Stephen Rees's blog

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

What will fare by distance mean?

with 30 comments

This is a post that I have considering for a while. It is not tied to any specific event – or even release of information – because on this topic there’s not a great deal. Translink is going to install faregates – because the previous Minister of Transportation instructed them to, and the current one is providing some funding towards that. I have discussed this here many times.   You can also read Translink’s justifications – both of those date back to 2009 (not that it appears on either page, you have to look in the address bar of your browser).

To summarize, gates are coming and then smart cards are coming later – which will allow a review of the current three zone system in use now Monday to Friday before 1830. That review is expected to allow for fare by distance – and the smart card will allow for “value loading” so that instead of you buying system access for a specified period of time – 90 minutes for cash or pre-purchased tickets, 1 day or 1 calendar month for passes – the system will deduct the cost of each trip as you make it. Many systems around the world have such stored value cards and I have used them in London, New York and Paris. In London I paid the equivalent of three one day passes in 2009, and found that after five days in London – and a return visit a year later – I still had enough value on the card to use the Underground for the trips I needed to make. The London Oyster card works out the lowest price for the trips you make on it. New York’s Metrocard (also produced by Cubic the current suppliers to Translink) was less flexible but almost as convenient. Translink has yet to chose a supplier for the new faregates, but it is probable they will also supply the cards as most systems are proprietary.

The exact terms of the new system are, of course, yet to be determined. But we can assess easily some of the impacts users will see. Firstly, for fare by distance to work the card has to interact with a reader as you enter and leave the system. Currently, fares are only checked on the way in – and on transfer. Even then, to speed things up, most frequent users have cards that are not read electronically, since the “dip” reader used takes far too long.  It is likely that Translink will chose a proximity reader – which means cards get read if you are close enough, without any need to swipe, touch or dip a card.  That will allow for a system that keeps delays to a minimum which is a significant benefit of arrangements such as all door boarding on B-lines. Similarly, gates should be open by default, and only close if there is no valid media present when someone passes through. This is a safety feature that allows for rapid evacuations – but those can also be achieved at supervised gates if there is an override control. Obviously, if passengers can open gates “in emergency” they will under other circumstances. This already an issue in New York where exit gates are frequently opened by people not holding keys legitimately, or using override controls designed for those with a special needs. The system there has seen drastic reductions in staffing, but many subway stations have multiple unmanned entrances/exits. If you cannot manage the turnstile or gate the system enables another door to be opened – but with an alarm. And that alarm is mostly ignored. In London, the stations are manned and the system is designed with a barrier line between the platforms and the street. If the gate rejects your media for whatever reason, you have to go to a specially provided window at the ticket office. Paris does not have that system – even at stations like Charles de Gaulle airport – which means passengers have to be quite creative (and physically fit) to get through with their luggage.

But I am less concerned here about the cards and gates than the loss of the three zone system during the day – one zone evenings and weekend we have now. The three zone system was designed when the majority of use was for commuting to downtown Vancouver. It is based on concentric rings around the City of Vancouver (plus UBC). That means City of Vancouver residents have a one zone trip for most purposes and many destinations and get dinged on the way to the airport, ferries and for trips to the ‘burbs. Everyone else gets a one zone trip for many domestic and leisure trips but may or may not have to pay more to commute.  The zone system was designed when the region was different – and transit subject to a larger degree of local political control. Since then, much employment has left the City of Vancouver for other places: much industrial and port land has been converted to other uses. While most municipalities have a variety of centres, very few have to the sort of centralized employment locations that transit can serve easily.  People like Kevin Falcon can even claim, with some justification, that the regional plan to concentrate economic activities in regional town centres has failed. Outside of Vancouver’s downtown most of the region has developed around the car and works like every other North American suburb. Jobs are now widely dispersed, and the Origin-Destination trip pattern is many to many, not many to few.

