Compass Card (San Diego)

The Compass Card is a form of electronic ticketing used on public transport services within San Diego County, California. It is administered by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and is valid on a number of different travel systems in San Diego County including MTS buses, the San Diego Trolley, North County Buses, the Coaster and the Sprinter. The card and fare collection systems are manufactured by Cubic Transportation Systems, and SANDAG administers the Compass Call Center (CCC), a central call center for all agencies.

Compass Card

Compass Card Examples

Compass Card Example.svg
2007 Series
Compass Card
Compass card 2010.svg
2010 Series
Compass Card
LocationSan Diego County, California, United States
  • October 1, 2008
(Pilot Testing)
  • May 1, 2009
(System wide Launch Begins)
  • May 1, 2010
(paper passes discontinued, compass card is now official transit pass fare media for San Diego county)
ManagerSan Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)
CurrencyUS$ (Stored value credit ; 4-day, 14-day and 30-day passes maximum load)
Auto rechargeAvailable upon request for registered cardholders
  • Adult Compass Card
  • Youth Compass Card
    (50% Discount)
  • Senior-Disabled-Medicare Compass Card (75% Discount)


The Compass Card is an orange or yellow, credit-card-sized contactless smartcard which can hold a transit pass. The Compass Card card must be tapped on electronic readers when entering and transferring within the system in order to validate it. Compass Card readers are integrated in bus fareboxes and standalone readers are located just outside the paid area of rail stations. Because San Diego Trolley, the Coaster and the Sprinter operate on a proof-of-payment system, fare inspectors randomly check to make sure Compass Card users have validated their cards by using a wireless handheld unit. The cards may be "recharged" in person from TVMs in rail stations, at MTS or NCTD Transit Offices, at Albertsons stores, or online. The card is designed to reduce the number of transactions at customer service centers. Currently the San Diego Association of Governments only sells monthly passes on the compass card system-wide, and 14-day passes via telephone, but plans to sell stored cash value cards in the future capable of automatically purchasing a day pass on the first tap.


Customers are able to perform the following transactions at the corresponding locations with a Compass Card as indicated below:

Available and functioning
Available and functioning

Full adult fare only

Locations Buy a
new card
Reload an
existing card
with cash
with credit / debit
Sign up
for auto reload
your card
The Transit Store
Call 511 and say "Compass Card"
Compass Card account management website
Trolley, Coaster, and Sprinter ticket vending machines
Select San Diego county Albertsons and check cashing locations

and Transit Center "MTS Station Shops"


The following process takes place when a user taps their card on a reader:

  • Authenticates the microchip's serial number
(to avoid counterfeited or stolen cards)
  • Reads the rider's balance and/or passes, and displays the results
  • Reports the rider's activity to the Compass Card server
(rail validators synchronize data immediately, bus validators have a 12- to 24-hour delay)
  • Writes the new balance and/or passes
(if applicable)

The next behavior depends on the reader:

  • Displays a Thank You message along with a small green light for on-platform readers such as the Coaster, Sprinter, and San Diego Trolley.
  • Shows green light and beeps once if Compass Card has valid fare, or shows a red light with an error message and beeps three times if the card is not valid or a read error occurs, for readers installed next to fareboxes. For passes, the expiration date of the pass is also displayed when the green light is lit and the reader beeps once.
  • Beeps once if the Compass card has valid fare, or beeps three times if the card is not valid or a read error occurs, for readers integrated into the farebox. For passes, the expiration date of the pass is also displayed shortly after the reader beeps once.
  • The driver's side computer will also show OK for a successful pass read. A type of bird vocalization that sounds different from the standard confirmation beep will occur for Youth or Senior/Disabled/Medicare passes that are valid, and the driver's side computer will show YTH for the Youth pass or SDM for the Senior/Disabled/Medicare pass.

Read errors that are displayed on the reader screen can include, but are not limited to:

  • Invalid CRC.
  • Invalid Card, can occur the first time on some readers even with a valid card, but if the card is valid a second attempt will register correctly. (The driver's side computer will show as NV for an invalid card error).
  • Operation Failed, if an add value was initiated from the farebox computer but did not work.
  • Read Error. (Seems to occur only on some readers integrated into the farebox, and turning the card sideways when tapping may work around this problem).
  • Feedback used too soon. (The driver's side computer will show as FBK for a feedback related error).
  • Already Touched.


SANDAG offers the following benefits to all Compass Card users:

  • First Compass Card costs $2
  • Automatic refill (registered users only)
  • Pass or balance replacement on lost or stolen cards (does not cover the retail cost of a new card, $2 USD)
  • Online store & card management
  • Telephone customer service
  • Photo ID integration (for senior-disabled-medicare or youth discount pass pass-holders only)*
  • Compass Card users may purchase a 30-day "rolling pass" valid for 30 days from the date of purchase in addition to the traditional monthly pass good for a calendar month (monthly pass only for adult Sprinter/Breeze).
  • 14-day passes can be loaded onto the Compass Card at the cost of 60% of a monthly pass (adult Regional and Premium passes only).

*Proof of eligibility will be needed at time of purchase and Photo ID will be printed on the compass card, replacing existing Transit IDs.

Photo galleryEdit

External linksEdit

  1. Compass Card
  2. Metropolitan Transit System
  3. North County Transit District
  4. San Diego's Traffic, Transit and Commute Info
  5. Compass Card FAQs