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

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

11 Responses

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  1. Yes, Falcon gets worse by the minute. He likes to portray himself as “common sense” and in tune with what people think.

    What is worse is that Malcolm Brodie, the satrap he is, fawningly agrees, as he has parroted Falcon about Gateway. I wonder how many buses could have been bought with the money now being blown. Doesn’t Brodie read the Translink reports?

    Perhaps Falcon will listen to the new board, since Brodie, who should know better, doesn’t have anything enlightening to offer, and doesn’t believe studies Translink staff produce. Maybe the new board will serve as a check to Falcon by showing the paradoxes of community planning and transportation. Unless of course, the new board is as unconcerned about figures as Brodie and Falcon seem to be.


    November 9, 2007 at 1:40 pm

  2. In Prague the subway, street-cars, and buses all use small ticket validating machines. They are mounted inside the doors (front and back) of street-cars and buses, and inside the entrances of subway stations. Very similar to the blue boxes at skytrain stations here, only smaller.

    At subway stations and at street-car and bus stops there are little machines that accept coins and dispense unvalidated tickets, for use at any future time.

    You may board a street-car or bus through any door, they’re all opened at the stop. Once inside you stick your ticket into the machine and it prints the expiry time on it. The drivers are locked away in their driving booth. They have nothing at all to do with fare collection or verification. In fact, it’s difficult to even speak to them (not the greatest part of the system).

    There is a plainclothes force who board buses and subway cars etc and check for valid fares. They carry a little medallion/badge in the palm of their hand and show it to you and then bark something at you in Czech (I never learned much of the language).

    When I was there in 2001/2002 I think a full-system fare cost the equivalent of about 75 cents CDN so I never had much of a reason to evade the fare, or as it is called there, “ride in the dark.”

    I think Prague should be added to the itinerary. The Grand Tour of European Transit Systems should not be limited to London and Paris.


    November 9, 2007 at 3:31 pm

  3. It’s amazing how much stupidity there is on this subject–even among “transit professionals”.

    This question has been studied *many* times, and the studies always conclude that POP is more cost-effective, and idiots keep talking about faregates anyway.

    One thing that Los Angeles definitely got right is using POP for the subway and light rail.

    Of course, they too occasionally talk about faregates for “security”. This was prompted by an incident last year where someone spilled a bottle of mercury on a platform and it sat there for a day or two before anyone did anything about it–not really sure how faregates would have avoided that.

    MetroRiderLA had a good writeup

    Living in the SF Bay Area, I have to say, the #1 obstacle to better integration of our balkanized transit is BART’s faregate system. And, having misspent much of my youth riding BART, I can tell you it’s really not that hard to cheat, either…


    November 9, 2007 at 3:40 pm

  4. I really feel like Minister Falcon is just raising this as an easy piece of headline bait suitable for the always-hysterical Province, ensuring that the discussion is on those who have the least say and impact on the system and not on things like his road-building obsessions. It’s not enough that Translink is posting a sizable surplus while mobility in Vancouver continues to nosedive (it took 1hr 15mins to go by bus from Kits 4th ave to the western entrance to Gastown today, just as an example), now we need to spend a lot to squeeze some extra pennies from skytrain riders (which I’m not one of typically).

    What gets me is this obsession with control and payment, from the paternal ads to the gun-toting security force to minute-and-penny-perfect electronic fare controls. Now the last semblance of trust in riders is about to be lost from the system, completing the apparent mission to ensure that riders know and keep their place and that there is as little flexibility in the system as possible. It’s a triumph of accounting the MBA mindset.

    Vancouver is a great place to call home, but as far as transit is concerned, and transportation in general, other places look better by the day.

    Todd Sieling

    November 9, 2007 at 3:45 pm

  5. The situation that Sgt Turmeric describes in Prague reminded me strongly of Amsterdam. There (many years ago now) I was on a crowded, articulated streetcar. At one stop, at the last minute, a posse of heavy set gents in leather coats boarded by all the doors at once, just as they were closing. They then pulled on arm bands that identified them as fare inspectors. Despite the crowding they made sure that everyone showed them a valid ticket. Those who did not were escorted off the tram at the next stop, where a number of transit vans were waiting. What happened after that is purely a matter of conjecture on my part, but I was mightily relieved that I had my strippenkarteproperly stamped.

    Stephen Rees

    November 9, 2007 at 3:49 pm

  6. The Mexico City metro system has (in my opinion, though I don’t have the quantitative, hard figures to back my claim) very little if no fare evasion. Two elements I think are helpful here:

    a). There are cops at every turnstile. Try to jump them, pay the price.

    b). The price for a metro ticket is ridiculously low (10 CND cents).


    November 9, 2007 at 4:21 pm

  7. The only positive I saw in today’s announcement was the move toward an electronic payment system. The Oyster card was one of the best parts of the London system when I lived there.

    It really annoys me that people refer to London as an example of a system that uses barriers to enforce fares. As Stephen I’m use can attest, that’s only true in the core. Outside of Zone 2 I don’t remember many stations that had gates. And the newest line, the Docklands Light Rail (very similar to the Skytrain), was built completely barrier free.

    Falcon can’t find any money for more buses, but has no problem signing up a private partner to take a share of Translink revenue to install gates. What a bad idea.