Two significant trends have emerged in recent years. The first stems from  policy decisions in further education: two universities built far away from everything else but with totally inadequate student accommodation.  The students get UPasses and overcrowded buses. And the universities are both developing residential land uses on their property as a way to replace public funding, not provide students places to live. The second reflects municipal decisions to try to attract non-residential development – since it provides a net tax gain – in competition with each other, and other cities. That means the developers build on green fields close to freeway interchanges (or equivalent). And that is as true in Burnaby as it is in Langley. So both post-secondary and employment commuting presents significant challenges to the transit system. But together are also the main source of ridership.

The concentric rings – and the radial pattern of rapid transit – did both help to optimize revenue collection, based on the old paper ticket/coin collection system. But anomalies are noticeable. A short trip across a zone boundary costs passengers a lot but very long trips possible through Zone 3 are cheap. Prior to electronic ticket machines, “long transfers” were one of the biggest sources of revenue loss. People expected to be able to complete a trip within the time allowed on a transfer (even though the tariff was no longer written that way) and operators usually obliged.

Oner of the appeals of the “fare by distance” system is that it will seem to better reflect the value users place on trips. Note that I am not talking about cost. The cost of carrying a passenger actually varies by a modest amount as distance increases. There is a large increment of cost – an “entry cost” if you like – with each passenger. But since people and equipment are employed in any event – and will travel the whole system most of the time – the fixed cost of system operations is a high proportion of total cost. That is why the first subways in North America, built by private enterprise, had a flat fare system. It kept fare collection costs low and gave longer distance passengers an incentive to use the system. Now that electronics are so cheap, and technology much more widely available, other systems look attractive. But it is also worth thinking abut how they impact users who have other alternatives available to them.  What deters people from using transit now is not the fare but the inconvenience and time to make a trip. For example, a two zone ride from Vancouver to Richmond now costs $3.75. If the origins and destinations are not in the centres near the Canada Line stations, there are two transfers. Journey time around an hour, but drive time 20 minutes or so depending on traffic. (A one zone trip from UBC to Boundary Road is actually longer but cheaper.) Some commenters here have questioned my personal mode choices, but the reality is that if time is an important concern, transit use when there is a car available and  parking is free is quixotic. Even when there is a parking charge, when the car carries more than one person, out of pocket expenses for a trip by car are usually lower than transit, even on weekends and in the evening. And of course car use is generally much more convenient: no waiting or transfers!

Many trips in this region do not have a rail option, and bus operations do cost more as people travel longer distances. But again, it is not system cost so much as passenger perceptions of value that matter when setting fare policy.  And those perceptions of value also have a component of memory in them: when you change any system there are winners and losers, and you need to be careful that you do not offend too many current riders. That is because it costs eight times as much to win a new passenger as retaining an existing one (or so the marketing gurus at Translink kept telling me).

If you now live in Zone 3 and make long trips within that zone, fare by distance is bad news. I suspect too that it could hit longer distance travellers within Zone 1 – especially those making the long trek out to UBC. Those who gain will be people who cross current fare boundaries on short trips. For instance, those who need to cross the Burrard Inlet but don’t go far on the other side. Expect much cheering from the North Shore. Trouble is, that is not a part of the region that is going to get many more people and therefore not much more transit either. Where transit is needed most – where it is currently carrying a very low share of the transportation market, and is very unattractive compared to driving – transit will undoubtedly cost even more to use. That is Langley and Surrey. And that is where the next million people to arrive in this region over the next twenty years will, by and large, be expected to live.  Those are also the people, by the way, who get hit hardest by tolled bridges  – Golden Ears now, Port Mann and Patullo at about the same time fare by distance hits.  So Translink is going to need to be insulated against political unpopularity even more than it is now.

There is also the question of what happens to short trips on transit within one zone. Fare by distance might make those cheaper, but that only gets you more people who now walk or use bikes for those short trips. That really does not help anything. People who walk in cities are important, for all kinds of reasons, but the one that gets noticed is that they are more likely to spend money as they travel. (People who get in a car in the garage at home and drive into the basement garage of where they work are not likely to dip into their wallet during that trip.)  A transit ride is an interrupted walk. I have long opposed the idea of free transit in downtown Vancouver for just that reason, and I expect that if fare by distance gives a break on short trips within one zone then it will also be counter productive, at least in terms of livability.

