Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 21st, 2008


with 4 comments

I don’t usually write about my present job here, but this morning was so unusual that it set me thinking and then I came across this Globe and Mail article.

Native fishermen on the lower Fraser River got their first opportunity to set nets for sockeye salmon last night amid concerns that the run might be so small there will be few other openings.

“It’s our first chance and it could be our last,” Grand Chief Clarence Pennier of the Sto:lo Tribal Council said yesterday as community members prepared to go out on the river.

It is pretty quiet most of the time on the Canoe Pass/Westham Island Bridge (it’s the same bridge – both names are in common usage). This morning in the space of four hours it opened more times than in the whole of the last four days.

“Only after the last fish has been caught …” is a Cree prophecy – I have a poster of it from a hereditary chief.

I have a very sad feeling that we may be seeing that in the case of the Fraser sockeye. The habitat has been systematically destroyed ever since Europeans arrived here. But the warming of the water is, I think, the final straw. Many years of over fishing – and the disgrace of putting fish farms in the middle of wild salmon runs – did not help either. But global warming has already brought new species into our waters – and the development of the port will see much more salmon habitat go, as will the construction of the SFPR.

Maybe the fishermen are just doing what the people who are buying SUVs are doing. It is the last hurrah. The world will be different – and no-one will be able to eat fresh Fraser salmon or afford to drive a honking big truck for no good reason any more. So make the most of it for now.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 21, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Oyster card hack to be published

with 6 comments


The Oyster card is the smart card used by London Transport, Hong Kong and the Dutch rijkpas. Not only has its security been compromised, making it possible to produce fake cards, but it has been now been done at least three times (that are known about) and a Dutch court has now agreed that one of the research groups can publish how to do it.

The reason I chose to bring this story to your attention is that our government is forcing Translink to adopt tougher security measures in an attempt to defeat fare evasion which it says will make people feel safer. The whole premise is, of course, nonsense. All systems have some degree of evasion. This costs money, of course, but usually not as much as trying to eliminate it altogether.

The Paris metro has gates – and every day someone somewhere leaps over them. The gates do not prevent fare evasion, but they are a dreadful nuisance to law abiding users who happen to have luggage, as there are very few places where the gates can be overridden legitimately. The Paris metro is not accessible – and does not try to be. It is also not a safe place. Pickpockets have always loved the crowded metro trains and continue to operate with impunity. If you feel safe on the metro because every entrance is gated then you are seriously deluded.

Just like computer security, there is a a constant escalation of the fight between the hackers and those who want to keep systems secure. How much do you spend on your computer security? Do you think spending a lot more money would be the best way to protect yourself?

Revenue loss is a problem, but not a very big one. And any rational analysis would be based on a sensible estimate of loss and a realistic appraisal of the the cost of reducing it. Gating SkyTrain has never passed that test.

The idea that fare evasion and danger to the public are the same issue is also fallacious. People intent on committing crimes do not draw attention to themselves, if they want to avoid detection. The daily haul of the average Paris pickpocket far exceeds the small investment in getting legitimate access to the system. But the sort of crime that people fear on SkyTrain is not the pickpocket, but the threat of violence. Now people who use violence to intimidate passengers are not especially rational. And their judgements may well be blurred by the use of chemicals – legal and otherwise. That this risk has not changed despite the extensive use of cctv and now armed police – and some of the most advanced communications seen on rapid transit anywhere – suggest to me that the introduction of turnstiles is irrelevant. Besides, the fare evader is mostly not a career criminal. He or she is exactly the same kind of respectable citizen who thinks that tax evasion, or getting a satellite tv signal for free or jamming a parking meter is reasonable – a way of “beating the system” or “sticking it to the man”. They also think that getting fake id is useful, or buying goods at odd places for remarkably low prices is a sensible economy, or getting stuff south of the border and not paying duty on it on their return. And they never, ever obey a speed limit and run red lights too if they think they can get away with it.

There is a line between being law abiding and not – and it moves all the time. Most people will not deliberately break the law, most of the time. But they will break it, if there seems to be no fear of consequences. You will drive through a red light – if it is late at night and there is no traffic and no-one around. If everyone is driving at 60 in a 50 limit, you will too. And you will all slow down if someone sees a marked police car.

People who feel unsafe on our transit system are simply responding to the information they have been subjected to. And ever since SkyTrain opened it has been associated with crime by the media – and many others. Yet the vast majority of users, most of the time, are safe – and much safer they they are on the street. Most drivers of motor vehicles think they are safe – and many flout the law all the time. And we, as a society, pay a very high price for this delusion. Yet our Minister of Transportation wants to spend large sums on making a safe transit system no safer, but is unwilling to spend small sums to make some of our most dangerous places safer. Because he does not understand – or chooses to ignore – rational economic analysis – and prefers to play to the gallery, and bolster current popular misconceptions.

And if this silly idea goes ahead, fare evasion and security will not be improved but the the system costs will be much greater than they need to be.

UPDATE Tuesday July 22

Metro directors oppose SkyTrain gates

A carefully worded resolution by Metro Vancouver directors is urging the provincial government to give the notion of installing turnstiles at SkyTrain stations careful thought.

They “respectfully” requested that a decision on gating rapid transit stations should be based on a financial and security analyses, telling the transit authority that “the greatest transportation need for citizens of Metro Vancouver is additional service, which means more buses and more rapid transit lines.”

But some directors used less diplomatic language during the discussion Friday.

Surrey Leader

Another UPDATE July 26

London Transport Oyster Card System Breaks Down for Second Time: Bloomberg

The agency opened barriers at London Underground stations across the city, allowing free travel after today’s breakdown.

Sometimes “proof of payment” (or the honour system, of you like) just seems a whole lot easier.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 21, 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion