TransLink CEO defends Compass rollout despite challenges

No turning back despite paper ticket hacks, wheelchair access trouble, says Kevin Desmond

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said he sees no turning back from the Compass card rollout even though a few hackers are getting through faregates and some wheelchair users have been blocked or delayed.

“There are a lot of reasons to close the gates,” Desmond told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think it’s on the table to not use the gates that have been installed.”

He was responding to continued concerns about access for the disabled who have sometimes been unable to get through closed gates when TransLink staff haven’t been available to assist, as well as the fraudulent reprogramming of expired Compass paper tickets to make them valid again.

Desmond said he will consider a different paper ticket with bolstered security to block tech-savvy ticket tamperers but that choice will be weighed against the benefit.

He said there have been just 35 incidents of paper tickets being “cloned” to open the gates since December.

That equates to $150 in lost revenue, which Desmond said pales next to the more than $500 million in annual fare revenue.

He said some “growing pains” were expected but insisted the rollout has been “pretty astonishing” with 94 per cent of trips now taken via Compass card – far in excess of the 70 per cent use of the Orca card in Washington state after a much longer period.

TransLink can quickly detect and cancel cloned tickets, he said, adding the core Compass card system with plastic cards remains secure.

“We have a lot of back-office ways to minimize anyone’s ability to get free rides,” he said. “It doesn’t mean everything’s perfect.”

Desmond conceded staffing of SkyTrain stations hasn’t been ideal at all times to ensure wheelchair users get help getting through gates if they need it.

One accessible gate is supposed to be left open if staff have to leave.

TransLink plans to survey those users and groups representing them over the next three months as it continues to work toward a permanent solution.

Desmond said one option may be to have a pedestal next to the faregates where wheelchair users can go to call the control centre, which could remotely open a gate for them.

Disability B.C. executive director Jane Dyson said the main problems seem to be at bisected stations where staff can’t be at both sides simultaneously.

She said it’s unreasonable to expect a wheelchair user confronted by a gate at one side of the station to go over to the other side in order to enter and then have to start riding SkyTrain in the wrong direction.

“That’s not acceptable – people should be able to go through the entrance of their choice,” Dyson said. “It’s disappointing that this is turning into such a mess.”

TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender also emphasized a need to quickly resolve the issue of disabled access.

Fassbender said he believes fare evasion on SkyTrain is plunging with the introduction of the new Compass card system, adding some attempts at hacking are to be expected.

“Over 94 per cent of people who use the system are using the Compass card and are using it effectively,” he said today. “So I am equally convinced that fare evasion is going down dramatically.”

 

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