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Tapping to transfer with Compass

Here’s a question that’s come up a lot lately: “What happens if I tap in with my Compass Card, but don’t complete my journey within 90 minutes?”

To answer this question, we consulted our Compass Wikipedia. First and foremost, it’s important to distinguish the difference between “transfer time” and “in system time.”

Transfer time is the time you have from when you tap in to start your journey to when you tap in for the final leg of your journey. In the Compass world, the transfer time is 90 minutes, which means you can make as many transfers as you need within 90 minutes and only be charged for one fare. However, if you tap in after the 90-minute transfer time, you’re starting a new journey and will be charged a new fare.

In system time is the time you have on any leg of your journey. In the Compass world, the in system time is 120 minutes, which allows you 120 minutes to complete a single leg of your journey. However, if you don’t tap out during in system time, your journey will automatically expire and a tap after that will require a new fare.

What? Transformer time? Can I have my Compass Card? Did I tap out? Ah…I don’t get it!

Still confused? Here’s an infographic that might explain it better:


Transfer time vs. In system time

You can make as many transfers as you need on buses, SkyTrains, SeaBus, and West Coast Express within the 90-minute transfer time and only be charged for one fare.

Once you tap in to the last leg of your journey, you have another 120 minutes to complete the journey and tap out.

Still have questions? Ask away at


  • By Mark, February 6, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

    Thanks for this, it helps clarify things. A few fare (but not necessarily Compass) related questions.

    1. On the compass readers I see the Vias/Master Card logos with the tap icon. Does that mean you can pay with your credit card directly on the readers (i.e. instead of tapping my compass card on the bus can I tap my Visa)?

    Oop, found it on askcompass. Answer: maybe in the future.

    2. I noticed on the existing farebox control screen there is a button called “Prepay.” Is it possible to pre-purchase a fare on the bus? Or is this something completely different?

    3. Why can we not pre-purchase a cash fare at the TVMs? Often I’ll head out from a skytrain station but return on a bus, and I’ll need to scrounge up change to do so. It would be terrific if I could just buy my return fare at the TVM.

    Faresavers might work for when you need a full fare, but I’m usually getting an add-fare, so there’s no book of tickets for me.

    Of course I’m late to the party with all this as everything will change with the Compass cards. Looking forward to seeing them in use.

  • By Derek Cheung (CMBC), February 6, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    So just to get this clear in my own head:

    If one taps in at 12:00 noon, one has until 13:29 to tap in for the last time and still be considered “transfer time”?

    At which point one can remain on a transit vehicle until 15:28 and tap out to be considered within “in system time”?

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 6, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

    @ Mark, great questions! I had to phone William, our engineer to confirm my answers to you.
    2)Prepay is something completely different. This is for upgrades – it is prepay because the customer has “pre-paid” for part of the fare.

    3)When Compass system is in full use, it will be possible to pre-purchase cash fares at TVMs. Unlike today, Compass tickets are not activated (validated) until they are first used for travel. Therefore, if you buy two Compass tickets at the same time, one ticket can be used on the outbound trip and the other can be used on the return trip. However, Compass tickets expire on the day of purchase, so you cannot pre-purchase fares for the next day.
    Also, if you use a Compass Card in the future, the devices will deduct the correct amount upon your tap out. There is no need to “choose” the correct zone product (1-zone, 2-zone or 3-zone) prior to tapping, nor will you need to make separate payment for AddFare as you do today. Any applicable AddFare will be deducted upon your tap out.

    Does that make sense Mark? Let me know if you have more questions! I really appreciate your support!

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 6, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

    @Derek Cheung (CMBC), YES! You are absolutely right (and I am jumping out of my chair)! This was a hard concept to explain but I am very pleased to see that it is making sense :) Thanks for your support as always Derek!

  • By Sean Nelson, February 7, 2014 @ 8:59 am

    My initial interpretation of the diagram was that 120 minutes was the maximum time permitted on the system. That’s partly because the length of the “120” bracket on the left side of the diagram is about 1/3 the height of the “90” bracket, which suggests that it’s adding another 30 minutes to the total.