For that is the real question that seems to get ignored. As we have moved steadily away from multiple objective policy evaluations to simple, private sector driven “bottom line” impact analysis, many of the broader objectives get lost. Since Translink is increasingly viewed as being analogous to the Airport or the Port authorities, so many of the worthy social and environmental objectives of transit provision  are getting lost. Fare by distance is unlikely to measured in terms of long term growth of market share – or effect on greenhouse gas emissions (which is nearly the same thing) as it is by the cash flow it can generate. Short term, people have a hard time adjusting some of their travel patterns. But as we have seen, travel patterns do change, and are sensitive to price – and more sensitive to price in the longer term. (The technical term for this is longer term price elasticity and the place to go for more about that – and indeed all transport economics is Todd Littman’s site.)

If we had “joined up thinking” – or what we once called integrated transportation and land use planning – then fare by distance actually makes a lot of sense, as it would encourage people to make shorter trips – and, combined with road user charges and carbon tax, fewer mechanized trips. But the one glaring loss we have suffered in recent years is that of public subsidy of housing. (The Tyee has a thought up a way of dealing that.) Oddly enough, last night I was reading a poster, put up by the City of Vancouver in 200o, on a utility pole on Main Street in Riley Park, that lauded the sense of community and making do on little engendered by the Little Mountain housing project – which of course was recently pulled down and will not get replaced until a private sector developer is sure of making a great deal of money. Housing is steadily becoming unaffordable for new entrants to the market – or those on who we depend for all of the provision of our services. Health, child and senior care being areas mostly clearly hit already – and going to get very much worse quickly, but all the others too. Resorting to secondary suites (many of them still illegal) being about the only response currently available. The one thing I heard most often when I was doing public consultations at Translink was that people felt forced to live far from where they work – or unable to afford to live close to places well served by transit. This is not a concern of governments at any level now. Affordable housing gets lip service but no action. Rental vacancy rates are too small to measure, and house price increases large and rapid.

Transit has, in popular imagination at least, become steadily more expensive as incomes have remained nominally static – or declined in purchasing power. You can play games with charts but basically, since cash fares have been increasing in 25c lumps at widely spaced intervals, transit users feel they got hammered every time. Is perception important? Try this quote from Tom Prendergast

“The public firmly believes that fare evasion on SkyTrain is higher than has been measured in past audits.  The belief that the system is losing revenue due to fare evasion is very often cited as a reason not to support additional revenue measures needed to sustain and expand the transportation system.”

So the gates (and by impication smart cards and fare by distance) are not being introduced because there is a lot of money being lost on fare evasion but because Translink wants less opposition to “additional revenue measures” i.e. tax increases. And, of course, fare by distance will be approved only if it gets a higher take from transit users than the current system: they are not doing it because they want to get more use – they can’t cope with that anyway. They want more revenue.

As for fare evasion, it won’t be eliminated by any of those systems. It will be different, that’s all. Ticketless travel is already low. What is harder to detect – with any system – is the extent to which the passenger is entitled to use the fare media in their possession. Some people get concessions and deals. But just as blue parking badges get passed around, so do concession tickets and all sorts of passes. Indeed, if you have a monthly pass for your commute you are now entitled to lend it to your family members for their use at evenings and weekends: take the kids with you for free off peak. That’s revenue loss too, but calculated into the system. Oyster cards have been hacked. Passengers did get hold of duplicate keys that got them free rides on the New York subway.

And fare evaders are people like you and me. The people who make you feel unsafe on transit may well have tickets – but still nurture crime in their hearts. There’s no way of telling. Paul Bernardo preyed on transit users in Scarborough for years, but looked clean cut and well dressed while he did it. You might feel safer if there is a gate and a barrier, but you won’t be. And, if you are frequent transit user, you will be poorer.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

30 Responses

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  1. You’re absolutely right that fare gates will do nothing to increase safety. A pick-pocket will buy a ticket. And if I’m yelling for help at 11pm I’d rather a staff member near-by come running than a big metal machine sitting there humming away. Say nothing of the incidents that (typically) happen outside a station, which a keen staffer could call police, unlike said large metal humming machine.

