as mud? It’s only 2 days of the month. So don’t get your knickers in a knot. However, it’s a little more frustrating if you bought a monthly pass with more zones than you actually need.

For now, it’s all a learning experience for everyone as the Compass Card is rolled out piecemeal.

Here’s some more reading if you are stll confused:

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