Stephen Rees's blog

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

Gates for rapid transit, smart cards won’t come fast

with 17 comments

Jeff Nagel, Richmond Review

More of Falcon’s posturing shown up for being totally unrealistic. A good analysis of how much it has cost and how long it has taken other systems.

But that doesn’t  stop Bill McNulty giving his ill informed opinion

“I’m amazed there’s anything left to study on the installation of fare gates,” he said. “The province has been investigating fare gates since the 1990s, jurisdictions across Canada and the globe already successfully use them, so the time has come to stop investigating and start implementing the solution.”

How someone can be so ignorant of basic math and still get elected defeats me.

Falcon last fall ordered TransLink to quickly pursue a gated system in concert with smart cards to cut crime on the transit system, reduce fare evasion and counter the threat of terrorism.

Gates do NOT reduce crime. Both London and Paris have gated systems – and a major crime problem. Pickpockets have always found the crowded trains an easy place to work. Any time you get crowds jostling and shoving each other, as they do, the dips find easy picking. And they buy a ticket to get on board because it is a very small investment with a very high rate of return. Fare evasion continues to be an issue after gate installation. Many fare evaders simply regard it as a game – just like the phone phreaks and computer hackers. I don’t know about countering threats – there actually has been decline in threats being issued – the bombers on the Underground on 7/7 bought tickets and passed easily through the barriers. The electronic ticketing system offers no defense at all against a suicide bomber.

What we do know is that these systems have very high capital costs. And they have no effect at all in increasing ridership or market share. Current conditions show that we are barely keeping pace with the growth of population and travel as market share is static. Ridership is up as is service, but so is overcrowding and passups. We need investment in our system – mainly to increase its capacity – not to satisfy the false assumptions of loud mouths like McNulty and Falcon. Who seem to be only too ready to spend your tax dollars on stupid projects that appeal to their strange sensibilities but would never recognise a good idea if it came up and bit them. Like buying more buses and skytrain cars to ease overcrowding. Or extending bus services into poorly served areas, and increasing frequencies as a way of attracting more usage.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Posted in transit

17 Responses

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  1. It’s strange that despite all the excellent reasons against a gate system, I still wish there was one. I am an honest person and will always pay my fare on SkyTrain and Calgary’s CTrain (also uses the honour system), but I always wonder about other people. I have no desire to cheat the system, but I hate knowing that there are people onboard who may not have paid.

    My intellectual side tells me that the money should not be spent on gate system, yet my emotional side wants one to justify my having paid for a ticket. I wonder if there are many other people out there who feel like this? We know it isn’t money well spent, but it makes us feel better anyway.


    March 22, 2008 at 7:28 pm

  2. no gates – no way – it will just cause -more local car thefts -muggings begging, and never pay for itself, ……………………….also suppose your daughter ,your son ,has no money ,they over spent on a weekend -do you want them hitchhiking! also it means there would be no reason to have physical staff at these stations! so there would be more people loitering ,more drug dealers, SO IF FOUL MOUTH (FALCON ) WANTS THE STAIONS SECURE -SIMPLY HAVE THEM MANNED BY ……….EMPLOYEES! ………………………….signed…………………………..the prisoner

    grant g

    March 22, 2008 at 7:46 pm

  3. It’s completely reasonable that you would want to feel the fairness in paying for your ticket and knowing others paid, too. But it’s also not your problem. You’re doing what’s morally right, and it’s TransLink taking the fall for fare evaders. The solution isn’t gates… it’s, like Grant said, employees. I’m fairly certain that at the peak hours during which I travel most, most users are working folk with passes and tickets. It’s pretty hard to check when the train’s so full. In years of riding the train, though, I think I’ve had my ticket checked less than 10 times. Of the 3 or 4 times I’ve seen them pull somebody off, it’s usually because they’re either unaware of the fare structure or they’re just stupid, not because they’re blatantly trying to get a free ride.

    Erika Rathje

    March 22, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  4. My experience with fare checks has been that there are very few evaders – perhaps one on a SkyTrain car with 20-odd people on it, occasionally two, and often none. Maybe the situation is different at peak hours, but I doubt it. Though that’s not much of a sample, it points to an evasion rate of less than 5%, which seems pretty good to me.

    The honor system is quite common. I ived in Switzerland for a time and I believe all the transit systems I encountered there used it. There are real benefits for buses, such as permitting pass or punch-ticket holders to load by the rear doors – I believe OC Transpo in Ottawa does (or did) this. The honor system implies that people are trustworthy, which makes me feel that I am in a society of honest people. Often people are more honest when they are trusted – enforce compliance and they no longer feel responsible for regulating themselves: everything goes so long as you don’t get caught.

