Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 14th, 2008

Gates and smart cards on the way at Skytrain

with 26 comments


You may already have seen this on BEST’s trans-action listserve, where it was posted by Richard Campbell. I was strongly tempted to ignore this, since it has no news value at all. It is merely yet another announcement of something already announced. But it also repeats a number of falsehoods, which cannot be left unchallenged.

Skytrain stations in B.C.’s Lower Mainland will soon be outfitted with turnstiles, and users will have to adopt a Smart Card system, says the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (Translink).

The decision to end the infamous honour system was confirmed by B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon at a press conference in Vancouver, Wednesday.

This story is creditted to Darcy-Anne Wintonyk. I would like to ask her “Are you a reporter or an editorial writer?” The insertion of the word “infamous” is an unacceptable journalistic practice that inserts an opinion instead of a fact. If Falcon used that word then a quotation of him saying it is quite different. Proof of Payment systems are used all over the world and on most US rapid transit systems as a way to speed boarding.

Falcon says the turnstiles and Smart Cards will begin to be implemented by 2010, a move that he hopes will boost ridership on the system by making people feel more secure about taking the Skytrain.

“The only way you’re going to make it successful is if people feel like they’re safe. That’s certainly the lesson in London and Amsterdam,” Falcon said.

“They’ve seen an immediate reduction in criminal activities in their systems with the implementation of turnstiles and Smart Cards.”

The SkyTrain system is not actually especially dangerous. It has far more surveillance than other systems – although Translink’s cctv system has been in need of an upgrade for a long time, simply to ensure that images are still available after incidents. The real problem is that there are not enough eyes on the monitor screens and far too often incidents are missed, and therefore the tapes not marked for retention – so they get recorded over. Other systems do not usually have secret alarm strips in every coach, or two way communications for passengers with the control room (SkyTrain has both – look for that in vain everywhere else). Have “secure waiting areas” done anything to increase a sense of safety – or raised awareness that there is something to fear?

Skytrain staff like to hang around in bunches – which reduces the effectiveness of human presence on the system. The emphasis on ticket checking means that both police and attendants are not viewed by the public as a friendly presence – unlike the “Train Captains” on London’s Docklands Light Railway.

The Smart Card will work like a regular debit card, requiring passengers to prepa, load the card and then swipe it before and after they get off the train.

To obtain a card, Skytrain passengers will have to provide personal information.

This is a gross intrusion on the privacy of law abiding citizens. The state in all its forms has far too much information already, and tracking people simply because they want to ride the train is unconscionable. There would appear to be no cash alternative – which makes casual users much more reluctant to ride. In New York you can still pay cash – but many entrances and exits require the card to operate gates. So you have to go find a booth with a person to buy a card. And then predict how many trips you might have to make. I suspect that tourists over pay and the system happily keeps their money. There is certainly no widely advertised system of getting refunds on unused MetroCards that I could see.

Falcon says the cards, in conjunction with the turnstiles, should cut down on fare evaders, and is expected to increase Translink revenues by more than 20 per cent.

This is what they call a “hostage to fortune”. Not SkyTrain revenues you notice – but system wide. As though there is a lot of fare evasion on buses too. So I will keep an eye on that figure. And also note that Flacon forgot to give any kind of timeline. That gives him (or his successor) a way to dodge the inevitable shortfall – “it has not had enough time”.

The cards will also give transit officials a better picture of who’s causing trouble on platforms. This is because officials will have a detailed list of who is riding that particular line at the time.

I trust that the Civil Liberties campaigners will jump hard on this one.

Wednesday’s announcement comes at a time when Skytrain is under heavy pressure to ramp up security measures.

Last month, B.C. New Democratic Party MLA Adrian Dix said TransLink wasn’t doing enough to make the system safe for its users. He was referring to a string of attacks on women at Skytrain stations.

Dix collected 3,500 signatures on a petition demanding better security. The petition also made several proposals designed to increase safety, including better lighting, turnstiles and full-time security at all stations.

At the same time, Sheshleen Datt – an 18-year-old victim of a vicious Skytrain station attack in April – called on TransLink to make public transportation safer and more secure for all passengers.

