Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Passing for Passes

It's the start of a new month, and aside from saying goodbye to another raft of dollars in the form of rent, that means it's the time to replace my monthly transit pass. I've used these to get around for nearly four years now, first in Toronto and now in New Westminster, and I like the sort of life I can lead when I carry my wheels around in my wallet. The only time it ever gets dicey, come to that, is when I have to replace it. Actually, I had a slight scare this time - when I went to my usual place to pick up a March pass on February 28th, the clerk said that he was sold out - and he wouldn't be getting more.

As it turned out, they did get more the next day. But I did have reason to be worried. Unlike in Toronto, where you can buy a monthly Metropass at any point during the month in question - though I don't know why you would bother if it's more than half over, since in that situation you could use weekly passes just as easily - TransLink monthly passes are available only during "the last few days of the preceding month as well as the first few days of the applicable month." They're not any more specific than that... but even then, that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

What makes this an even more potentially thorny issue is that TransLink, for reasons I cannot fathom, does not sell weekly passes at all - the fare structure jumps directly from DayPasses to monthly passes. Had I been unable to find a two-zone card - necessary, since New Westminster is in fare zone 2 - I would have had no option but to burn through $3.75 FareSaver tickets to get to Vancouver during the day.

Part of this is due to the differences in customer service intrinsic between the systems in Vancouver and Toronto. I never had to worry about replacing my Metropass when I still lived in Toronto, because I could buy a new one from the collector in any station, or alternatively from one of the pass vending machines that started to appear in 2009. I can't understand why transit passes, of all things, would be subject to artificial scarcity here in Metro Vancouver. I mean, look at it. It's not as if it's packed full of advanced technology.

Clockwise from upper left: a TransLink two-zone FareCard, a Toronto Transit Commission Metropass, and a Los Angles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority TAP card.

The TransLink fare card is, in fact, the least technologically advanced of the three pictured above. It is nothing more than a printed piece of paper. Metropasses have magnetic strips to unlock the turnstiles at subway stations, and I believe that the TAP cards may have RFID stuff all up ins. This will change eventually; fare gates will likely be installed in the SkyTrain in the not-too-distant future, and TransLink is paving the way for a new fare card system similar to TAP - I voted to call it Compass, myself.

It's not like I can just go to one of the ticket vending machines at any SkyTrain station and buy a monthly pass, though. For whatever reason - some strange and unspoken reason, one I'd be interested in knowing - they're not sold via the TVMs. Every other kind of fare is, but not monthly passes. If it was something more sophisticated, like a magnetic strip card or a TAP card, I might understand - but in Toronto and Los Angeles, both of those can be got through vending machines.

I have my March pass - but every once in a while, I do worry about the prospects of a day where for whatever reason, I'm not able to find the next month's. I like my transit pass tax deductions, after all.

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