The countdown is on, and with little more than a week to go before the Evergreen Extension begins boarding passengers, now is the time to familiarize yourself with the Compass system.
Gone are the days of carrying a book of 10 FareSaver tickets and getting a time-punched paper transfer to get your next bus or jump from bus to SkyTrain.
The Compass system — whether a re-loadable card or a one-use ticket — has been in play since January and provides transit users with a smart card that offers a range of benefits.
"You can put a monthly pass on it, a day pass or put stored value on it," said TransLink spokesperson Chris Bryan.
Occasional transit riders can opt for a single ticket or a FareSaver option; similar to the old book of tickets, it gives the purchaser 10 rides for the price of nine.
Another option is the stored value; throw $20 on the card and each time the rider taps in on SkyTrain or a bus, it deducts the fare price. Monthly passes are also available and are the best bet for daily commuters.
Need to transfer? The card automatically calculates the 90-minute window allowing riders to transfer throughout the system.
"The great thing about Compass cards is that if you choose to register your card, you have balance protection, so if you lose the card, you still have the value in your account," Bryan said.
Cards can also be tailored with an auto-load option, so that it automatically loads up a monthly pass for regular commuters or tops it back up if it dips below a certain value.
WHERE DO I GET ONE?
If you're planning your new commute around the Evergreen Extension and don't have a Compass card yet, there's still plenty of time.
Plan-ahead types will want to get their Compass cards before Dec. 2 by getting it bought and loaded online at www.compasscard.ca or by phone at 604-398-2042; the card will be mailed to you within two to three business days.
More of a last-minute rider? Compass vending machines are available at all SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express stations, and also offer options to purchase and load cards.
The machines are multi-lingual, with options to operate in English, French, Chinese, Punjabi, Japanese and German.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
So you have the card — now what?
Compass card works on a "tap in, tap out" basis. That means when you jump on the Evergreen Extension at Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station, for instance, you'll tap your card on the reader; getting off at, say, Waterfront, you'll tap out to exit the station — and the system will automatically deduct your three-zone fare (and show you the remaining balance or expiry date for a monthly pass).
SkyTrain fares depend on the number of zones you're crossing.
Vancouver, up to the Burnaby border, is Zone 1. Burnaby, New Westminster and Richmond stops are Zone 2. And the Tri-Cities and Surrey are Zone 3.
The three-zone fare applies weekdays from the start of service (about 5 a.m.) to 6:30 p.m. Trips in the evening, on weekends and holidays take just a one-zone fare.
That means commuters using the Evergreen Extension to get from the Tri-Cities to downtown Vancouver will pay $170 per month for a three-zone monthly pass — though that could change. Bryan noted TransLink is in the middle of a fare review in the hopes of providing a fare system that is "more responsive to the needs of today and the way people travel."
There are also discounts for seniors and kids. Called concession fares, they apply to anyone 65 and up, youth aged 14 to 18 and children who are five to 13 years old. If you're in these age groups, be sure to select this option and get the orange Compass Card to take advantage of these lower fares.
READY TO RIDE
Have Compass, will travel.
But if you have questions, there's a website to help you along. Visit www.compasscard.ca and check out the introductory video. If you still have questions there's www.askcompass.ca, a compendium of hundreds of user-submitted queries that can be searched or browsed, and www.translink.ca/compasscard for additional info.
And, yes, you really do need the card. TransLink staff conduct fare checks and enforcement using handheld card reader devices that can determine what product is loaded on your card and whether it has been validated.