In 2013, TransLink will launch a new electronic fare system that would allow it to charge riders only for the distance they actually travel, rather than by zone. But just because they can charge more for people traveling long distances doesn’t mean they should.
A ‘smart’ card system is anything but. It makes intuitive sense to drivers to say that someone traveling from King George to Waterfront ought to pay more than someone going from Columbia to Sapperton. But when it comes to public transportation, riders paying more for traveling a longer distances hamstrings efforts to get more people out of their cars.
TransLink should be doing all it can to provide incentives for suburbanites traveling long distances into work to take transit instead of driving. I understand that it costs more for TransLink to carry them, but it is more challenging and impactful to remove a car from the road that would travel from Surrey into Vancouver than a car traveling only a few blocks.
The current zoning system is terrible. There’s no good reason a person should pay more to travel from Patterson to the next station, Joyce, than from Patterson to Metrotown on the other side of the zone boundary. The zone system also makes it vastly less attractive for residents of Coquitlam and Surrey (and beyond) to choose the SkyTrain over driving. (Exclusive transit use is almost unheard of in those areas, as I know having grown up in Coquitlam/Port Moody. Service frequency is too low, and there are significant gaps in bus coverage, depending where you need to go.)
The fare changes proposed are better than the current system. But what we really ought to do is implement a flat-fare system. Yes, it means that we subsidize riders in the ‘burbs. Taking transit at least some of the time is easy in New Westminster, much of Vancouver and parts of Burnaby. Everywhere else in the Lower Mainland, it’s a significant sacrifice. Paying more for less service makes it even less attractive to choose public transit.