My one day Compass wristband adventure

Translink, the local transit authority, offers a wristband that allows you to tap in and out of buses, the SkyTrain and other transit-y things. I decided to get one but because you can’t transfer funds between Compass cards (or bands) without visiting one of their two customer service locations, I had to wait till the start of the month (this one, April) to put my usual two-zone pass on the band.

This worked as expected and I was set for my morning commute.

I tapped in at Sapperton station. Success. Hooray for technology!

I tapped out at Waterfront station. Success. Hooray again.

I tapped in at the Canada Line Waterfront station. Success yet again. Smiles all around. No more fumbling to get a card out of my wallet. All I had to do now was deftly(ish) flick my wrist at the fare gate and I was set.

But when I arrived at the Langara-49th Ave station, things changed. For the first time in my commute I had someone right behind me as I tapped out. This, of course, was when the wristband failed to work and I got the “LOL Try again!” message. But before I could try a second time, the guy behind me tapped his card. Why he did this, I don’t know. Morning brain? Inability to read? I mean, the message was obviously not for him, as he hadn’t tapped yet.

I was thus unable to tap out. I took note of this, as I’d have to call customer support and have them fix the missed tap out.

I wanted to confirm my suspicions online, but the Compass site was crushed by the first-day-of-the-month traffic and I was not able to get on. Then I left work early due to a weird fire/police situation (see other post for more). Sure enough when I got to the station and tapped, I got an “Insufficient fare” message. I used my Visa card to tap in and tap out downtown, which worked fine, but cost me money I shouldn’t have had to pay.

I went to the customer service at Stadium station and the woman who helped was very nice and switched the stored value of the band back to the card, then, because it wouldn’t process immediately, she gave me a two-zone pass to get me home. Which it did.

When I checked tonight, my Compass card is again showing the two-zone pass and the band is showing $0.

The reasons I didn’t just get the charge fixed and otherwise keep using the wristband are as follows:

  • It’s actually a little awkward to use the band. The area you need to tap is clearly meant for a card you’re holding in your hand. If you could embed the band in your palm it would work a lot better, plus be futuristic and also gross. If the tap area was on the side of the game as you walked through, it would work great with no surgical implants necessary.
  • This happened on my very first trip. It seemed an omen. If it had happened a week in, I would have shrugged it off.
  • I can see this happening again. Because the band is more fiddly to tap and because I travel during rush hour and often have people both ahead and behind me at the fare gates, it’s quite possible the same situation of “tap failed, next person taps before I can retry” could occur again. And again. I was wearing a jacket today, which probably contributed to Mr. Tap Happy’s confusion, as he never actually saw what I was tapping with. When people are rushing through fare gates, they are not really paying attention to much more than MUST TAP AND GET THROUGH.

So I’m back to fishing the card out of my wallet, which is inconvenient, but generally reliable. Maybe I’ll move it to a pocket or something and just hope I never lose it. Or maybe I can find a time travel machine and go into the past and make sure the fare gates never get installed.

Or maybe one day they’ll have the gates automatically detect payment without you having to do anything but walk through them. That would be nice. And probably impossible for another hundred years.

But at least I tried. And I kept the band, just in case.

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