Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 9th, 2007

Car culture recklessly puts all of us at risk

with one comment

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

Enforcement of traffic laws is not a priority with our police forces, nor with their political masters.

Everybody wants to catch bad guys such as murderers and be hailed as a hero, not hand out tickets and be spat upon.

Politicians puff out their chests and talk about getting tough on crime, but they refuse to bolster the budgets of traffic squads or to implement sound public health measures such as photo radar.

There are almost 3,000 deaths in motor vehicle crashes in Canada each year, along with 18,000 debilitating injuries. By comparison, there are about 600 homicides.

Recent shootings have got a lot of attention, even to the extent of examining the need for a Metropolitan Police force instead of municipal arrangements – something I have advocated here a while ago. But the carnage on our streets does not seem to qualify for the same attention. A cop gets shot and it’s a tragedy with lots of coverage. Someone dies in an “RTA”, it doesn’t even get a mention – unless its something really unusual like a bus rolling over.  An idiot running a red light a t-boning another car will not even be noticed by the local free papers.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 9, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Road safety

Fare gates coming to SkyTrain stations

with 11 comments

Vancouver Sun

System will reduce fare cheating, improve security, transportation minister says

Which demonstrates once again that Kevin Falcon does not know what he is talking about and is incapable of doing simple math.

For a policy reversal this is quite remarkable, as the cost benefit analysis of gates on the SkyTrain was one of the most frequently requested and updated spreadsheets that I used to have on my computer at work. Of course, everybody else knew much better – after all they had been to visit London or Paris and they had seen the gates there, so it must be a system that works.


Actually both London and Paris still have problems with crime on their systems – and both lose money to fare evasion. In fact, prominent posters in the Underground warn “get a ticket, not a criminal record”. Of course, if Kevin Falcon noticed them when he was there, he is not saying.

[Translink Chair, Mayor Malcolm] Brodie agreed, saying fare gates or turnstiles — used in major cities like London, Paris and Hong Kong — would help deter crime and reduce fare evasion, while making the trains safer for commuters.

No, they won’t. Both Paris and London have long had a real problem with pickpockets operating on crowded trains. With all the pushing and shoving going on, it is very easy to take advantage of passengers. In fact the really good dips work in teams with advanced distraction techniques. It is remarkable that whenever one of these rings are apprehended, they always seem to come from some exotic faraway place – like Lima , Peru. And, of course, to get on to the train, and to reduce the risk of confrontation with officialdom, they always had tickets. I expect that the people who left bombs on the trains in London and Madrid had tickets too.

In fact the perception of the extent of crime on SkyTrain is due in large measure to our wonderful media, who always talk about any crime in the vicinity in terms of its distance from the SkyTrain station – even though there may be no apparent link to the use of the system at all. And of course, stations mean crowds. So if you want to sell people drugs your motivation to be close to a SkyTrain station is the same as someone trying to sell umbrellas when it is raining. So far as I recall, it is pretty rare to see someone struggling with a large screen tv on the SkyTrain. I do not see it as the mode of choice for housebreakers. In fact the ones that I know about from first hand experience prefer older Dodge Caravans.

The issue of the older Expo line stations is going to be very much harder than just providing staff (though in Vancouver’s overheated labour market that isn’t going to be easy either). The stations were not designed to have gates, and the Fire Marshall needs to be convinced that stations can be evacuated quickly in the event of an emergency. During my time at TransLink we tended to think that meant rebuilding the stations. I don’t know if that has changed. Perhaps Ken Hardie will pop up with an explanation here.

But as an economist, I could never be convinced that the rate of return on investment and increased operating costs would be positive – let alone adequate to justify this sort of expenditure. And for a system which is desperately short of capital to buy new buses and more SkyTrain cars, the priority cannot be to try and reduce fare evasion from one small percentage to a slightly lower percentage for the short time until the dodgers come up with new, refined techniques for evading payment. Because they will. And once you get into this game, it is a spiral of increasing cost chasing ever smaller returns.

Once again, if you have visited London or Paris you will have seen people cheerfully vaulting over the gates. Or managing to get through once somebody else has opened them. Or a number of other devious methods I will not detail: the British Transport Police used to try to get them to plead guilty. Because there was always the risk that in the public gallery of the courts there would be people taking notes. In fact, two groups who statistically have a much higher propensity to evade fares are journalists (who were also high on the list of parking meter jammers) and, I am sorry to say, the sort of people who have inside knowledge of fare systems. One of whom started off as my boss, but ended up working for me in a much more junior capacity as a result of his plea bargain.

And the reason that you do not see many people using the ticket machines at SkyTrain stations (and the SeaBus) is that they already have a proof of payment on their person: they either have a pass of some kind, or they paid on the bus and got a transfer.

What is surprising is the timing of this announcement. I would have thought that this was just the sort of amazing innovation that the new tame appointed Board would come out with. Or is Kevin worried that they might, as astute business persons, be able to understand a spreadsheet?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 9, 2007 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Fare evasion