But that ignores the fact that the assault in this case did not occur on SkyTrain. The technique is the same as was used by the Scarborough Rapist (Paul Bernardo) – who, by the way, was using the TTC so he had a ticket to get through their barriers. The attacker followed the victim from the station – or bus stop. It will be very easy for a would be attacker to conceal himself near a station and follow a victim without actually riding the system. And identity theft being such a huge industry so ill policed it virtually unpunished, it will be very easy for determined bad guys to give the system false information. Expect to have the police knocking at your door, when someone who has acquired your identity is shown to be using the SkyTrain, and you have to prove it wasn’t you. I have already had a somewhat similar experience, only with the police in Montreal – a city I have only ever visited once many years ago, but where someone has been successfully impersonating me – and repeated affidavits and complaints have failed to have him apprehended.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Kevin Falcon said the new measures will do a lot to make the transit system more secure and safe for people like Sheshleen.

“I think it encourages women to use the system late at night, especially at times when people feel a little less secure,” says Falcon.

It will not make the system any safer. It will make using the system more cumbersome and intrusive for law abiding passengers, but its security measures are so easily evaded it will be laughable for real villains – who simply regard such systems as a minor challenge. Anyone who feels more secure is deluding themselves.

And as for increasing ridership, how is that supposed to happen Kevin? The system is over capacity now – with passups commonplace, and overcrowding forcing people to let full trains go by as they are unable to board. (And when Canada Line gets like that, with no ability to lengthen trains or increase service frequency.) The only way ridership can grow is if you, as Minister of Transportation, stop indulging your fantasies, and your real estate buddies passion for sprawl, and start spending money on more trains and buses. Instead of gates for rapid transit and more freeway capacity.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 14, 2008 at 9:32 am

Posted in transit

An Urban Design Ideas Competition

This notice arrived in my inbox this week. In the press of moving which has taken up most of my time this week most of that has remained unread and I am only now catching up.

Regarding Place (or re:place) Magazine (which I have on my blog roll) was set up with the intention of being a Vancouver equivalent to Spacing Toronto and Montreal

(Thank you, Scott Waters, for the correction)


I’m Matthew Hague, one of the co-ordinators of thinkTORONTO, an urban design ideas competition organized by the award-winning Canadian magazine Spacing. We wanted to make you and your readers aware of this competition. We hope you can possibly announce the competition on your blog or forward it to anyone you might think would be interested in the competition so that they have time over the summer to work on concepts.
We really want to encourage students, recent graduates, and young professionals to take part in this competition — have them dust of their thesis or past projects so that they can share their ideas and talent with a wide range of people. It will give them a chance to add something to their portfolio — and if they are lucky enough to be a finalist or winner, their work will be seen by thousands of readers of our magazine and blogs, and be part of an exhibition gallery show. Our audience includes a large number of Toronto’s and Canada’s top city builders both in the public and private sector.
Please feel free to email us to discuss thinkTORONTO further. If any of this is of interest to you, I can put you in contact with Spacing’s publisher Matthew Blackett.
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DEADLINE: Monday, September 22, 2008
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thinkTORONTO invites people — 35 years old or younger — with creative ideas on how to improve Toronto’s public spaces. The competition that will help celebrate the magazine’s 5th anniversary in December 2008. Architects, urban planners, landscape architects, designers, artists of all disciplines, students, and the urban curious are all encouraged to submit their plans to tweak, improve, or redesign streetscape elements and specific areas of Toronto.
thinkTORONTO seeks ideas from the next generation of city builders who want to challenge how we view Toronto’s public realm. The competition gives participants a platform to explore and experiment with Toronto’s urban landscape and generate a dialogue among Torontonians about creative and sustainable solutions in our shared common spaces.
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Spacing focuses on the joys, obstacles, and politics of Toronto’s urban landscape. Since the launch of the magazine in 2003, Spacing has been hailed as an innovative publication that swings way above its weight. Spacing has changed the way the local media reports on public space issues and its editors and contributors are considered among the next leaders of Toronto. In both 2007 and 2008, Spacing was named Canadian Small Magazine of the Year by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors; Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett was given a Urban Leadership Award by the Canadian Urban Institute in 2007; in 2006 the magazine took home a gold medal in the National Magazine Award for Best Editorial Package, and in 2008 captured a silver medal in the same category. The magazine’s blogs have been consistently voted by numerous local publications as one of the city’s best online media outlets.

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Written by Stephen Rees

June 14, 2008 at 8:42 am

Posted in Urban Planning