    In the gated Paris metro, I have seen whole gangs of youths vaulting the turnstiles with no concern for anyone watching. Toronto’s TTC is wonderful, but the teeth on some of those rotating gates for the subway make me think of the Monty Python architect who designed an apartment building with rotating knives. It’s certainly difficult to move luggage through them. (Which makes me wonder how TransLink plans to deal with bikes.)


    March 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm

  5. The sad part is that even if Falcon realized his mistake and wanted to go back on his decision, he has already committed himself publicly and to go back on his decision would make him appear weak or unable to stay a course.

    The only hope of fare gates not going in is that the process will be delayed until he’s voted out of office…


    March 22, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  6. Estimates of fare evasion put it at around 6 to 8%, which is pretty common. NO system system has 0%. Gated systems need to be staffed to manually open a gate to allow wheelchairs, bikes and people with heavy baggage through. It will be impossible to recover the capital costs – because the Expo line stations will have to be rebuilt to allow for emergency exits – but that does not include the operating cost of having staffed stations.

    Most people who ride the SkyTrain have transferred from a bus or have a pass – that is why you do not see many people use the ticket machines or ticket validators. And it is that kind of observation that convinces people that fare evasion must be much higher than it is. Early press reports of Falcon’s statements carried rebuttals from Translink police – but of course that is not enough to convince McNulty or Brodie.

    The Feel Safer argument rests on an illusion. I rode the Portland Max – which has a driver. But she was locked away in a cab at the front and was totally unaware of what was happening behind her. When the train was swarmed there were none of the safety features we have on SkyTrain, like the silent alarm or the speakerphone.

    The best parallel I can think of is the system at some stores where they insist on searching your bags at the door even though they saw you get the bag a few seconds earlier from the cashier, and you have a receipt still in your hand. Most stores acknowledge problems with “shrinkage” and pass it along as a cost of doing business – just like the way that the credit card companies deal with fraud. Treating everyone as potential criminals – as we now do with air travellers – is not very civilised – or especially effective come to that.

    Stephen Rees

    March 23, 2008 at 6:32 am

  7. we need a universal bus pass like the U Pass for more organizations.
    It creates incentive to take transit AND it builds a culture of ridership.
    With having the upass for such a long time I find that bussing is first on the list when transporting myself. It’s easy, no fuss no muss way.
    Increase the universal pass program, then you increase the amoutn of guaranteed dollars that go into the transit system. Increase ridership and increased duaranteed dollars means ability to make better public transit systems because you have a) critical mass and b) more money.

    it’s a win win situation.

    no to gates. distubs the flow of people, will just get in my way and will be a waste of money.

    most of us do the moral thing and pay the fare. but universal passes would be better becasue then you know that EVERYbody is contributing to the system and in turn they getunlimited rides.

    save the UPASS!


    March 23, 2008 at 12:21 pm

  8. I would like to agree with the UPass idea but right now we cannot afford it. The way things are structured by our so called Minister of Transportation we have to increase fares and property tax and ags tax all at the same time. Because the transit system does not have enough money. But Translink is a Transportation Authority devoting more of its energies to the road network. Who would have thought ten years ago that the replacement of the Albion Ferry would become the first priority? Or that spending money on propping up downloaded provincial bridges would be more important than buying more SkyTrain cars?

    First we need a stable new source of income, and then we need a determined push for more transit capacity across the region and a restored commitment to an increased mode share. We were supposed to be at 17% of all trips by now. That means buying lots of buses, and finding lots more operators. And not spending money on high priced underground rapid transit systems that do not carry more than could be easily managed on an exclusive bus lane and serve a small area.

    It is not the fares or the fare collection system that deters people from using the transit system. It is the relative speed and convenience compared to driving. And until we start tackling that problem we are going nowhere.

    Stephen Rees

    March 23, 2008 at 12:39 pm

  9. Which is why the Bogota BRT system is so effective I suppose.


    March 23, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  10. Compared to our B-Lines I mean. And the fare gates are built right in!


    March 23, 2008 at 7:17 pm

  11. Maybe Falcon’s devious plan is to bottleneck transit users and open the stream for drivers (until it gets clogged up again).

    You probably know about this already, Stephen, but I just found out Ray Betler, President of Total Transit Systems at Bombardier is speaking in Vancouver (postponed to April 29). No detais on the Vancouver Board of Trade website as to what it’s about though.

    Erika Rathje

    March 23, 2008 at 7:30 pm

  12. I did not know. But I also do not monitor the BoT.

    Stephen Rees

    March 24, 2008 at 7:56 am

  13. Corey – Bogota has a very large population and much of it is very poor indeed. It also has a Mayor who is committed to lifting the condition of the poor despite living in a country that is dangerous – life threateningly so – to those who do not serve the interests of the narcotics cartels.

