Getting Around Sapporo – The Sapporo Subway

Sapporo, just like other Japanese cities, is well serviced by rail transportation. The subway system serves most of the inner city. The Japan Rail Hokkaido (hereby referred to as JR) trains connect Sapporo to the surrounding towns, the New Chitose Airport, and other major destinations throughout Hokkaido.

The System

The Sapporo Subway system is made up of 3 lines and is very simple to use.  Rides on the subway range from ¥200-360 depending on how far one travels through the system. The blue Toho Line runs north-south and serves the northeast and southeast of Sapporo. Major destinations accessible on the Toho Line include Toyohiro Park (Toyohiro Koen station), and the Sapporo Dome (Fukuzumi station). The green Namboku Line runs north-south as well, but serve the areas directly north and south of the city centre. Major destinations along the line include Nakajima Park (Nakajima Koen station) and Hokkaido University (Kita 12 Jo station). The orange Tozai Line runs mainly east-west and serves the city’s northwest and part of the southeast.  Famous attractions on the Tozai Line include the Shiroi Koibito Park (Miyanosawa station) and Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen station). All three lines feed into Odori Station. Like most Japanese subway systems, all stations in the system have a letter and number combo to identify the station. Because you know it’s a lot easier to say station H-05 than saying Higashi Kuyakusho Mae station for us foreigners.

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Compass Beta Test – Yes!

20130826-232447.jpgYes! I’ve been selected as one of the Compass Beta Testers.  That means I get an early preview of the new Compass smart cards.  I know there’s been a lot of negative coverage regarding a transfer penalty at SkyTrain stations and about privacy issues.  However, with my experience with Octopus cards in Hong Kong, I’m excited to compare and see how things stack up.  I don’t think Compass will have the versatility of Hong Kong’s Octopus card.  After all, the Octopus card has been in operation since 1997 or so and we are 16 years behind the game.  All the same, we’ll see how things work out.  Now I eagerly await my welcome package.

[hands rubbing in glee]

Compass Gates and Bus Transfer Tickets

8033912646_c1e2f8042eIt looks like the blogosphere and twittersphere are happily talking about today’s article in the 24 Hours Vancouver about the bus tickets not being accepted at SkyTrain stations once the Compass Card is fully implemented.

It looks that may be the case.  The bus drivers union is definitely afraid of the backlash that their members may face as cash-paying transit riders will be complaining about paying once at the bus fare box and again at the SkyTrain station to get through the Compass card gates.

Stephen Rees makes an interesting point on his blog.

Why was there no magdip reader on the new faregates? There are probably fewer faregates than buses. Or no magdip reader on the machines that sell the Compass cards? All made by Cubic, of course. And when the electronic bus fareboxes were specified the idea of adding other media was supposed to be a bolt on extra that would be easy to install.

So why weren’t magnetic card readers installed in the gates to allow the bus tickets to be used?  Good question.  I’m not sure there’s an answer to that.

Another possible solution to this problem may be to have an attendant at the gate in the transition period to allow passengers with valid paper fares to get through.  And TransLink thought they might save on somebody’s salary by not needing manned gates?  Good luck.  Most of other transit jurisdictions with gates still need a person there to monitor things.

In the newspaper version of the 24 Hours article, there’s a highlighted quote about how some people who pay cash for the bus cannot string together $40-80 at anytime during a month.  This may be true.  However, if the Compass is going to be like a cash card, I would imagine you can put whatever amount you’d like on the card.  I think a minimum of $5 is reasonable and then any multiple of $5 from there on up.  I’m not sure why that quote is there because it doesn’t sound like an informed quote.  It seems like a quote meant to stir things.

Hopefully, when the Compass beta test starts rolling, we will see what other issues affect the new smartcard.  Now, we only need TransLink to actually listen to its beta testers no matter how critical the comments may be.  And not just make a new executive decision like they did in the card-naming contest that was scrubbed in favour for new names.

First time in Hong Kong? Grab an “Octopus”

I have a friend who is travelling to Hong Kong this Christmas and she asked for some suggestions on places to see and things to do.  However, as the transit geek that I am, my biggest recommendation once you land at the Hong Kong airport is to grab an Octopus.

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James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

St. Clair West - southbound

It pains me to see what has happened in Toronto.  In the previous municipal government, there was the Transit City plan, which would have spread light rail across the city proper.  There would have been 8 light rail lines, running on surface, that would have covered most of Toronto.

Now with the new Rob Ford administration in charge of Toronto, the light rail plans have been shelved for fewer lines with a higher cost per line. Just read some of the comments from Royson James article in The Toronto Star.

James points out some of the glaring deficiencies of the new transit plans:

They are pursing a subway along Sheppard — only because the new mayor has ordered them to; and they’ve relented, despite the better judgment and wishes of transit staff. Meanwhile, a fully-funded light rail line along Sheppard has been shelved.

The lone transit project running through the city’s poor northwest region along Finch Ave., through priority neighbourhoods Branson, Jane-Finch and Rexdale, has been mothballed to pay for the Sheppard subway dream and the expanded and more expensive vision on Eglinton.

David Gunn, a former TTC boss, says the following:

Stations on the Spadina line extension are unnecessarily expensive, he says. Metrolinx’s plan for a the Eglinton light rail subway is “crazy” and “insane” as it uses a different track gauge than the rest of the TTC, and uses a car that is twice as costly as a subway but with less capacity.

