Compass Beta Test Feedback

I’ve been taking part in the beta test of the new Compass smart-cards that Translink is rolling out to replace passes and tickets. These cards require you to swipe in when you board the bus and swipe out when you leave. Then they figure out retroactively how much to charge you based on which buses you were on previously and when. I’ve heard rumours they will also max out at the cost of a daily pass each day, and a monthly pass each month, to prevent you from over-paying if you’re not sure how many transit trips you’re going to take. Exciting stuff!

Even more exciting is the rich trip data that Translink is going to be able to collect. Once they have detailed trip-by-trip information on where people are travelling, they’ll be able to arrange bus schedules and routes to reduce trip times and add service where it’s needed. After all, when they don’t even have enough funding to maintain present service levels (much less accommodate an increasing population and ambitious mode share goals), it’s important for them to make every bus route as efficient as they can. As an open-data app developer, I’m also hoping they will share this data through their API! (In real-time, please?)

Despite how great the Compass card promise is, in practice they are a little annoying. Specifically:1. The card readers are slow (>1 second), requiring me to pause to make sure it reads the card.

2. It takes too many tries to get the reader to accept my card, and sometimes it fails (red screen) for no reason.

3. The beep is much later than the screen update; it would be better if they were simultaneous. The beep is much less ambiguous than the screen update (which requires reading), and thus it’s faster to respond to the beep.

4. It would be great if the “success” colour (green) was different from the “didn’t notice your card, still waiting to read” colour (also green). Much faster to tell if it worked.

5. The screens at the front of a bus are rather low and hard to read at an angle.

6. The rear screens on a bus are positioned so that it’s impossible to read them with sunglasses on if you’re 180cm tall. At that angle, they just appear as a blank grey screen. If I crouch down, I can read them with my sunglasses on.

7. Why are the card-readers always on the right as I enter the bus or Skytrain station? My wallet is in my left pocket, I remove it with my left hand… and now I have to switch it over to my right hand to swipe.

7. Drivers sometimes get impatient with me swiping and waiting and re-swiping, and they tell me to just get on.

8. Sometimes drivers almost drive away while I’m frantically swiping at the rear of an extended bus.

9. It feels really awkward standing there trying to swipe out when people behind me want to leave.

10. Sometimes I forget to swipe out, even though this beta test is the most exciting thing going on in my life right now.

11. Sometimes I am pressured into leaving the bus without swiping out, either due to the doors closing or people behind me getting impatient.

Enough complaining. I actually have one big request for Translink:

I now have three RFID cards (ZipCar, Car2Go, and Compass), and only two sides to my billfold. So, I can only swipe one of them without removing it from my wallet. The other two I have to physically take out of my wallet and hold against the card reader like a caveman. Obviously that would be too slow for the Compass card. A worse alternative would be to carry the card outside my wallet, where I would lose it roughly once every week and a half.

I also have two RFID key fobs (Modo and my apartment building), which are easier to separate, but I feel like my keys are getting kind of bulky already without any more key fobs.

Just think how awesome it would be if Translink would partner with the car sharing companies to be able to use Compass cards for all four systems. (My apartment building can take care of itself.)

Anyways, a guy can always dream. In the meantime, if you see me or any of the other 9,999 beta testers flashing our new cards, stop and say hello! Unless you just want to complain about how long we’re taking and how we should get out of the way. We know, we know.

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