TransLink has yet to determine how some seniors and disabled transit users from the Fraser Valley with special passes will be able to board SkyTrain once the Compass card is fully in effect and fare gates are closed.
About 90,000 low-income seniors and other B.C. residents on disability assistance get provincially subsidized B.C. Bus Passes at a cost of $45 a year, giving them blanket transit access anywhere in the province.
Most of those pass holders live in Metro Vancouver and they have already been issued Compass cards to replace the old paper passes, which won’t open faregates.
But so far there’s no plan to do the same for others living in the Fraser Valley or on Vancouver Island so they can continue to use SkyTrain when they come to Metro Vancouver.
Advocates say they don’t want those passholders to be denied rapid transit access.
“If you’re living in the Fraser Valley and you need to come in, it could be a problem,” said Disability Alliance B.C. executive director Jane Dyson. “It’s not clear to us yet how this is going to work.”
TransLink spokesman Chris Bryan said bus drivers will continue to accept the regular B.C. Bus Passes.
As for whether companion Compass cards will be issued to pass holders living outside Metro, Bryan said TransLink is in discussions with the provincial ministry of social development.
“We’re working with the province on how that’s going to work,” he said.
He acknowledged there is some concern about the potential for illegal reselling of Compass cards enabled for the annual pass.
A Compass card version of the B.C. Bus Pass is more likely to be of use to someone in Abbotsford than a Fort St. John resident, he noted.
B.C. is the only province that subsidizes transit passes for low-income seniors and those on disability assistance, to the tune of $50 million a year.
Another access concern is how sip-and-puff wheelchair users who are paralyzed from the neck down with no use of their arms will be able to tap in and out with Compass cards at SkyTrain stations.
“They will not be able to use their Compass cards unassisted,” Dyson said.
Since TransLink won’t have attendants at every station, those disabled transit users who have until now been able to use the system independently may be forced to seek assistance from strangers.
“We are concerned that will diminish folks’ independence and dignity and safety,” she said. “This takes things backwards for those folks.”
One idea she suggests is to have a Compass reader mounted in a lower side position on one faregate per station – affected passengers could have their card strapped to the side of their chair and drive against the reader.
Bryan said TransLink is continuing to explore whether a solution exists.
“It’s a challenge that ideally we would like to be able to overcome,” he said.