    As for fare by distance, I’ve never been in favour of this model simply because it discourages casual transit usage. If I’m a commuter taking transit Monday to Friday, to pop to the grocery store on the weekend if I suddenly had to pay for each trip, I might consider taking the car. However if I had my monthly pass as I do now, there’s no additional cost for this casual trip, I’d be more inclined to bring my groceries home on the bus.

    I’ve written about this topic before as well:

    And I’ve grilled Ken Hardie on this topic many times, because I certainly don’t want to lose my monthly pass, I use transit almost exclusively and if I had to pay each trip I might elect to change my mobility habits. The word I keep getting back is the zone and monthly pass system isn’t going anywhere. I’m very glad to hear this and think there would be very strong resistance from regular transit riders to such a change.

    Matthew Laird

    July 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

  2. Will faregates save money in the long run? Will they make us safer? IMO i think i’ll be surprised with the results.

    According to the theory of situational prevention and, indeed, most of the literature on deterrence, potential offenders pay greater attention to the certainty of being caught than to the severity of the punishment if caught. [1]

    The most TL recent fare audit (that I can find) is the one from 2007, which calculates a 5.4% evasion level on skytrain and 1.6% evasion on the bus [2]. Critically, IIRC around this time was when TL decided to have drivers not enforce fares on buses. I wounder what a new audit will show for bus and resulting skytrain evasion rates.

    I agree with Mr Rees that I suspect a lot of the fare dodgers are ‘regular’ folks use the wrong fare (eg. a concession for an adult, or under purchasing the zones), whether on purpose or not. A simplified fare calculation like oyster has to be implemented for it to work.

    Finally, this was an interesting story – smart cards are no guarantee of safety, but they may be more handy than you think, safety-wise. [3]


    July 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm

  3. Mezz

    A NYC MetroCard is not a “smart card”. It is roughly equivalent to a Translink monthly pass i.e. a rewritable mag swipe card. As I said, both supplied by Cubic. Translink chose to use a dip reader, not a swipe, and did not use the “stored ride” feature

    Stephen Rees

    July 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

  4. Transit Smart cards have nothing to do with the fare system. They can be programmed every which way.

    Some transit systems charge one fare for single trips across the whole system, for example Bordeaux, Rennes, Toulouse, Lyon..and all have been using a smart card for years now. .
    As soon as you have zones, then this IS a distance-based fare system. Think about it for a while!
    Paris, London, Berlin, Milan etc. also use have smart cards and do have zones.
    Japanese towns like Tokyo, Osaka etc, use a distance based system at first glance but their fare list is based on zones of sort. In Tokyo: 160 yen for 1-6 km / 190 yen for 7-11 km etc. all the way to 300 yen for 28-40 km.

    The MOST IMPORTANT thing to understand is that in many transit systems, including the towns above, only INFREQUENT users are charged full price, whether a flat fare or a fare depending on the distance, when they buy a ticket for a single trip.
    Single trip tickets are discounted in many towns: in Paris 1 ticket (zones 1-2) cost 1,70 euros but 10 tickets only cost 12,00 euros.
    In London a single trip in zone 1 cost £4.00. With the Oyster card it cost £ 1.80 BUT the Oyster card cap the daily amount charged for an unlimited numbers of trips to £7.20 at peak time/ £5.60 off-peak.

    In many towns daily users buy commuter passes for a week, a month, 6 months (Japan) or a Year (Europe).

    These commuter passes offer a sizable discount, compared to buying each trip separately. Many monthly passes charge the equivalent of 15 to 20 return trips (depending on the town and other factors). Any other trip taken during the month is free.

    Of course children, students, seniors, handicapped etc. have discounted passes.

    In Japan commuters buy a commuter pass (loaded in a smart card or a phone) for a single route between home and work or school. That route may involve using various public and private systems. Any occasional trip taken outside the regular route is charged extra but the amount is always cheaper than if paying cash. And their fares haven’t changed for years..