Then there’s the Presto debit card issue:

Transit users don’t know what to believe on basic transit matters. A year ago, the former regime was hell bent on avoiding the province’s Presto debit card fare payment system rolled out with other transit bodies across the GTA. Now, the Ford backers are in bed with Presto. Was former chair Adam Giambrone correct in his claims Presto was not flexible enough and will doom the TTC to a technology other transit bodies are moving away from? The customer does not know whom to trust.

Oh Toronto.  How I feel for your transit woes.

Final Four for new smart card name

I just found out the four finalists in the new smart card naming contest for TransLink’s new farecard to be available in 2013.

  • Compass Card
  • Otter Card
  • Umbrella Pass
  • George Card

I think I remember the combos of the names correctly.  I may have mixed up the card and pass portion for one of these.  I’m sorry if I did.

Out of the four finalists, I would pick the Otter Card.  It’s a fun and cute name that has a general appeal to people of all ages.  Umbrella Pass isn’t bad either.  A very apt name for a very wet city in the winter.

Select Smart Cards from around the world

TransLink and the BC Ministry of Transportation just started a Fare Card Naming Contest recently.  So I thought it would be great to take a look at some of the Smart Cards already in operation out there.  Ours won’t be available until 2013, but we can take a look at what other cities have to offer in their smart cards.

Seattle – ORCA Card


ORCA Card (from fueled by beer blog)


Let’s start close to home.  The Seattle area’s several transit agencies rolled out a smart card system in 2009.  ORCA is an acronym for One Region Card for All.  An orca, or killer whale, is also conveniently one of the great natural symbols of the Pacific Northwest.  The card can be used on seven agencies in the Greater Seattle area.  It costs $5 to get the card and you can load it up with cash right away.  It can carry anywhere from $5 to $300 on balance.  You can also start an online My Orca account to set up Autoload and to track your card’s balance online.  A rider with the ORCA card will tap the card when they get on a vehicle and/or when they get off the vehicle.  It looks like it depends on which transit vehicle you’re taking.  Fueled by Beer blog has a “Seattle’s Metro Transit System for Dummies” guide that helps explain the ins and outs of the ORCA card, as well as summarizes the entire transit system.

I have no experience with this card, but am highly tempted to just purchase one for a souvenir the next time I am down in Seattle.  The Orca name is also one that I would have liked to seen for our new TransLink smart card; however, there may be some copyright issues there.

Hong Kong – Octopus Card


adult Octopus Card (wikipedia)


I am most familiar with the smart card from Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s Octopus card is the “take-you-everywhere” and “use-it-everywhere” smart card.  I can safely say that almost every single one of Hong Kong’s 7 million denizens has one of these cards.  In Seattle, they talk about “tapping” your card; in Hong Kong, you “doot” your card.  That’s the sound the reader makes when the Octopus card is read.

The Octopus Card has been serving Hong Kong since 1997.  As usual, Hong Kong is an early adopter for new technology.  For a basic adult Octopus card, you pay HK$150 for a HK$50 deposit to get the card. The remaining HK$100 is for you to use for your initial travels.  The card can be used on virtually on means of public transport in the Hong Kong SAR.  It is also possible to use the Octopus card to pay for parking at parking meters.  Large franchise retailers such as 7-Eleven, KFC, and McDonald’s, to name a few, accept payments using the Octopus Card.  I’ve even refilled my card at a 7-Eleven once.  No wonder you can carry up to HK$1,000 on the card.  You should check out the Octopus Card’s official site for a full look at the marketing success that the Octopus Card is.

London – Oyster Card


London's Oyster Card (wikipedia)


Now, I have no experience with London’s Oyster card.  However, I hear about it a lot.  Many transit folk who talk about smart cards will often talk about the Oyster card.  Well, the world is your oyster, in London anyway.  Since 2003.

The Oyster works almost like the Octopus, but it doesn’t seem to have all the additional non-transport functionality that the Octopus has.  You can get the Oyster card at one of many Oyster stops in the London area or even register for an account online.  The card is used on the Underground, Docklands Light Rail,  Overground trains, National Rail trains in London, boats, and, of course, buses.  It seems that you can get cheaper fares over cash fares by using the Oyster.  That’s the same for Octopus, as well.  That’s all I can glean from the various Oyster pages.  You can see for yourself on Wikipedia and on the Transport for London pages.

Toronto – Presto Card (GO Transit)


Presto Card


Sticking within Canada, I’ve got to talk about Toronto and it’s current smart card, Presto, for use on the GO Transit only.  There’s a lot of talk about the Toronto Transit Commission coming up with their own smart card.  What’s impressive about the Presto Card is that it aims to be the smart card for all of Ontario.  That’s going to be tough if the TTC is not part of the equation.  Currently, the TTC will take the Presto Card, but at only select subway stations and nowhere else.  However, Oakville, Burlington, Brampton, and Mississauga’s transit systems also now take the Presto Card.  So that may force the TTC to accept the card throughout its system.  Even Ottawa’s OC Transpo is expected to roll out the Presto Card in early 2012.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Presto reaches all of Ontario.  Then you just need one smart card throughout the province.  That would be a huge bonus for Ontarians.  That might also be incentive to use the Presto Card for other cash related transactions.  It would be neat if you could use the Presto card for your ride on the train, then use it to pay for a double-double at Tim Horton’s at the station.  Then go down to the Mac’s convenience store and pay for a pack of chewing gum all with the same card.  One can dream, eh?

I think that’s all I’ll do for smart cards from around the world.  If I have more time, I’ll look up some more places and see if there’s anything unique about one system’s smart card.  For now, have a look at TransLink’s YouTube video about the Fare Card Naming Contest.