    You might have also noticed from the picture of the Curitiba transit stop on their busway (see the Geller’s world post) that the turnstile has an operator. The transit system there not only makes it possible for people to get to work cheaply, it is also itself an important source of employment.

    Here we cannot even recruit enough bus drivers

    Stephen Rees

    March 24, 2008 at 8:18 am

  14. In Stuttgart we use the Honour system, backed up with plainclothes inspectors and an instant, minimum €40 fine for dodging. I think I’m checked once a year, but of course I don’t travel that extensively. We also have uniformed patrols in major stations and they travel on the trams occasionally in the centre. It seems to work.

    When travelling in Japan, I noticed that most stations have barriers As Stephen says, this means they need need staff on a disabled entry. They also have no through-ticketing between companies, so you may have to go through several barriers if you change trains. Then there are checks on the train, chesks when you come off the train… Where there are rural services and some stations have no barrier, a complex system of door opening and an eaqually complex machine ensure you can’t get off without surrendering your ticket. Horrendusly expensive and rather OTT, but it seems to be standard.

    Andy in Germany

    March 25, 2008 at 7:45 am

  15. In Amsterdam, fare evasion was rampant, so much so that the transit authority hired conductors to collect fares on the trams. So effective were the conductors that they generated revenue that paid their wages and still paid money to the authority!

    The problem with SkyTrain is:

    1) There is no independent annual or semi annual audit of ridership. TransLink can claim what they will, with no fear of repercussions and it has been in TransLink’s interests to embellish ridership.

    2) Without honest ridership figures, there can be no calculation of true fare evasion numbers.

    3) The 1993 Ahad report on SkyTrain found that BC Transit played fast an loose with ridership calculations and fare evasion numbers! Has TransLink changed? I doubt it.

    This may be a scenario that has fueled the fare evasion myth. TransLink claims higher and higher ridership, yet transit revenue stayed the same, with many politicians concluding that a large number of transit users are not paying their fares. In reality, it could be that the revenue received is a realistic indication of ridership.

    In Europe, the UK and the USA, there are Federal agencies that audit ridership on public transit systems to ensure that the statistics are correct. In BC, there is no such audits done and even the Auditor General has been forbidden to audit SkyTrain.

    As we embark on a $14 billion transit program, should there not be an independent audit of the metro system to ensure that: 1) Fare evasion is the same as other transit systems and 2) that the taxpayer is getting good value for his buck.

    D. Malcolm Johnston

    March 27, 2008 at 8:09 pm

  16. “As we embark on a $14 billion transit program” – well we are not yet – maybe you should write “IF we embark …” There is no $14bn commitment. The province added in money already being spent on the Canada Line – which of course was supposed to some from the p3 not the province – and is not an increment as it is already committed. The vast majority of the rest is supposed to come from other agencies – and none of it any time soon. None of those agencies has said they will cough up either.

    When I worked for Translink, ridership numbers were calculated from revenue. But the calculation depends on the notion of the “average fare” which is determined by dividing revenue by ridership. So that had to be estimated using sample surveys, occasional counts, and the “fare audit” conducted by staff. When external auditors reviewed that process they were frankly baffled. It was a little bit better than an outright guess but not much. But as we have seen in so many other cases, accounting firms will sign anything – just ask the unfortunate shareholders of Enron or World Com. Indeed it got so bad that Arthur Anderson, one of the big three firms, had to change its name to Accenture.

    When I worked for the Greater London Council at least one report that I had written went out with an accounting firm’s name on the cover – because it was thought to lend it credibility that a staff report would not have.

    Stephen Rees

    March 28, 2008 at 8:14 am

  17. A note on ridership calculation.

    Calgary’s LRT system conducts 3 ridership counts per year, where all passengers entering the system are counted all day at each station. The result is Calgary’s transit officials know exactly what’s going on. In Vancouver, no such luck.

    A quote from the 1992 Ahad audit of BC Transit.

    3.12 Revenue leakage.
    There is significant revenue leakage through the barrier free SkyTrain stations. This leakage is estimated at between $10 million and $20 million annually. The current fare evasion monitoring program is not statistically verifiable and the V. P. of SkyTrain concurs with this. Please see Pete Marwick Report of March 6, 1992 confirming falsification of fare evasion reports.

    Only a fool would invest in SkyTrain and the banks are no fools!
    Now in 2008, have things really changed?

    Malcolm J.

    March 28, 2008 at 1:51 pm

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