Zone system for transit fares under review

Flat fee, distance-based pricing among reform options to be considered by TransLink over next two years

The arrival of the Compass card and fare gates may just be the start of a further major reform of the fare zone system.

TransLink is beginning a fare policy review that could bring big new changes in how passengers pay to use transit after 30 years of the three-zone system.

Options for reform include a single flat fare for unlimited travel, or distance-based fares that more accurately reflect how far passengers travel, according to acting CEO Cathy McLay.

“Each one of them has their advantages and disadvantages,” McLay said. “Everything is on the table for us.”

She said the overriding goal will be to increase ridership and make the fare payment structure “more fair and equitable.”

The review is to last two years and include four rounds of public consultation to determine what transit users would support.

“What do they value and what do they believe is fair and equitable?”

The system of three fare zones is essentially unchanged since before SkyTrain opened for Expo 86.

Cash fares for a SkyTrain trip are currently $2.75 to ride one zone, $4 for trips across two zones and $5.50 to ride three zones, such as from Surrey to Vancouver.

The current zone system means passengers who ride just one stop can end up paying for two zones if their trip crosses a zone boundary.

A move to a single flat fee could mean a significant price break for passengers that now pay for three zones.

But other hybrid options are also possible, such as a flat maximum fare for longer trips and lower distance-based pricing for short hops, attracting new passengers who won’t now pay $2.75 to ride a bus a few blocks.

The arrival of the Compass card also opens up other fare options that TransLink officials have previously mooted – such as time-of-day pricing and discounts on selected routes to get maximum ridership and revenue from existing transit capacity.

TransLink has already eliminated multi-zone fares for bus routes that cross zone boundaries – that change this fall was in response to a decision to temporarily abandon the Compass card tap-out requirement on buses.

Officials say have not seen a significant decline in transit revenue as a result of dropping to one zone fares for all buses, which is credited with modestly increasing bus ridership, particularly on multi-zone routes that now cost less to ride.

But McLay anticipates a $1.1-million drop in transit revenue next year as a result of the full rollout of the Compass card.

That’s because significant numbers of riders who still pay in cash will be charged less when they start using Compass cards, which gives them the same discount as prepaid FareSaver tickets.

TransLink has seen lower-than-expected transit ridership over the past two years since the last fare increase.

Transit fares generate nearly $500 million a year and any fare structure reform would have to deliver a similar amount if the system is to maintain its current 53 per cent cost-recovery ratio with existing service levels.

Compass is also giving transit planners much better data on actual use of the system through all the taps in and out. McLay said that will help guide the fare policy review and other changes to transit service.

There are now 350,000 active Compass cards, with about 1,000 to 2,000 new cards being sold each day. About 150,000 unique cards are being regularly tapped each day.

Roughly half of SkyTrain faregates are now closed, helping provide a better visual reminder to exiting passengers to tap out so they don’t pay too much.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The peninsula’s Community Christmas Day Dinner at White Rock Baptist Church – seen here in 2019 – has been cancelled for 2020, because of pandemic-inspired limitations on gatherings. (File photo)
Annual Community Christmas dinner ‘just not possible’ this year

Organizers vow that 40 years-plus Semiahmoo Peninsula tradition will return, post-COVID

Sources volunteers face off at the organization’s ‘Enchanted’ gala – one as a fairy and the other as her magic-mirror reflection – held in 2019. (Tiffany Kwong photo)
‘Rising infections’ prompts move to virtual Sources gala

Silent auction, raffle opens to public at 9 a.m. Oct. 30

This year’s annual Lighted Boat Parade has been cancelled. (File photo)
White Rock’s annual Lighted Boat Parade cancelled

COVID-19 cited as main reason for cancellation of popular winter tradition

Strawberry Hill Hall is being renovated and moved to another location on its existing corner lot in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall being moved a few metres in $1.2M reno project

Childcare spaces coming to corner lot where hall has stood for 111 years

A surveillance camera in a photo posted to the Project Iris page on surrey.rcmp-grc.gc.ca.
Quality surveillance video helps catch crooks, Surrey Mounties say

Charges laid in connection to break-and-enter in Guildford area

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read