Stephen Rees's blog

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

“Turnstiles are needed to turn transit into a better environment for travel”

with 5 comments

A typically ignorant opinion from Derek Moscato of the Province

Ever since Kevin Falcon announced his desire to install turnstiles at SkyTrain stations across the Lower Mainland, the B.C. transportation minister has been on the receiving end of a predictably hot-headed response from some vocal adversaries.

The response has not been been “hot headed” at all. If anything, Falcon jumped onto a cause with very little hard information – but lots of “opinion” and “perceptions” that he thought would make him popular.

There is no evidence to support the contention that current losses due to fare evasion on SkyTrain are high enough to produce a positive rate of return on spending. And given that there are plenty of other transit projects that will have positive rates of return, they shoudl be done ahead of this ill conceived notion.

We now have armed police on SkyTrain conducting regular fare checks. This was done to increase passengers sense of security. Even though most of the incidents that papers like the Province like to associate with SkyTrain actually occur outside the system and beyond these officers’ jurisdiction, and very few have anything to do with fare evasion.

Systems with turnstiles still experience both fare evasion and threats (and worse) to passengers.  The Toronto subway has turnstiles but that did not keep out the person who decided to push a complete stranger under a moving train. The Paris metro has turnstiles, and the pickpockets still work the crowds: if you go to Paris, make sure you have secret pockets or a money belt for your valuables. You are also at risk from pick pockets on the London Undergound – also now gated throughout – which did not stop the bombers on 7/7.

Commuters who use SkyTrain at night, particularly women, the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, would feel better using the service, knowing that lawbreakers aren’t free to enter the stations at will.

Possibly, but they will be deluded. Because lawbreakers are also economically rational, and buying a ticket in order to carry out their activities will seem to them to be small price to pay. But we will have thrown away millions on buying ourselves a false sense of security, and increased operating cost of a gated system will be borne by the taxpayers for years to come.

Hot heads, Mr Moscato, do not tend to use spreadsheets. I suggest you go ask Translink if they will let you play with theirs. Put in any assumptions you like about levels of evasion and see if you can get any positive rate of return. I never could, but then I am only a transportation economist with forty years experience.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2008 at 7:38 am

Posted in Fare evasion

5 Responses

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  1. Awesome response Stephen! Exactly what I was going to write on my own blog – now I don’t need to 🙂

    The fact remains, our SkyTrain system certainly *seems* far safer than most metros, based on research of done of other systems around the world. Nothing has ever happened to me on it, nor have I heard of anything big (other than the odd stabbing late at night in the vicinity, but then that’s always just “gang warfare” and such). All in all, we’re pretty lucky that what we have works so well, despite a few fare evaders. In any case, the difference in improvement to the system would be so minimal that it’s definitely not worth the money – and that’s why Falcon isn’t footing the bill; he wants a private corp to do it.


    January 14, 2008 at 8:52 am

  2. It is incredibly frustrating to watch these amateurs operate; whatever happened to rational decisions based on hard data? If the Minister of Transportation wishes to reduce fare evasion, he should hire more transit police! This would additionally (surprise!) increase SkyTrain security.

    Mr Moscato is ill informed; anyone who tries to argue that London or NYC have a first-rate transit system with a good environment for travel, is clearly delusional, or has simply not ridden the Underground or NYC Subway. Perhaps Moscato thinks London or NYC branded products are naturally superior, since an actual user of either system would know that they are both dirty, smelly, run-down and prone to frequent service interruptions, not to mention frequently dangerous! It is obvious to any rational person that there is no correlation between fare-gates and the travel environment.

    If TransLink is really serious about providing a better transit environment, spend the 100 million dollars on additional MKII rolling stock!


    January 14, 2008 at 10:37 am

  3. Really great post! has chosen this blog article as one of the top articles in Vancouver for January 14, 2008. The VancouverIAM Daily Blog Review can be found on and


    January 14, 2008 at 2:08 pm

  4. Just to be clear – and in case anyone thinks I was trying to be personally offensive – the “typically ignorant” remark was not meant to refer to Derek Moscato – but to people who comment on fare evasion without looking at the real information that is freely available. Like Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie who somehow “knows” that fare evasion is far higher than Translink estimates. I expect better of a professional journalist than a professional politician.

    I will also concede, as I have done on many occasions, that we need much better data on our Transit system. I happen to think this would be a better place to invest money than fare gates. But I think that we can be fairly certain that if we invest a lot of money in gating SkyTrain the results will disappoint their advocates. In that event I trust that I will hear apologies from all concerned.

    Stephen Rees

    January 14, 2008 at 7:37 pm

  5. The fare gates are another step in the depressing trend of ‘command and control’ approaches to ridership by Translink.

    Todd Sieling

    January 17, 2008 at 6:01 am

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