Stephen Rees's blog

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

The Faregate Fraud

with 16 comments

Translink has just put out a news release touting the next phase of its combined Smartcard and Faregate program. Jeff Nagel called me about it – wanting a comment – and while I am waiting for him to call me back for a comment, I decided to put my thoughts on it in writing. It will be interesting to se how much of what i say makes it to the paper.

First off, Smart cards that passengers can preload are a very good idea. I used the Oyster card when I was in London last year, and was impressed with its ease of use. Though I did not appreciate having to wait in a very long line up at Victoria Station to buy one from the ticket office. I would have thought that this was the sort of transaction that could easily be done by a machine. I wanted two cards each loaded with enough value for three days unlimited travel in zone one only. The only real glitch – since recently fixed by a new agreement with the privatised national railway operators – was that it could not be used to take the most direct route back from Greenwich to Waterloo (we had gone out by river bus, and also used the card on that, but it just got us a discount not a ride).

Translink say that they are going to leave the present three zone (Monday to Friday until 1800) system in place. But also note that “new technology will have the flexibility to allow for new fare options and a greater variety of price incentives to reward customer loyalty and attract new people to transit”. Well you could do that now with the present system. You would just have to use the present cards’ mag stripe and have more people swipe than the present reliance on cards that are flashed at an operator – who usually pays no attention. Actually fare incentives simply get transit users to make more rides – and do very little to get people out of their cars. People who drive really are unconcerned about fares. So if spending this amount of money is thought to improve mode share – and those words never appear in Translink press releases – think again. But of course mode share increase should be the aim.

The claim is made that the cards will provide data – but the current system does that already. The data is largely ignored, simply because no-one has worked out a model to convert the swipes into rides. This is not too hard to develop if you have a good trip diary survey. Sadly Translink has never invested enough in asking basic questions about trip making: the sample we have at 0.4% is an order of magnitude less than that used by Toronto, for example.  Besides it has always been the practice at Translink to make up the ridership stats: much more fun and less work.

The real sticking point for me is the claim that gates make riders feel safer. They may do that, but riders will in fact be less safe. That is becuase once the gates go in there will much less need to have police patrolling the system and asking to look at tickets. This currently does not find many fare cheats but is valuable because it finds people with outstanding warrants and other offences. That won’t happen once the gates are there. (This issue is covered in earlier posts to this blog that you can find easily).

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

16 Responses

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  1. When I was at UVic in the early 2000’s, our UPass was contained within our student card, and we had to swipe it through the ticket machine as we boarded the bus.

    I wonder why TransLink doesn’t make all monthly passes with a mag stripe and then have all monthly and Upassers insert their pass in the current machines. It would be a great boon for data collection, no?


    December 17, 2009 at 6:20 pm

  2. Many TransLink passes already have a mag stripe. The problem is the current ticket machines on the buses are unbelievably slow and finicky.

    Way back in the early 1980’s I rode BART for the first time. Their fare gates had a wide slot that made it easy to insert your ticket or pass. The ticket zipped through the machine and was waiting for you on the other side so quickly that most regulars on the system didn’t even break stride at the gate. Tourists like me and my family fumbled to insert our tickets correctly, but could then proceed at full speed through the already open gate and pick up our tickets on the other side.

    Twenty five years later and we’ve got machines that are awkward to get a pass into and then take upwards of 5 seconds to grab, scan and return a pass to its owner.

    If everyone had to wait for their passes to be read and returned bus boarding times would double or triple and the system would be a nightmare to use.

    We need to use modern technology that allows people to have their fares checked without even slowing down. That way the able bodied get aboard quickly and our collective patience can be devoted to those who genuinely need more time to embark and disembark.


    December 18, 2009 at 11:51 am

  3. Also, the current farecard readers in our buses can only store 20,000 ID numbers (if I remember correctly), and so using the current technology, TransLink is unable to figure out who’s riding when–at least with the U-Pass system.

    There was talk at TransLink about moving to a SmartCard system, though the conversation seemed to fizzle after awhile.


    December 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm

  4. In many towns (including relatively small towns in France) transit smart cards don’t have to be inserted in a machine. All one does is quickly hover the card just above the reader (it can left in a wallet) while walking at a normal pace through the gates. That type of readers allows users to use cell phones loaded with a transit smart card chip.
    A couple of years ago already, just a couple of hours after landing in Japan, the guy ahead of me in a 7-11 near our hotel in a suburb of Hiroshima just waved his cell phone over a similar device to pay for drinks and a newspaper from the electronic wallet that is part of the transit smart card chip.

    What worries me is that TransLink smartcards may use an already obsolete technology (just like the current fare boxes we got when New York got better ones).

    I totally agree about Stephen, re security. In several major towns, neither gates nor turnstiles have deterred those that want to rob people or simply travel without paying.

    Red frog

    December 18, 2009 at 9:12 pm

  5. Hong Kong’s smart card – The Octopus card should be the model. An IC card which you just wave over the sensor.

    I lived in Hong Kong for a year (10 years ago!) and was blown away by the ease of use. The sensor was pretty powerful, so women could keep their card in their purse, and just wave the purse over the gate’s IC sensor as they walked through. I just waved my wallet over the sensor.

    It was very convenient since both rail companies (MTR,KCR), and all the bus companies had the Octopus system installed. Convenience stores had it installed too, so people would use their Octopus cards to make small purchases.

