Finally tapping in using the Compass Card

Almost two years after the Beta Test, the Compass Card is finally starting to become within reach of the general public.

The Compass Card was first rolled out for BC Bus Pass, TransLink employees and CNIB passengers in January 2014.  The U-Pass BC started transitioning to Compass early this year.  This past week, the Compass Card was made available for West Coast Express customers.

TransLink staff were handing out Compass Cards at the Waterfront West Coast Express station this week, so I went to get one on my lunch break.

For the past week, I’ve been tapping in and out. For the most part I can’t really see anything significantly different from the beta test. The readers on the buses emit a louder beeping sound, which is great.  I’ve still run into the occasional frozen faregate. And the transition on the readers from “Tap In” To “Proceed” is still green to green (one of the complaints was that it was difficult to see the change to “Proceed”).

All in all, it’s great to see that after two years we finally may see the Compass Card fully in use.

The Compass Card Website

This is one part of the Compass Card project that wasn’t ready during the Beta Test.

Compass Card Website
The main page on the Compass Card website where you can check your card balances.

The Compass Card website is very easy to use and mobile friendly.  I was able to register the card and purchase a monthly pass through my mobile browser with no issues.

Side note: If any of you use a three-zone monthly bus pass for $170, did you know you can actually save almost $20 by purchasing the cheapest West Coast Express monthly pass for $151.75, which includes unlimited bus/SkyTrain/SeaBus travel.

Compass Card History
My adventure home last night.

The website also shows when you tapped in and tapped out.  This means that information is inherently logged and identifiable by each Compass Card.

From TransLink’s perspective, this information is great as it is much more specific than the passenger counters that it currently employs.  Also it provides TransLink information as to the actual start and destinations of trips instead of just boardings.  This can definitely aid in planning routes and services that better cater to the actual demand.

However on the other hand, this raises privacy concerns.  If you have registered your Compass Card with TransLink (which they recommend for extra benefits like auto-loading of funds and balance protection if you lose your card), this means that TransLink has the data to track all of your movements on public transportation. We can take a look at the Compass Card privacy policy for some reassurance though.  Here are some quotations from the document.

On anonymity if you don’t register your card:

Unless you choose to share personal information with us, you’ll be anonymous. You don’t have to register your card, but if you decide to, we’ll require some information, so we can provide assistance and services.

Usage of travel data for planning purposes:

Anonymous and aggregated travel data (i.e., amassed data stripped of personal information) will be studied by TransLink to better understand, plan and forecast ridership volumes and transit service. This data will help shape better transportation for the region and provide new and better products and services in the future.

How long travel data is associated with your Compass Card:

We’ll keep your Compass Card transactions for 15 months so that, if you’ve registered your card, you can easily access 15-months’ worth of transactions online. After 15 months, your personal information is stripped from your travel details.

That should ease the minds of most people who may be concerned about privacy; giving the privacy policy a complete read is probably a good idea anyway. And of course if you don’t register your card, you will remain anonymous.

Fun ways to get from Richmond to Downtown Vancouver on transit

I commute from Richmond to Downtown Vancouver every day for work.  Normally I take the Canada Line, which is a quick and reliable way to and from work.  As much as I like trains, some days it just seems boring; after all, the majority of the ride is underground.

So I tasked myself to find five different ways to get to work (potentially one for each day of the week), if I wanted to take a break from the Canada Line.  Let’s assume we’re commuting from Richmond Centre to Waterfront.  Obviously we’re not optimizing for travel time.

Option 1: 403, 480, 44

A nice ride to UBC then along 4th Avenue, Burrard Street Bridge downtown.  If you’re lucky, you can complete this entire route on articulated buses.

Option 2: 407, 22

I’d probably consider this one the most unscenic one, but it only involves one transfer and is a bus-only route.  Probably a good one for napping.

Option 3: 430, Expo/Millennium Line

An express bus to Metrotown, then a ride on the SkyTrain downtown.  If you’re extremely lucky, you may find a seat at the front of the SkyTrain.

Option 4: 410, Expo/Millennium Line

Kind of the same as the previous option except this one includes a highway run along Highway 91, but no express through the city.  This has a longer SkyTrain ride too, which also includes passing the SkyTrain yard.

Option 5: 407, 480, 17, 50

And finally the crazy bus-only route.  Almost guaranteed to ride four different types of buses – a New Flyer 40 footer on the 407, an articulated bus on the 480, a trolley bus on the 17 and most likely a Novabus on the 50.

Of course these options aren’t exhaustive; there are many other combinations that can loop through all parts of town.  But these are the ones off the top of my head that balance being interesting and getting to work in a reasonable amount of time.

Happy April Fool’s Day

Today I pranked people who surf my T-Comm site every day looking for “special sightings” of buses that are assigned to routes which they normally aren’t assigned.  I swapped buses around such as putting articulated (long) buses on regular routes, changing the types of buses on particular routes, etc.  It turns out that what caught more attention was the fact that my ‘backup’ buses in the D40LF and LFS range were being randomly assigned as cover for buses that were already swapped, rather than the actual swaps that I had intended.

