The Fare Gate Fiasco.

The Faregate Fiasco is beginning.

The introduction of faregates at SkyTrain Station is another example of the broken governance of TransLink. At a time when the Regional Transportation Authority is financially challenged enough that they cannot finance 20-year-old expansion plans, when they are going to have to come, cup-in-hand to the taxpayers to try to fill their operating budget for the next 10 years, they are being forced to implement a system they don’t want, don’t need, and cannot afford, so that the Premier and pals can cut a ribbon and be seen to be “doing something” about a problem that doesn’t exist.

Let’s start by looking at some of the rhetoric around the issue.

First off, the current system does not operate on an “honour system”. It is a “Proof of Payment” system: you are required by law to carry proof of payment within fare paid zones (like on all SkyTrains). If you don’t have a proof of payment, you are kicked off the train and out of the station, and you get a ticket from Transit Cops. “Honour” has nothing to do with it.

Anyone who rides the SkyTrain regularly (as I do) will tell you that they do regular screening, and they do actually pull people off trains and issue tickets. When they come on a train and do a ticket check, 99% of the people on the train actually have tickets. I am a gambler by nature, I love to think about and play odds. I have done the math on buying a SkyTrain ticket many times, and there is significant incentive to buy a fare in the current system.

Yep, that above is an example of anecdotal evidence, and is not something to base policy upon. Except by TransLink’s own math, Fare Evasion is not an issue. A few years ago, it was estimated to represent $3 Million a year. Those numbers have been suspiciously creeping up (to justify fare gates?) to $7 Million a year this year. (or maybe the numbers are decreasing?). It is interesting that this “evasion creep” has been happening at the same time that the TransLink Cops have grown into a fully armed force of more than 200 cops, ready to taser people for not paying their fare, with a budget that has grown to $28 Million a year .. where is the value for our money there? Still, that means it went from about 0.85% of fare revenue to about 1.75%. (I can’t help but think that if they raised fares 2% to offset this and passed on the gates, few would complain).

So TransLink is spending $170 Million of your money to save (an inflated?) $7 million of “Fare evasion” that their $28 Million a year armed police force cannot stop. Oh, and the Gates will cost $9milloon a year to operate, maintain, and staff (yes, there must be a person at every gate). The math stinks.

Especially since the gates won’t end fare evasion. People who don’t ride transit imagine everyone they see walking into a Skytrain station and not stopping at the ticket machines is evading the fare (they aren’t, most riders have transfers or passes). But fare evasion comes in many other flavours: people who get on the back of a way-overcrowded B-line bus without a pass, people who use other people’s passes, people who get on a bus with a 1-zone pass and ride two zones, people who use concession fares when they shouldn’t, people selling U-passes on Craig’s List. The faregates are not going to stop any of these people. Only the existing “Proof of Payment” system can, as that requires the person to present a valid fare to a Transit Cop. This is why some argue the faregates will increase fare evasion system-wide, as there is less human verification of passes: the gate can’t tell I am a 40-year-old using a seniors pass.

There is another issue: the stations themselves. There are several stations where the Gates will not really fit, or will create serious pedestrian congestion including Metrotown, one of the busiest stations in the system. In Stations like the revamped pedestrian-friendly mixed-transit-retail New Westminster Station, the Gates will introduce an obstruction to pedestrian flow that will undermine the public space aspect of our transportation hubs. This will not increase anyone’s “feeling of security”.

And that is what this is about, creating a “perception of safety”. It is the same thinking that has Canada building more prisons as crime rates continue to plummet. I don’t blame TransLink, they made it very clear a couple of years ago that they do not want to install these gates, for all the reason I listed above. Then they were overruled by Kevin Falcon after the former Minister of Transportation took a trip to London and had a epiphany… and the rest is a long story of bad governance based on unsupported perceptions that contradict the actual data. It is a strange epiphany, considering London, with faregates, has both a higher fare evasion rate and more crime in their terminals (pickpockets being the most recent issue).

The result of Kevin Falcon pulling transportation policy out of his ass and forcing it on a local government body is a whole bunch of your tax money being burned, now and into the foreseeable future, for no reason other than to give him a ribbon to cut.

2 comments on “The Fare Gate Fiasco.

  1. Reminds me of what I heard on the CBC yesterday evening:

    “In July, the statistical agency [StatsCan] reported that both the volume and severity of police-reported crime fell in 2009, three per cent from 2008 and 17 per cent from 1999.”

    But Minister Vic Toews ain’t buying it:

    ” “The crime isn’t going down,” Toews insisted. “

    In other words, “Don’t bother me with the facts.”

    He must be pulling his public safety policy out of the same place Kevin Falcon’s using.

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