    November 9, 2007 at 4:44 pm

  8. Initially, when the Underground ticketing System was introduced gates were only installed in Central London as an economy measure. Subsequently they have been installed in all stations, except for the DLR. That system uses the same Alcatel driverless operating system as SkyTrain, but every train has a staff member on board whose job description includes ticket checks, as well as pressing the button that closes the train doors.

    Stephen Rees

    November 9, 2007 at 5:01 pm

  9. […] really hate rants, but reading all the stories today about this, I can’t help but make sure some facts here are more […]

  10. From the news reports, it would appear that the Province is willing to provide capital at this project. Assuming that roving attendents could be redeployed as station attendants (i.e. adequate staffing levels for one per station?), the biggest impediment to the implementation could be removed – the high initial capital cost. If one attendant per station equates to a service level increase, that may be a good thing (provided the Province kicks in for additional operating costs).

    The main concern is whether the fare gates would create bottlenecks and exacerbate crowding in stations – after all, barrier-free access is convenient when rushing out of the station to catch a bus or disgorging from a bus. At least the gates would not be at the platform level of most stations (i.e. inbound Edmonds platform excepted). However, diagrams for the proposed Canada Line stations show as few as 3 turnstiles at major stations (though the representations may have simply been to indicate potential location and not actual number).

    If a major concern on the Expo Line stations is emergency exiting, alarmed emergency exits can be probably be installed at many stations along the mesh walls of the at-grade concourses to provide an alternate exit to the fare gates. I could see ticket vending machines moved to the outsides of the stations (with roll-down shutters for security) to free up more space for the fare gates in the current ticketing halls.

    FYI – here’s the Translink report from the Dec 7, 2005 Board Meeting when they decided NOT to exercise the option to add fare gates to the Canada Line (though the option was preserved for future implementation) – it provides an interesting review of the reasons why fare gates are no necessary, as Stephen has mentioned:

    Click to access Canada_Line_Controlled_Access_Attachment_A.pdf

    ron c.

    November 9, 2007 at 11:25 pm

  11. Los Angeles has now decided to install turnstiles on the Red Line Subway:

    An End to the Free Ride on Trains in Los Angeles

    December 3, 2007

    LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2 — It may be hard to fathom for subway riders in cities like New York, Chicago and Boston, but the transit system in Los Angeles has no turnstiles, gates or other barriers where tickets are collected or checked.

    Under a proudly distinct honor system intended to buck East Coast practices and reduce operating costs, riders buy their tickets, get on the train and present them to a sheriff’s deputy or civilian inspector — if any happen to ask.

    But after 14 years of trust, Los Angeles is preparing to join those cities where slipping past, under and over transit turnstiles and gates is an art form.

    The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted last week to take the first step toward installing 275 ticket gates on the entire 17.4-mile subway and at many light-rail stations.

    The move came after a study given to the board in October found that some 5 percent of people who rode the subway, light rail and a new rapid bus line on weekdays did so without paying the fare, $1.25 one way or $5 for a daily pass. As a result, the report said, the authority lost about $5.5 million in revenue annually.

    Fare-collecting gates, which could cost $30 million to install and $1 million a year to maintain, would yield an extra $6.77 million in recovered fares and other savings, according to the report. The board voted 11 to 1 on Thursday to have staff members write a plan for installing the gates, with final approval expected in January.

    Some saw the move as another sign of the shifting ecology of Los Angeles.

    “Unfortunately, as L.A. gets to be more urban, it has these breakdowns of trust that happen in big cities,” said Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles resident and author of “The City: A Global History.” “It’s the flip side of all the good things.”

    At the Wilshire/Vermont station Friday, with a steady stream of people walking past vending machines and under a sign reading “Ticket required beyond this point,” riders who have looked suspiciously at their brethren applauded the move.

    “We all should know and respect the law,” said Maria Cervantes, 43, a dressmaker buying a ticket at the station. “I see a lot of people just walk on, and I don’t think it is because they have the day or month pass.”

    But other riders were skeptical, saying they had watched inspectors walk the trains checking tickets without catching many people.

    “I would like to know if the money gained is really more than the money they are going to spend,” said Jacob Holloway, 24, a graphic designer with a monthly pass.

    The board member who voted against the proposal, Richard Katz, shared the sentiment.

    Mr. Katz, a former member of the California Assembly, said he feared that the turnstiles would impede evacuations in emergencies. He said he also doubted that the struggling agency could afford the cost, which he predicted would escalate and wipe out potential savings. The agency’s $3 billion budget is expected to have a $75 million deficit next year.

    “Dollars are very tight,” Mr. Katz said.

    But agency planners said that the gates would eventually pay for themselves and that something needed to be done to control scofflaws on the rapidly expanding system. The gates could also improve security and be used for smart cards, passes with computer chips in them that would make it more practical to charge distance-based fares and give riders more options to pay beforehand.

    “We have grown substantially,” said Jane Matsumoto, a executive with the transportation authority who is working on the gate proposal. “But trying to enforce the numbers of riders over the large geography is difficult.”

    Ms. Matsumoto said it would take about 18 months to phase in the gates.

    The train system started in 1990 with a 22-mile light rail line from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. It added the Red Line subway in the 1990s, as well as several other light rail lines that now total some 90 miles. About 7.4 million people used the rail lines last month.

    The American Public Transportation Association said the Los Angeles subway was the only one in the country that did not have a gated pay system, though other cities with newer and smaller light rail systems relied on the honor system to encourage ridership and to save on the cost of turnstiles and related expenses.

    Ron C.

    December 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm

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