    Again, this was 10(!) years ago. As usual, we are years behind Asia technology wise.

    I haven’t been back to Hong Kong for several years. I wonder how far the system has spread. But it seemed to me that Hong Kong was on its way to a basically having electronic money.

    Yes, I think we should look to Hong Kong, when we talk about this new system.

    For one thing, Vancouver is on the Pacific Rim, not the Atlantic. Secondly, if you haven’t noticed, we have a lot of Hong Kong ex-pats here. They are obviously familiar with Hong Kong’s Octopus system. Why not use that to our advantage when talking about Vancouver’s system??


    December 21, 2009 at 9:44 am

  6. Regarding Japan’s system. The problem there is that there are several systems. For whatever reason, the companies didn’t want to cooperate, so you need to carry around several different cards. It is annoying.

    Even, the JR group companies couldn’t get their act together. While the JR card given out in Osaka, and Tokyo are compatible with each other, the one given out by JR in Nagoya isn’t.

    It is really hindering development of a nationwide standard.

    It might seem a bit crazy now, but if any other cities in Canada have plans to install IC cards, we should try and make sure they are compatible. It would pay off 10 or 20 years from now.


    December 21, 2009 at 9:58 am

  7. Alex, if you live in the Kanto the JR Suica is good for both JR and private railways, in the Kansai and Hiroshima areas the JR Icoca is also good for JR and all the private companies but each one is only good for JR transportation in other regions.
    According to my info the Toica card for Nagoya is also good for JR trains in the Kanto, Kansai, Hiroshima area..
    The compatibility is a work in progress and is really only of interest for relatively few people.

    Some of us remember the days, not so long ago, when there was no credit cards, no internet, no transit passes..So to us old timers who did nonetheless travel far and wide, whatever we have now sure is great.

    Red frog

    December 21, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  8. Ah, you are right about the Nagoya card. Strange. They must have recently fixed that.

    I was living in Nagoya when that TOICA card was introduced, and the fact that you couldn’t use it in Tokyo was an annoyance.

    But it is true that the TOICA (Nagoya) card won’t work with the Subway / Meitetsu railway which is JR’s big competitor in Nagoya.


    December 22, 2009 at 8:54 am

  9. What the ‘Oyster’ fare card and its cousin’s does do is apportion fares between various transportation companies, without the need of expensive accounting. Unlike TransLink which is the sole transit provider in METRO Vancouver, many cities have competing and/or privately run transportation companies and the ‘Oyster’ or a stored value card automatically apportions fares between the various transit companies and/or modes used.

    This is a very important issue with transpiration companies, having fares apportioned fairly.

    Of course the ‘Oyster’ card will also give the best value in transit fares and will automatically give the ‘best value’ in fares, which is important for peak/off-peak travel or zonal travel.

    With TransLink being the sole operator of transit in the region, the need for an ‘Oyster’ type card is not so pronounced – unless of course, Mr. Campbell and friends have a desire to privatize TransLink into competing transportation operating companies; then an ‘Oyster’ card system would make it much easier for privatized public transit. Just a thought.

    Malcolm J

    December 22, 2009 at 9:20 am

  10. Also remember, though, that Translink may be one umbrella organization, but each of its operating subsidiaries – Coast Mountain Bus, BC Rapid Transit Company, HandyDart, Westcoast Express, etc. must keep their own respective financial books in order since they are separate companies.

    Ron C.

    December 22, 2009 at 4:28 pm

  11. This may be true, but a “Oyster” fare-card system already in place, would make an easier sell if (and I stress if) the government wanted to privatize parts of the transit system.

    The “Oyster” card can also be used like a ‘debit’ card and can be used to purchase items in stores that sign on to the program (convenience stores mostly), watch for the banks to get their percentages on this one.

    There are many reasons to install “Oyster” or its kin in the region, but customer convenience may not be on top of the list.

    Malcolm J

    December 23, 2009 at 7:42 am

  12. To get people out of their cars and into transit I think that it would be good to look at discounts and modifications to car insurance. If you took transit to work for example you could purchase evening and weekend car insurance for say 50% of the regular full time insurance costs. That way total transportation costs would stay about the same. Right now if I take transit to work the reduction from “To/From work” insurance to “pleasure only” does not cover the cost of an annual bus pass. Letting me purchase pro-rated part time insurance would be a significant enough savings that getting the bus pass instead of the car insurance would make economic sense. Or at least I wouldn’t be hit up twice for transportation costs… first for car insurance and then for bus pass.
    And of course this would all work to reducing the need for projects like the Gateway Highway expansion and the South Fraser Freeway.

    Bernadette Keenan

    December 23, 2009 at 11:55 am

  13. For what it is worth Montreal is stepping up the police presence on its Metro system in an attempt to increase perceptions of safety. They have faregates and still lose about $20 million a year in fare evasion.


    December 27, 2009 at 4:50 pm

  14. “The real sticking point for me is the claim that gates make riders feel safer. They may do that, but riders will in fact be less safe.”

    Who cares? Perception is everything, and if it seems safer then that works favourably in convincing users to join the system.

    “That is becuase once the gates go in there will much less need to have police patrolling the system and asking to look at tickets.”

    You’re making the assumption that any decrease in crime from the gates would be more than offset by an increase in crime due to fewer police. That’s quite the statement given that you have provided absolutely no data to back yourself up. The exact opposite could easily be true.


    January 7, 2010 at 11:59 pm

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