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TransLink 101: What’s the deal with fare zones?

TransLink 101: What’s the deal with fare zones?

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For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—a series explaining TransLink and its work!

translink metrotown graeme brown
Graeme Brown, TransLink planner, at Metrotown Station!

Have you ever wondered why we have fare zones on our transit system? As part of our February TransLink 101 series, Graeme Brown, TransLink planner extraordinaire, helped us shed some light on what fare zones are, why we have them and what they could look like in the future!

But first, here’s a bit about Graeme:

  • He has been working for TransLink since 2005.
  • He started as a Planning Assistant, primarily in bicycle planning.
  • His favorite part of his job as a Planner is hashing out complex problems through discussion, friendly debate, and lots of whiteboard sketching!
  • He knows a lot about fare zones and shared his insights below…

What is a fare zone?

Current 2013 fare zone map
Current 2013 fare zone map

The idea behind fare zones is to charge people according to the distance that they travel. Shorter trips are less expensive to serve because they require less fuel, less operator time, and other resources. So in order to make the price reflect the cost of service provision, they are priced lower than longer trips. By pricing transportation according to the distance travelled, the idea is to ultimately encourage people to make smart travel and locational decisions.

So, fare zones help determine the price paid by transit riders for their trips. Typically, customers are charged according to the number of fare zone boundaries they cross during a trip, i.e. more crossings equals higher fares.

In Metro Vancouver, three fare zones that encompass all the cities in our region. The boundary for zone 1 traces the border of the City of Vancouver, and the boundary between zones 2 and 3 run along the outlines of the cities of Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, and the North Shore.

Who else has fare zones?

Lots of other public transportation companies around the world have fare zones. To list a few:

Around the world, some systems have a large number of small zones (for example Metlink in Wellington, New Zealand, and Copenhagen Metro in Denmark), while other systems have a ‘flat fare’ system, with no zones at all (like in many small communities in BC).

In some large cities, there may be different transit operators in the various communities, and transferring between these services is not always free. In such cases, the service area boundaries act like zone boundaries, so even if each operator has a flat fare system, customers may be charged more for longer trips.

When are fare zones in effect?

In some systems, fare zone boundaries are in effect at all times, while in Metro Vancouver, fare zones are only in effect weekdays from the start of service until 6:30 PM. Weekdays past 6:30 PM and on weekends and holidays, one-zone prices apply across the region.

Where did fare zones in Metro Vancouver come from?

The complicated set of fare zones from 1958! Click the picture for a much larger version.
The complicated set of fare zones from 1958! Click the picture for a much larger version.

TransLink’s existing fare zone structure has been relatively unchanged since 1984. During that time, the size of the service area has increased (by about 40%!), to include municipalities to the east, and travel patterns have changed significantly.

But looking back through old Buzzers, it’s clear that fare zones have long been a feature of Lower Mainland transit travel! Here’s a taste:

  • This 1984 Buzzer heralds the launch of the new fare zones, a return to the system “similar to the one in 1976.”
  • This 1976 Buzzer presents a new fare structure, announcing only two major zones instead of the previous 11!
  • Here’s a 1964 Buzzer announcing the creation of four zones: the Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern zones.
  • This 1958 Buzzer outlines a seriously complicated fare zone system involving 4 zones and “Richmond East” and “Richmond West” sections.
  • This 1954 Buzzer shows fare increases and how they relate to different zones.
  • This 1952 Buzzer has a small map of the Burnaby and New Westminster fare zones.
  • And this 1950 Buzzer demonstrates the introduction of transfers and includes some references to the zone system of the time.

What does the future of fare zones look like?

In the next few years, TransLink plans to conduct a comprehensive fare policy review. Among other aspects of fare policy, the review will consider revisions to the distance component of the fare structure. It will explore options such as:

  • Changes to the zone boundaries.
  • The addition of more zones.
  • True ‘distance-based’ pricing, where customers are charged according to the actual distance of their trip rather than the number of boundaries they cross. Cities like Tokyo have already implemented a distance-based fare structure: Tokyo Metro.

Comments and questions?

We hope you found this post informative! Again, this is part of our special TransLink 101 series. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments!

Author: Stefanie Lee