    We must be very vigilant as TransLink / the Provincial government 1- don’t know much about transit in other jurisdictions and 2- want Transit to pay for itself…
    Do car pay their full share for roads and bridges?

    I can only agree with Stephen about the whole post.

    In the past revolutions were fought to get rid of aristocrats that didn’t even notice the ordinary people. At least these aristocrats had a refined culture and sponsored the creation of buildings, books and other works of art that we still enjoy today. What will be the legacy of our low-brow uncultured would-be “aristos”?

    Red frog

    July 5, 2010 at 7:09 pm

  5. “A NYC MetroCard is not a “smart card”. It is roughly equivalent to a Translink monthly pass i.e. a rewritable mag swipe card.”

    It lacks the RFID chip of a smart card. But it does more TL’s fare products, such as operating turnstiles and in this case, linking individuals to real-time transit use over different modes.


    July 6, 2010 at 12:09 am

  6. One thing that I was wondering is that would an electronic ticket system be a step towards also providing SkyTrain in the wee hours of the morning?

    I know that there are buses that between 1am and 6am ( when there is no SkyTrain ). But I also know a lot of people that would take the SkyTrain after getting out of a bar at 2am instead of a bus ( who right now either taxi or find a DD — or, god forbid, drive ). From a quick surveying of the Toronto, Montreal, New York and London subway system webpages, it seems like New York is the only city to offer subway service after 2am ( second place goes to Toronto, latest train at 1:50am ).

    It’s just something I’ve wondered about for a while now ( also on that topic, why don’t those commercials about drinking and driving ever mention the bus as a viable means of transport after drinking? ).

    Sean Hagen

    July 6, 2010 at 12:35 am

  7. I think it’s inevitable that fare gates will replace staff at stations. When combined with mezzanine’s point #1 (and basic common sense) it’s clear that safety will be worse with fare gates than it is today. As Matthew said, the machine isn’t going to notice someone following you from the station and won’t be able to call for help.

    I like most of what Stephen has said, but there is an element to fare by distance that he neglected to mention. As he stated, running a bus is sort of a fixed cost regardless of load. A full bus does consume more fuel and more stops equals more wear and tear, but those are overshadowed by labour and capital procurement costs.

    However, in terms of meeting demand the distance travelled by the passengers makes an enormous difference. A bus with a capacity of 60 passengers that fills at the first stop and doesn’t empty until the last stop only serves 60 people. One that has a more natural flow of passengers on and off along the way may serve more than 100 people. Thus fewer buses are needed to meet demand and non-linear fares guarantee that more revenue is generated too.

    Speaking of distance based fares, the system employed by taxis makes a good model. You pay a flat fee for getting in and then a time and distance based trip fee. Taxi fares seem high to me, but the system for calculating the fare makes sense. You need to pay a fee so the taxi will come pick you up and then you pay to ride.

    Personally I would charge for transit using a modified version of the taxi model. The “getting on board” fee needs to be set just high enough to discourage the use of transit for walking distances, but not so high that it discourages other local trips. Then I would charge in a straight forward manner for distance keeping in mind that a high turnover of seats means I can serve more passengers with the same number of vehicles. Finally I would invert the taxi system of charging for time and instead charge inversely for time. In other words I’d charge for speed. Taking a fast service 4km would cost more than travelling the same distance slowly.

    Many passengers see time as money and would understand paying more to save time. An interesting side effect would be that any unexpected service delay like a malfunctioning switch would automatically provide passengers with a discount for their inconvenience. While not necessarily good for the transit company’s revenue projections, such a discount would do wonders for public relations.


    July 6, 2010 at 1:13 am

  8. New York is very unusual in offering 24 hour subway service. Most systems – not just SkyTrain – shut down for maintenance overnight. It is obviously much safer to work on the track when there are no trains running.

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2010 at 8:31 am

  9. A Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag is not the essential feature of a smart card. RFID is simply a way of identifying the user to the gate/reader. A smart card incorporates a memory chip – just like a camera or a phone. The tickets used in Vancouver and New York only have the limited information storage capacity on the magnetic strip: New York uses that in read write mode – a Metro card can be “reloaded” – whereas Translink simply “validates” it (in the case of transfers) or reads it (in the case of tickets and passes).

