A tale of two pass-cards

If you live in Vancouver, no doubt you’re only too aware of a couple different examples of public service pass cards either presently being rolled out, or already in use. The Vancouver Park Board is currently offering their OneCard and BC Transit is just about to launch their Compass Card. Both come with some level of controversy, with the organizations coming under fire from various stakeholders for their approaches. However, the types and sources of these complaints tell me why one of these cards is far more customer-focused than the other.

The Cards

From what I can see, the stated intention behind each of these pass card from their respective providers is roughly the same. Broad access, cashless, easier to manage for the providers, and convenience for their end users. Seems, though, that one is far more customer-centric than the other. I bet you’ll never guess which.

TransLink Compass Card

Compass card imageThe TransLink Compass Card is scheduled to launch late in 2013 and replaces all passes and tickets which BC Transit currently issues. Riders will tap the card on a reader when boarding and have a 3 zone fare debited from their account. Riders will also be required to tap the card on a reader when exiting, after which trips shorter than 3 zones will result in their account being credited. This model will eliminate transfers altogether and, while those opting to pay for rides by cash will still be able to transfer between buses, they will have to pay a second fare if they transfer from a bus to Skytrain, Seabus or West Coast Express. You’ll have to pay $6 for the card, itself, then you can load single use credits, day/monthly passes or concession fares and passes.

Vancouver Parks OneCard

Onecard imageThe City of Vancouver OneCard promises universal access to municipal recreational facilities. The closest thing to universal access previously available was to load a pass card with credits or pay for a monthly flexi-pass. However, this was nowhere near truly universal access to recreation services within the City of Vancouver. Some community centres run the fitness centres separately from pools or rinks and wanting to do both in places such as Killarney meant paying a weight room fee and then paying another pool fee, easily costing $10 on a drop-in basis for both. You can still do either a monthly flexi-pass or just credits with OneCard, but you’ll now be able to use it everywhere and it doesn’t cost anything to buy the card upfront.

A quick comparison

I think it’s fair to say that both municipal recreation facilities and transit are key public services. While some people don’t get into fitness and recreation much, it’s certainly a key component of good health. Transit is necessary for many people to simply get around daily. While I view both as roughly equivalent, if I had to give the edge to one, I’d say transportation wins. Both are taxpayer-supported services from different levels of government. Again, based on that assessment, can you guess which one appears to not be very user-centric?


Right off the bat, regardless of how you use them, OneCard will be free-of-charge and Compass will cost $6 to acquire.

Universal access

Compass has received a great deal of negative feedback via social media and elsewhere due primarily to the fact that users won’t be able to transfer from buses to Skytrain. Effectively those who choose to pay cash, or perhaps are disadvantaged in such a way as that’s their only option, will be discriminated against by paying more. No matter how you slice this, it’s a pretty unique take on the concept of universality. Note also, that it’s been riders who will be affected that have been complaining.

The City of Vancouver has also received a fair bit of negative feedback about how OneCard will affect access to facilities, though I haven’t seen much of it coming from those who actually use facilities. There does seem to be some legitimate concern over some administrative aspects of funding and similar issues, but the outcry about users not having access to their beloved programs any more only seem to be coming from those community associations with facilities with separate user fees, effectively the “haves” who may not want rifraff from other areas using their pools, rinks and weight rooms. Note that in this case, I haven’t seen nearly as much reaction from regular users and it appears to primarily be driven by NIMBYism.

Ease of use

If you think that tapping a card in and out on every transit vehicle you ride and getting a receipt for cash fares that won’t allow you to transfer between buses and other systems will be confusing, you’re probably right. In fact, TransLink appears to realize this and has promised to educate us poor, unwashed masses:
[quote]We have a robust education and awareness program planned to ensure a successful transition for our customers.[/quote] Funny that this bulletin still confirms you can’t pay cash on a bus and transfer to skytrain. “Hey, trust us, it’s better for you unless you’re poor and you really NEED transit.”

With the OneCard, you’ll essentially do what you’ve always done at recreation facilities, just that you’ll be able to do it at more of them. Not only does this help an east side guy like me who happens to want to hit the gym at a west side community association-run weight room, but for those users who have special passes due to low income, they won’t feel singled out any more when using the same OneCard as everyone else. All TransLink’s approach does, by comparison, is increase the stigma for those have no choice but to pay by cash.

Who’s got your back?

On the somewhat high-level and admittedly simplistic factors by which I’ve compared these two products above, I really fail to see how TransLink is doing anything but trying to improve administration and convenience for them, whereas the City of Vancouver, at the very least, appears to be trying to level the playing field and make their facilities more accessible to a wider range of the public. I’m open to feedback on this via Twitter and would, in fact, welcome it.