    I’d suggest adding another bracket at the extreme left which spans both the 90 and 120 minute brackets and which is labeled “210 minutes”

  • By Allen, February 7, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    Question…the Transit Tariff document outlines ‘in-system time’:

    “In-System Time The time from Tap In as set out in Appendix “3” within which passengers may complete their journey and Tap Out without paying additional fare, excluding any applicable Compass Add-Fare which shall remain payable, provided that any Tap In for the last part of the journey must occur prior to the expiry of the Transfer Time”

    Appendix 3: “Single Fare (Adult) on Compass Card* or Compass Ticket* (90 min. Transfer Time, except Bowen Island 108 min. Transfer Time – 120 min. In-System Time)”

    My understanding/interpretation of this was you had 90 minutes to do final tap-in and then an additional 30 minutes to tap out?

  • By Amy, February 7, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    And then will your daily payment max out at $9.75 (the cost of a day pass), regardless of how many different trips you make?

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 7, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

    @ Sean, Thank you for the comment, I do see your point there. I will forward it to our Marketing department.

    @ Allen, thanks for the question. Once you tap in, you have 120 minutes to tap out. You can have several tap ins per journey (provided it is within the 90 minute transfer time defended in Appendix 3), but each tap in must have a corresponding tap out within 120 minutes, otherwise you could be charged a new fare.
    See Transit Tariff

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 7, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

    @Amy, what you are talking about is something called “price capping”. The good news is the Compass system has the capability to implement this feature, however for the near future, fares will not “max out” at either the daily level or the monthly level. When we have a better idea of how to price the fares (using the travel data from all the taps we collect), we can then make informed decisions and explore features such as price capping in the future.
    Thank you!

  • By Cliff, February 10, 2014 @ 3:13 am

    Is there any single route or situation where a rider could be on their last transfer for more than 120 minutes? What happens if a rider should find themselves in such a situation?

    The only conceivable way I can think of this happening is with the WCE, but their different fare structure deliberately extends your existing fare when you purchase an add-fare, so I don’t see how it could be relevant.

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 11, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    @Cliff, you are absolutely right, it’s very unlikely a rider would be on one leg of the journey for more than 120 minutes. But things do happen. Let’s say there happen to be a snow storm/heavy traffic jam/UFO invasion and the last leg of the journey took more than 120 minutes to complete, when the rider taps out, they would be charged a new fare because they have exceeded the “In system time”.

  • By Mark, February 11, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    Thanks Julia, that’s great

  • By Cliff, February 12, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    Our fare structure has created an interesting number of situations that has me wondering if some scenarios could possibly “break” Compass and charge people more or less than was intended.

    What if…

    I board the 430 at Bridgeport Station in and ride it to Metrotown Station. Will Compass charge extra for the passage through Vancouver which is in zone 1? Similarly, I board the 28 at Phibbs Exchange and ride it to Kootenay Loop. How will Compass calculate this?

    After the Evergreen Line opens, I board a SkyTrain at Coquitlam Staion and ride it to Lougheed Station. I step across the platform and board a train bound for Columbia. At Columbia, I switch platforms to take an Expo bound train and end my trip at Gateway Station. Assuming that Millennium Line trains will end their trips at Columbia once the Evergreen Line opens, what would happen if I transferred to an Expo Line train either when the train changes direction, granting me access to the other platform without having to tap out, or by taking a train further westbound and transferring at Edmonds, where one can move between platforms without having to tap out?

    In this case, the person doing this is still riding with a valid fare as they have tapped in and the fare won’t be calculated until tapping out. Or is this an intended side effect of Compass, giving passengers a way to travel between the Tri-Cities and Surrey without paying for two zones?

    What if I started this trip at Lougheed Station? Will Compass see this trip as starting in zone 2 or zone 3?

    Will Compass still allow those in zone 2 access to all zones with only a 2 zone single fare?

    How will Compass interact with the WCE’s different fare structure? Will tapping into the WCE and initiating an add fare at minute 89 still extend the ticket a further 3 hours as it does now?

    These situations no doubt happen hundreds of times daily, so I’m curious to see if TransLink is aware of these unusual issues and has taken them into account.

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 12, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

    @Cliff, thanks for all these great questions!
    1.No, in this special case, if you go from Richmond Zone 2 to Burnaby Zone 2, they system will only charge for 1 zone. Although the 430 does travel through zone 1, you will be charged only for 1 zone.

    2.In this case, the system will charge you a 2 zone fare (according to the tariff). Phibbs Exchange is in Zone 2 and Kootenay Loop is in Zone 1. In addition, the tariff also outlines that travelling from Phibbs Exchange to any part of the 1/2 common zone (between Hastings/Boundary to Vanness/ Boundary) will only cost a 1 zone fare.

