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TransLink to begin rolling out Compass Cards to post-secondary students starting in January 2015

Compass Card

We have a Compass Card update!

The next group to receive Compass Cards will be post-secondary students at 10 schools, starting in the new year.

Roughly 2,000 students will start using Compass Cards on February 1, 2015. Cards will be distributed to another 2,000 students shortly thereafter. The remaining 141,000 post-secondary students will then be transitioned to Compass and, by the end of the summer, all post-secondary students will be tapping in and out of the system.

Don’t worry, we’ll give students lots of notice, so that they’ll know well in advance how and when to pick up Compass Cards.

For now, it’s business as usual for all post-secondary students! You will continue to pick up your paper ticket each month from your school’s dispensing machines or student centre. Remember to sign the back and keep your student ID with you at all times.

Which post-secondary institutions are participating in the program?

Participating institutions include the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Capilano University, Langara College, Emily Carr University of Art & Design, Vancouver Community College, Douglas College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia Institute of Technology, and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.

How will students get Compass Cards?

Over the next few months, we’ll work with individual post-secondary institutions to determine the best way to get Compass Cards to students. Once the plan is set, it will be communicated broadly, so that everyone is in the know.

In the meantime, if students have questions, they should speak to their post-secondary institutions.

No more line ups!

Compass Cards will replace the current post-secondary paper-ticket pass system, which means students can say good bye to long line ups! Once students have Compass Cards and their eligibility is confirmed, they can link their transit pass to their Compass Card each month online. Then they can start tapping!

One of the reasons students will be able to load their transit passes online each month is because of an innovative system created by TransLink. Compass Point Gateway is s secure, private network developed by our staff. It enables TransLink to deliver program benefits to Compass Cards for clients. Compass Point Gateway is one of the keys to success in transitioning students and other paper-pass holders to Compass Card.

If a Compass Card is lost, students can replace it by unlinking their transit pass from the lost card and linking it to a new Compass Card in order to resume travel for a given month.

Going slow, getting it right

We’re continuing with a phased approach to the launch of Compass. A phased approach is how other major transit systems have been successful, and it’s the best way to ensure we get it right for our customers.

The Opal Card in greater Sydney, Australia and CharlieCard in Boston both took a phased approach to launch. Opal was rolled out to customers starting in December 2012 on its ferry services before moving to trains and buses by the end of 2014 and light rail in 2015. The CharlieCard was launched for seniors, riders with disabilities, and reduced- and free-fare customers in mid-2006. Roll out to the general public did not begin until December 2006 and January 2007.

Winnipeg and Calgary are both currently working on implementing their own electronic-fare-card systems and are taking their time to get it right. Full implementation on Winnipeg Transit was anticipated to be complete by the end of 2013, but introduction has been pushed back to spring 2015 due to technical glitches and issues. Calgary’s CONNECT was scheduled to be completed and released by late 2014, but cards were just distributed to Calgary Transit staff in September 2014 to begin testing.

Why launch to post-secondary students next?

Because the schools are ready!

We have been working with the 10 post-secondary institutions since 2012 to prepare software and systems for the transition to Compass.  TransLink and each of the post-secondary institutions have developed and implemented systems to facilitate the delivery of Compass benefits to student’s Compass cards.

Adding students to the Compass system will offer insight into how the system performs under heavier loads. Since the 10 participating post-secondary institutions include transit fees in their tuition, and provide for all-zone travel, students cannot be over-charged if they receive a tap error.

What’s next after the launch to post-secondary students?

Once we’re satisfied with the performance of the Compass system and our mobile validators, we will move ahead with the transition to Compass.

In the meantime…

For students, until you hear differently, continue to use your paper tickets. We won’t begin distributing Compass Cards to students until January 2015. They’ll be distributed to students in three waves, beginning with small groups at the start.

For everyone else, the launch of Compass to post-secondary students won’t affect you. Customers who pay their fare using a Monthly Pass, FareSaver tickets, cash, and other forms of fare media can continue to do so until we move to the next phase of the roll-out. We will give our customers plenty of notice when they are next to transition to the Compass Card!