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2010 at 8:37 am

  10. I dont want to labour the point, but Metrocards have individual serial numbers, offers features like automatic top-up from your debit/credit and balance protection if you lose the card. IIRC, the ‘memory’ capacity come from it accessing the central database when you swipe it. (ie, the card has little intrinsic memory on it physically. The ‘memory component is on the central database/server).

    The MTA took a similar fare product like TL’s and added enhanced features. A contactless RFID will make this process a lot simpler for users.


    July 6, 2010 at 9:07 am

  11. If you do not want to labour the point, why comment? Cubic design the fare system to meet the needs of each client – and in the case of Translink a three zone part of the time fare structure required a different configuration to the MTA which is flat fare all the time – leaving more room on the mag stripe for other data. The MTA does not have a smart card – or one with an RFID chip either come to that. Obviously one of my tasks as a moderator is to correct misleading information. Since I was part of the project team that brought electronic ticketing into being here I think it is possible that I may know a little more than you about it.

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2010 at 9:23 am

  12. “Since I was part of the project team that brought electronic ticketing into being here I think it is possible that I may know a little more than you about it.”

    Very interesting. Sorry if I was impertinent.

    If anything:

    -How did TL decide on the cubic product?
    -why did TL not implement feature that the MTA had, like fare-top ups and stored value?
    -what were the long-term objectives with electronic ticketing at the time?


    July 6, 2010 at 10:14 am

  13. Cubic was chosen after a competitive tendering process

    There is limited room for data on a magnetic strip. We had to have date and time of day on first use (since zones only apply on some days and at some times) plus the zone boarded and zone validity. Time of expiry was also needed for transfers. Plus of course value purchased and if a concession as well as security features to eliminate duplication. We also decided on “write once, read many” not rewrite to reduce cost of media.

    Objectives included data collection – we initially expected that passes would be dipped on board buses, but realized that sample surveys would allow faster boarding times later. It also eliminated the “long transfer” and the theft of transfers – sources of fare evasion prior to the introduction of magnetic media. There was also known to be a lot of short cash payment on buses – the handful of small change and time pressure to skip counting and discussion. Reading data on cards was also expected to be a lot more reliable than a quick glance at the media proffered.

    The system was designed to be upgradable at a later date to other types of media.

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

  14. A bit of clarification, Translink did not “decide” to no longer enforce fares on buses, they were mandated to do so by Worksafe BC due to the high number of assaults on operators over fare disputes.

    Its purely a driver safety issue.

    As for smartcards and turnstiles, the two issues aren’t interlinked. You can have smart cards to give you the real time usage information without turnstiles. Buses won’t have turnstiles.

    Having staff do regular fare checks is a far better use of resources and dollars. A turnstile can only sit there being a turnstile. A staff member can check fares, can help passengers in case of emergency or answer questions, help move crippled trains and keep the system running, and so many other tasks that a single purpose turnstile can’t do.

    Turnstiles and electronic fareboxes have an expected lifespan of 10-15 years. $100 million for 10-15 years. How many transit police could we hire for 10-15 years with $100 million dollars? That’s the calculation that needs to be done in order to make a “business case” for turnstiles (yes, I know, some are onetime fixed costs involved in upgrading the stations, let’s say $50 million then for arguments sake).

    One reason for the push for turnstiles by the province echos back to Willy Wooden Shoes original justification for Skytrain technology over LRT, no unions to go on strike. I’d much rather have someone paid to be there who can help in a crisis than a big metal machine humming.

    Finally one important thought to keep in mind if Translink were considering switching to a distance based model, the federal legislation giving a tax incentive for transit usage would no longer apply. The legislation requires a pass allowing unlimited transit use for a period of 7 continuous days or more. This is why faresavers aren’t eligible for the tax credit. I bet there would be a lot of grumpy transit users if they suddenly lost this tax credit, and the financial calculations for commuting by transit would suddenly shift slightly back to the car.