Here are some screenshots of some of the swapped buses:

Some technical detail went into planning this since it was critical to also keep a copy of the actual bus assignments so that it could be replaced after April Fools.  I came up of a short list of routes and buses to swap that wouldn’t completely break the rest of the system or make it completely obvious that the data was faked.  Then I created a separate copy of T-Comm on Sunday night and took a couple of hours to code the swapping modification.  Monday was the test day, which turned out to be very useful because there were a couple glaring bugs.  Then overnight I swapped the two T-Comms and went to sleep.  By the time I woke up, I already had messages of confusion in my inbox 🙂  Was it worth the effort?  Yeah I think so.  Lesson behind this?  There’s nothing like transit-fanning the traditional way of sighting buses in person.

The end is near for Whistler’s hydrogen fuel cell buses

1006 hydrogen fuel cell bus

In one week, Whistler’s fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses will be parked as their five-year pilot project ends. Nova Bus diesel buses will be replacing them as of April 1st, 2014.

The fleet of twenty buses is currently the largest fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses operating in the world. The fuelling station for the fleet is also the world’s largest hydrogen filling station.

1006 hydrogen fuel cell bus
A hydrogen fuel cell bus at Whistler’s Gondola Transit Exchange.

The hydrogen fuel cell buses were brought to Whistler by a five-year demonstration project sponsored by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. The buses arrived in late 2009 and the fleet commenced full operation in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The hydrogen fuel cell is a green technology as the only by-product is water. That means there are no harmful fumes emitted from the bus! In addition, the efficiency of the fuel cell is about 60-70%, which is significantly higher than the average diesel engine at 30-40%.

Hydrogen tanks
The world’s largest hydrogen fuelling station at Whistler Transit Centre.

One of the difficulties for the project was getting the hydrogen fuel from a green source. Up to this day, hydrogen is trucked in from a supplier based in Quebec. Although it is possible to produce the hydrogen fuel closer to home, using non-renewable resources to perform the electrolysis would negate the environmental friendliness of using the hydrogen fuel cell in the first place.

The hydrogen fuel cell demonstration project is deemed a success. The technology is still at its infancy so there’s high hope for it in the future. Although the hydrogen buses were environmentally friendly, the overall operating cost per kilometre far exceeded those of diesel or CNG buses. As the technology matures and the hydrogen infrastructure expands, hopefully the operating costs will decrease to something comparable to diesel or CNG.

For the twenty buses in Whistler though, let’s hope to see them repowered with a different engine (compressed natural gas maybe?) so that they don’t need to see the scrap heap so soon.

A Nova Bus diesel bus on the left, and the New Flyer hydrogen fuel cell bus on the right
A Nova Bus diesel bus on the left, and the New Flyer hydrogen fuel cell bus on the right.

Links

Transit highlights from my Toronto trip

TTC #9004

While I was in Toronto these past few days, I got a chance to see two of Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) newest transit vehicles.

For those unfamiliar with public transportation in the Greater Toronto Area, a number of transit authorities provide local transit service within different regions in the GTA.  The TTC provides transportation services within the Toronto proper, including the subways, streetcars and bus service.  I suppose a more detailed introduction to the different public transportation services would be ideal in a separate post.

The articulated buses

The first were the Nova Bus LFS articulated buses. These buses, introduced mid-last year, were the first articulated buses in the TTC fleet since 2003. This one was seen on the #7 Bathurst line.

TTC #9004
TTC 2013 Nova Bus LFS Articulated Bus #9004 on the #7 Bathurst line

I must give credit to an Android app called Transit Now Toronto for helping me find out when the articulated buses were coming down the line. I actually did not realize that TTC had real-time arrival data available, so actually I spent half the time trying to find these buses the “old-school way”.

The new streetcars

The second was one of the new streetcars. This was a bit of a lucky catch as I was at Bathurst station originally looking for the Nova Bus articulated buses. When I was coming up from the subway as I saw the streetcar demonstrator pulling through the streetcar loop. I would have liked to chase it further for better photos, but my time was constrained.

TTC #4401
TTC 2013 Bombardier Flexity Outlook Demonstrator #4401 at Bathurst Station

The new Toronto streetcars are built by Bombardier, and are similar to the ones that were demonstrated here in Vancouver during the Olympics. A fleet of 204 Flexity Outlook units have been ordered and are replacing the aging fleet of CLRV and ALRV streetcars that were built in the 1970s and 1980s.

The weather

On an unrelated topic, the weather in Toronto was very forgiving while I was there. I was hoping to see some real snow fall, but the weather turned out to be “relatively warm” (by Toronto standards); on some days it was even sunny. So before my flight back, my cousin took me to the largest (manmade) snow mound he knew of. I climbed on top of it just for kicks.

Me on snow
Me on a mound of snow. Yes apparently it’s all snow, I’m assuming the land here was flat before they started piling the snow up here.