Current Compass Card users can continue to “tap in” and “tap out” on the system like they have to date.

Are you a post-secondary student at one of the institutions listed above? Are you ready to tap away?! Let us know in the comments section below! Got questions about Compass? Ask away at



  • By Kyle Z., October 29, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

    Yay! This is wonderful news.
    Translink will definitely need the data to analyse how to improve service on routes that are overcrowded.

  • By Andy, October 29, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

    I don’t get why TransLink can’t just set up a system so that whoever wants the Compass Card *today* can get one, regardless of incremental rollout. Already 85,000 or so bus pass holders have been using it so far, so what’s the delay? Students can get it next year but there should DEFINITELY be a system for someone who wants to use the card today. Getting tired of the wait. Obviously, not everyone would make the switch to Compass TODAY if such a system were to exist. It would still be a gradual increase in users. Sigh.

  • By Compass Team, October 31, 2014 @ 9:15 am

    Hi Andy. We’d also like to roll out the system to everyone as soon as possible, but best practice is to do it in stages. The people who have cards now, are cases where the card benefits suit the capability of the system. Once we’re sure that the system is ready, we’ll roll it out to the general population.

  • By Bailey, October 29, 2014 @ 11:41 pm

    this is wonderful news! :)

    now that the roll out is continuing, albeit slowly, any idea when us CNIB cardholders can swap our standard cards for Compass ones?

  • By Compass Team, October 31, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    Hi Bailey. As you may know, a small pilot group of CNIB customers already have Compass Cards. We’re working closely with CNIB to evaluate the system, assess feedback, and decide on the next steps for roll out. Stay tuned! We appreciate your patience while we work hard to get the system fully operational.

  • By Mike, October 30, 2014 @ 8:33 am

    I’m slightly confused. Does a distribution in January 2015 mean that these cards will be loaded with a January 2015 U-pass? Or a February 2015 u-pass?

  • By Compass Team, October 31, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    Hi Mike. Sorry for the confusion. Compass Cards will be distributed to 2,000 post-secondary students in January, 2015. They will be able to load a transit pass for February travel. Exactly who those students are will be determined soon.

  • By Sam, November 2, 2014 @ 12:19 am

    Hi Compass Team! This is great news! Congratulations on the progress made so far. I am a student at UBC, who uses a lot of transit. Is there anyway I can sign up to be part of the first wave of compass adopters? Thanks a ton!

  • By Compass Team, November 3, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    Hi Sam. Thanks for your excitement about getting a Compass Card! We don’t have the final say on who gets the first wave of cards. For that, you’d have to talk to UBC. But it won’t be long now before all post-secondary students are tapping across Metro Vancouver. Stay tuned!

  • By Raymond, November 2, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

    Hi there, when do u think the compass card will be rolled out to the general population. Its already one year behind.

  • By Compass Team, November 3, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

    Hi Raymond. We don’t have a set date for general roll-out at this time. Right now, we’re focussed on getting the core functionality of the Compass system up to our service standard. We want to make sure our customers have a good experience with Compass right off the bat. Once we’re satisfied with the performance of the Compass system and our mobile validators, we will move ahead with the transition to Compass.

  • By Marilyn, November 6, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

    Hi Compass Team, will the compass card only charge for “one” trip fare, if we need to transfer from bus to skytrain and bus again to get from point A to point B? Or will it be 3 separate fares?

  • By Compass Team, November 17, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    Hi Marilyn, you can transfer back and forth between conventional modes of transit (SkyTrain, bus, SeaBus) and it will count as one trip as long as you make your transfers within the 90-minute transfer window.

  • By Thomas B, November 6, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

    I am 9 years old. How come the Compass Card machines at the stations don’t work. Why do you put them there if they don’t work. I visited Hong Kong with my mommy in February and their Octupus card is amazing and their MTR is awesome. I went on the MTR, the bus, the ferry and the 126 year old tram and bought bubble gum at 7-11 all on one day and paid with my Octupus card.