    3.Fare is calculated for each tap-in, tap-out pair. Transferring without tapping within the rail network generally does not change the fare calculation since the rail network is gated.
    We have not developed the fare table for the Evergreen Line, but basing on the current tariff, a trip from Evergreen Zone 3 to Surrey will be counted as a 2 zone trip even though there is no tap within Zone 2. In other words, Compass system assumes the most direct path of travel and the fare is calculated on this premise. For example, the system cannot distinguish between a customer who transfers at Commercial-Broadway versus a customer who transfers at Columbia using tap in and tap out locations alone. The Compass system makes the assumption that the customer makes the most direct trip possible, which is the transfer at Columbia, not at Commercial-Broadway.

    4.The person is still riding with valid fare if:
    – They are using a Compass Card: a 3-zone fare is deducted upon tap in, so if they were allowed entry, they will be fare compliant no matter where they go.
    – They are using a 2-zone Compass ticket.

    5.It depends. If the customer is just travelling in one direction, then a 2-zone fare is sufficient. If we consider the current situation, there is no way to determine where the customer had travelled. However, when the Compass system is in place the system will “remember” the locations where the Compass media was tapped. The system will charge a 3 Zone fare for this trip. Compass will be more precise than the existing system in charging fares.

    6.Purchasing an AddFare doesn’t change the transfer window – with all Compass media, the transfer window only takes effect when the ticket is tapped. If the Compass media is tapped on WCE within the transfer window of an active trip, and the product is valid for WCE travel (or sufficient value is on the Compass Card), the system will allow entry. Transfers from WCE to conventional services will also be allowed.

    7.The Compass Project team is very aware of these issues and have been working on them for a long time now. There are numerous other edge cases that have been and are being tested throughout the various stages of Compass development. It is important to recognize that most of these are edge cases – some will happen more frequent than others, but overall, the frequency of these trips will be very much overshadowed by the number of “regular” trips within the region. With any system, there will be exceptions, and our system will be no different. What we can do is plan for them as best as we can and work within the rules set out in the tariff as closely as possible.

    I hope this is helpful. If you have further questions, please email or visit

    Thanks Cliff!

  • By Cliff, February 12, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

    Your answers were remarkably concise and descriptive. Thank you for this technical insight!

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 12, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    @Cliff, you are very welcome! Thanks for the support, as always!

  • By Simon, February 19, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

    Quick question:
    Let say I just left skytrain and I saw a bus I am going to take is about to leave and I need to catch it, what will happened if I forget to tap out in the skytrain station?

  • By Julia Ren - Buzzer Contributor, February 19, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

    @Simon, if you don’t tap out from SkyTrain and either the 90 minutes of travel time runs out or you tap in on another leg of your trip (a bus in your example), the system will do what is called a Forced Tap Out which closes the leg of your journey that took place on the SkyTrain.
    If you are continuing your travels and tap in somewhere else within your 90 minutes, you will not be charged any additional fare. However, if you are not continuing to travel on transit, or you do your next tap in after the 90 minutes elapses, that Forced Tap Out will end up costing you a three zone fare, regardless of how far you actually travelled.
    That being said, I would still recommend you tap in and tap out of every leg of your journey to form a good habit. Thanks

  • By Daniel, August 10, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

    Why are all forced tap outs billed as three zone even when it is not possible to travel three zones? This is an unfair penalty.

  • By Compass Team, August 11, 2014 @ 1:46 pm

    @Daniel, thanks for the question. A forced exit (forced tap out) occurs in one of two scenarios (and not all forced tap outs result in penalty):
    1)When you neglect or forget to tap out of one leg of a journey and tap in for a second leg within the 90-minute transfer time, a forced exit from the first leg is created and no penalty results. That being said, it is always a good idea to form a habit to tap in and tap out when you enter and exit the transit system to be on the safe side :)

    2)If you fail to tap out during the only or final leg of a journey, a forced exit would be created and a maximum fare charged depending on the time of day or day of the week. During regular hours, this would be a three-zone fare, while during discount hours a one-zone fare would result.

    We know this represents a new way to ride transit – and we promise to do our best in reminding you to tap out when exiting the system.

  • By Heidi, March 20, 2019 @ 6:13 pm

    I have a question.
    Is the same thing and applicable to the cash fares on buses?
    I understand that the cash fares are not transferable to SkyTrain or SeaBus but transferable to the other buses, so I can transfer between buses as many as I want within 90 minutes plus In system time additional 120 minutes?

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