A look at Metro Vancouver’s Fare Structure

The 3 colours of the zone system are so simple. But are they Practical?

In my last “Surrey vs Vancouver” post, I compared Surrey and Vancouver based on their bus networks, and City Centres. You may have noticed the double yellow lines on the maps. Before proceeding, make sure you are aware of locations of those lines.

In Vancouver, the yellow lines separate the different zones- more specifically zone 1 and zone 2. In surrey, the yellow lines mark the “Protected Agriculture Belt” AKA the Green Belt. This belt is a barrier similar to the Fraser River which is also a barrier.

It is pretty clear that Metro Vancouver’s Bus system can be divided into 4 zones. The people South of the Fraser may not like it, but if they want equal bus service, they should have equal zones. It might provide some extra cash for an already cash strapped Translink, and it will definitely provide better transit SOF. (Anyone know when Vancouver established the zone system? I spent not few minutes on google searching but couldn’t find a line.)

But it doesn’t end there. Many people Criticize the zone system for its unfairness.

The Need for Change:
The current ‘zone’ system is being criticized by many. It has been a hot topic lately especially after the announcement of the proposed fare increases.

The problem is simple: you pay for zones, and not for distance or time. Look at the map above. The 47 km trip from Maple Ridge to Tsawwassen costs you $2.50, yet the 3 km trip from Renfrew Station to Brenwood Mall takes $3.75 out of your wallet. This is no way of doing business!

Solution 1: Calculate fare by time. This is recording the moment you step on the bus to the moment you arrive at your destination. The fundamental flaw in this scheme is that people who have access to slow transit will pay much more than people who take Skytrain. This system would be worse than what we have now.

Solution 2: Calculate fare by distance. A 1-5 km trip costs $1, with 20 cents extra per killometre traveled over 5 kilometres to a maximum of $5.50. The problem with this system is that it requires exact distance calculations, which can’t be done without a smart card. The ComPass doesn’t come for 2 years.

Solution 3: Searching google, I found that Copenhagen has a similar zone system to Vancouver’s. Not only should Vancouver look toward Copenhagen for bikes, but we can also follow their zone system. This is how it works:

Copenhagen’s zones are significantly smaller, but your base fare allows you to travel in 2 zones. If Vancouver were to follow that system, this is how it would look:

Basically, you can travel in any one zone, and a adjacent one with you base fare. Adjacent zones are 2 colours touching each other, or connected with a bridge-a black line. Note, that the small green blobs on the north shore are its own zones (they are, and only include: Park Royal, Lonsdale Quay and Phibbs/Cap U.) The boundaries of the zones are on the map.

The current 1 zone $2.50  fare will get you 2 zones in this system, the current 2 zones $3.75 will get you 4 zones, and the current 3 zone $5 fare will get you unlimited travel for 90 minutes in the new system.

With $2.50 you can go from the orange Vancouver zone to the red Burnaby zone, or from the Brown Tsawwassen zone to the Green Surrey Zone, or from UBC to Park Royal.

With $3.75, you can travel from the Green Surrey Zone to the Green Vancouver Zone, or from the Pink NewWest Zone to the pink North Van Zone, or from the red White Rock zone to the Yellow Port Moody Zone.

And for $5, you can go from Maple Ridge to Tsawwassen.

The benefit of Solution 3, is that your trip’s cost is calculated more on distance, and less on zones, without the complicated smartcard technology. It may result in increased revenue by means of more ridership, or it might mean a little less money on previously 2 zone fares. This new zone system is much more complicated than the one we have now, but far more practical.

What do you think?