    My mommy also told me that it is dangerous to take the skytrain because if I fall down I could get stepped on by people in an emergency. After I went to Science World with my daycare on the skytrain, I told my mommy I know what she means about being stepped on.

  • By Compass Team, November 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    Hi Thomas. Great questions. We put the Compass Vending Machines in place because we were getting ready for our roll-out. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan. Major technology projects, like implementing an electronic-fare card, take quite a bit of time, and there are often delays.

    Our transit system is different from other systems in a number of ways. Ours has numerous modes, zones, programs and fare types that predate Compass, but that must be integrated into Compass nonetheless.

    Compass also differs from existing systems in terms of functionality. The Compass system will have numerous functional differences from other systems, including near real-time communication, integration with university servers to authenticate U-Pass BC benefits, and features like Auto Load, Balance Protection and so on. These unique features increase convenience for our customers.

  • By Hans, November 7, 2014 @ 11:51 am

    I look forward to use the Compass card, but appreciate your incremental approach to the implementation. A well functioning system will save a lot of dissatisfaction, complaints and inconvenience.
    Do not feel pressured, do it right and all transit users will be grateful.

  • By Compass Team, November 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    Thanks Hans. We appreciate your support!

  • By Raymond, November 9, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

    If the compass system works fine for senior citizens, then it should be rolled out to the general public too.

  • By Compass Team, November 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    Hi Raymond. Our contractor is still experiencing performance issues with the mobile validators (MVs). That means that if people get a tap error, they might be over-charged for their trip. We want to make sure the MVs have a low tap-error rate, before we roll out the system to the general population, to minimize the chances of people being over-charged. Right now, all of the people who currently use Compass Cards have all-zone access. That means that if they get a tap error from an MV, they can’t be over-charged. We understand it’s frustrating to wait for the system to be fully operational; but we think it would be more frustrating to have a system that doesn’t perform well, so we’re taking time the time to get it right.

  • By Mike, November 24, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

    I have used the Oyster card in London for years and it has always worked well. It is a much more complex Transit system than Vancouver’s but there were no delays in implementation. There is no requirement to tap off from buses which is where I believe you have problems. If you went to a one zone fare on busses, the problem would be eliminated.
    I also use the Opus card in Montreal. That system has problems which I hope you will not duplicate, namely having to renew the cards every four years, and incompatibility when using commuter trains and busses together.

  • By Jim S, December 12, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

    I sure hope the contractor implementing (and fixing) the Compass system is on a fixed price contract and not a time-and-material one, hopefully with a penalty clause for delays and unsatisfactory delivery. How our current system worked and the demand on it should have been public knowledge during the tendering process, so the contractor has no one but themselves to blame. As for the public, we have Translink to blame for trying to bring in a fare card system when all that the public wished was turnstiles to prevent subsidizing cheats. With turnstiles, we could have implemented them much sooner, on time and on budget, and might even be seeing a return on the investment by now. The business case that justified Compass even if it’s delivered on time eludes me as just the ongoing operating and maintenance cost of the hardware and software systems outweigh any fare evasion savings and rider convenience that it could have promised, let alone recouping the one-time massive cost of building the system in the first place.

  • By elevtechlift, March 19, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    I wonder how much does it cost to install a simple magstripe reader at the fare gates. I’m not asking for a fancy automatic magstripe reader; just a simple type similar to San Francisco Clipper card system (ticket magstripe reader: and a magstripe (credit, debit, ID, etc.) card reader. If it is not financially possible to change all bus fare boxes to work with the Compass tickets and bills, then wouldn’t be insensible to introducing Compass tickets at this moment if the bus fare boxes will not be changed and having to manage two different types of transfer tickets? I’m just saying there might be better ways to serve more riders especially tourists staying for a day or two and not have any knowledge of the transit system. Riders here are used to one ticket (including transfers) accessible to Bus, SeaBus, and SkyTrain regardless of trip origin.

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