This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: “People right to be wary of TransLink’s privacy promises “

This week’s topic: Is the ability to track your movements through the Compass Card an invasion of privacy?

In an age when increasingly invasive technology is exposing people’s personal information, it’s no surprise that privacy issues are getting so much attention. However, in the race by service providers to provide the latest innovations, I think we are overlooking the bigger picture of privacy and data collection.

TransLink has recently faced questions about its involvement in a traffic-flow map project that provides real-time data from cell phone signals — using GPS technology — to provide information to drivers.

By law, TransLink should have commissioned a privacy-impact assessment for the project, but chose not to after determining the data they collected was anonymous.

Brent Stafford’s Column

Enter the new Compass Card. TransLink expects the public to take their word it when assuring commuters the information stored by the new card is secure as well.

TransLink states that none of your information is stored on the regular cards — it’s held in a secure data format elsewhere. Loading a Compass Card with cash and not registering it will maintain your anonymity. However, if you use debit or credit card to load it, and/or register that card for balance protection as well, your personal information is now linked to that card.

At that point, your movements could be tracked as you tap in and out of the system — and could be open to requests by law enforcement…

READ the rest of this weeks column and vote for this weeks winner here:


*** You can find additional information on the privacy issues Australia has encountered, along with other Translink info, at the following links

7 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: “People right to be wary of TransLink’s privacy promises “

  1. Just wondering why 24 Hrs are closing comments so fast Laila. I usually read within a few hrs of posting and no matter what time I read, the comments section is closed already. Do they not like debate ?


    1. And btw, I support your take on this issue. Anyone that gathers that type of info on you, cannot be trusted to not eventually use that info.


      1. Yes,and increasingly British Columbians and other citizens, are no longer being given a choice of ” giving up a right” as Brent states. Another case in point is the new BC Services Card which combines your drivers license with your BC Medical card, or your BCID with your medical card.

        In the future, Translink has not counted out linking the Compass card to the BC Services card as well…. imagine all that information about your personal life available on one card. Medical history, dr visits, personal security information etc….. For every bit of technology there is a hacker ready to figure out how to access it. It’s insanity to link together so many forms of personal identifiers. You think identity theft is an issue now….

        There is a great blog post up on the Huff today about this, and the limitations and lack of real public consultation that the BC government is doing on this. If this is a concern for you, I urge everyone to contact their local politicians and share these kinds of links


    2. I’m not sure Gary,I thought it was open for 48 hrs, but apparently not. This issue of Translink has been generating a lot of debate.



    We are having the wrong conversation. All of this fuss about the Compass cards, Translink’s covert fare increases, the discontinuation of FareSavers, etc. obscures what should really happen – transit should be funded entirely from the public purse and nothing should be collected at the farebox. Transit is a social good and a public benefit – let’s treat it that way.
    “Fare-free transit brings many benefits, some of which include:

    a barrier-free transportation option to every member of the community (no more worries about exact change, expiring transfers, or embarrassment about how to pay)
    eliminating a “toll” from a mode of transportation that we as a society want to be used (transit is often the only way of getting around that charges a toll)
    reducing the inequity between the subsidies given to private motorized vehicle users and public transport users
    reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the need for private motorized vehicle parking
    reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other air pollutants, noise pollution (especially with electric trolleys), and run-off of toxic chemicals into fresh water supplies and ocean environments
    reducing overall consumption of oil and gasoline
    eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on roads and highways (now up to $7 billion for the proposed Gateway Project in Vancouver)
    eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on bigger car-carrying ferries ($2.5 billion for BC Ferries’ new super-sized boats and ramps)
    contributing significantly to the local economy by keeping our money in our communities
    reducing litter (in Vancouver, the newer transfers/receipts have overtaken fast food packaging for most common garbage found on our streets)
    saving trees by eliminating the need to print transfers and tickets
    allowing all bus doors to be used to load passengers, making service faster and more efficient
    allowing operators (drivers) to focus on driving safely
    giving operators more time to answer questions
    providing operators a safer work environment since fare disputes are eliminated
    eliminating fare evasion and the criminalization of transit-using citizens
    fostering more public pride in shared, community resources”
    Reality check:
    Taking the farebox out of any bus without a plan is just a recipe for disaster.
    Making transit free of charge won’t in itself allow huge numbers of people to abandon their cars.
    We need to pay, one way or another.

    No Fares! A Reader-funded Solutions Series
    The Tyee – 17 Reasons (or More) to Stop Charging People to Ride the Bus
    Next Door to BC, the Bus Is Free
    No Hassle Transit? Try Hasselt
    Let’s Knock Off the Fare Box
    Paying for ‘Free’ Transit
    Free Transit? Experts Are Wary


  3. Actually I did address the issue of what amounts to a fare increase for many in the prior 24hrs column:

    Following that column, Derek Zabel from Translink Media Relations emailed me this in response:

    Hi Laila,
    I thought I would follow up with you on your article regarding Compass Card. Smart Cards are being successfully used throughout the world. The Compass Card will provide customers with flexibility and convenience, one card for the entire system. It will also offer customers a discount instead of paying full retail value. There will be a customer education and support plan rolled out as well as an extended transition period between the old system and the new. Attached is audio from a London official who talks about the London Oyster Card which is the same technology we are using here.
    Best regards,

    Derek Zabel

    I did notice how he didn’t address the bigger concerns and so I emailed him back asking for clarification on a few items:
    1) Why Translink did not incorporate the technology to make a seamless system from the beginning planning stages
    2) Why the discount for loaded multiple fares on the Compass card is not nearly as great as the current Faresavers etc.
    3) where and what the source was for this 6000 rides number they keep using as the figure for daily cash fares.

    This was his response:

    Hi Laila

    After careful consideration and much deliberation that also involved us reviewing and examining best practices and approaches from other transit systems globally, we made the decision not to spend the more than 25 million dollars of taxpayer funds to address the bus-to-rail transfer issue. This was not only cost prohibitive, it would also have taken a considerable amount of time, delaying the project significantly, which would have impacted us elsewhere. Since our fareboxes are aging and have approximately three to five years left of useful life, we felt it wasn’t prudent to put money into the system to support the aging fareboxes.

    We are also not unique in our approach. Many other transit systems around the world who we consulted with, including London and Paris, also don’t allow cash bus to rail transfers.

    As for the discount, right now people get a higher discount with faresaver tickets, when we had a fair increase last year, cash fares were allowed to be raised but faresavers were not. The original intent of the faresaver booklets were buy 9 rides and get your 10th for free. The Compass card discount brings it to that level.

    The estimate of 6,000 users is based on information gathered from the Fare Audit Survey. We use the survey to collect information on ridership, fare media usage and fare evasion. This particular analysis was based on 28 months of survey information, collected between Jan 2010 and April 2012, it includes over 300,000 fare checks. From this were able to determine that 1.5% of our bus users pay cash and then transfer onto the SkyTrain


  4. Notice, from what they have advertised as a discount for Compass cards, does not equate to the same discount on Faresaver books – not even close.


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