    July 6, 2010 at 11:13 am

  15. Quote: “New York is very unusual in offering 24 hour subway service. Most systems – not just SkyTrain – shut down for maintenance overnight. It is obviously much safer to work on the track when there are no trains running.”

    Especially with driverless transit systems!

    More and more light rail/tram systems are offering 24 hour service on lines that warrant 24 operation, but with little or no complicated signaling systems, they can operate cost effectively with very few staff on duty. Driverless transit systems need a full compliment of staff for operation.

    Quote: “I think it’s inevitable that fare gates will replace staff at stations.”

    Actually it will increase staff requirements, as you need someone to monitor the faregate system. Metro staff just do not check fares, but they also maintain the safety at stations for customers. Driverless transit systems, tend to have more staff to tend stations than light rail systems with drivers but with no station staff as stops can be as simple as a bus stop.


    July 6, 2010 at 11:15 am

  16. And the only time I ever felt insecure on a rapid transit system was on Portland’s MAX. Way out in the boonies somewhere, late in the evening in summer so still day light, but alone on the train. And a gang of youngish males looking for “fun and excitement” board and start goofing around. That was when I realized that there were none of the systems I had become accustomed to on Skytrain (silent alarm strip on the window, two way speaker phones etc) – just a driver locked away in her cab at the front of the train blithely unaware of what was happening behind her. On a station that’s “just a bus stop” passenger security is also simply ignored.

    Stephen Rees

    July 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

  17. @zweisystem

    FYI, Copenhagen’s automated metro runs 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday.


    July 6, 2010 at 2:05 pm

  18. I contacted the MAX folks in Portland, about the lack of alarm and/or communication devices on their LRV’s and the the answer I recieved was thus (somewhat confusing):

    “Yes, you are correct in that there is a two emergency buttons located on each train, there actually are 4 of them. There are 2 on either side of the train at both ends of the train at the doors.”

    Thank you,

    Jamie Smothers
    TriMet Customer Satisfaction


    July 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm

  19. Hmm, parsing this:

    “We also decided on “write once, read many” not rewrite to reduce cost of media.”

    looks like TL did not offer other features found in the MetroCard due to cost constraints. (correct me if I’m wrong…)


    @ Matt:
    “Having staff do regular fare checks is a far better use of resources and dollars. A turnstile can only sit there being a turnstile. A staff member can check fares, can help passengers in case of emergency or answer questions, help move crippled trains and keep the system running, and so many other tasks that a single purpose turnstile can’t do.”

    But the largest and least-controllable driver of costs in most transit agencies is staff. And operational costs are 100% TL’s. With gates, we have capital funding from other sources (Victoria and ottawa).

    You also raise the issue of staff/rider conflict for fares. I see gates as a way to move the conflict to a very visible and more-easily enforceable area

    And anectdotally, in the fare checks that I have undergone, skytrain staff never check to see if i have the right fare, or even if it is expired or not. I am unsure if the staff can read the strip where this info is printed on the ticket.


    July 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm

  20. I contend that the additional operating cost of a system with gates will cause further budget problems and lead to the lay off of staff. If the gates truly need monitoring then the existing staff will be deployed there instead of roaming the stations as they do now. I’m going to go out on a limb and say TransLink is going to try to operate gates with only closed circuit cameras to monitor them. Those needing assistance will have to either pray for an attendant to wander by or use the “courtesy phone” to summon one. Only when a machine breaks down will you see transit security or police at the gates.


    July 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm

  21. @David: “I’m going to go out on a limb and say TransLink is going to try to operate gates with only closed circuit cameras to monitor them.”

    For lightly used stations (lake city, patterson), I would have to agree with this. For more intensly used stations (WF-broadway, metrotown, NW, gateway-KG) I would would be surprised if TL didn’t staff the gates.

    The link below takes you to a study done in 1992 for London’s underground and the installation of gates. Of note, gates were installed in the central stations at the time, but not in lesser-used suburban stations.

    Click to access 07clarke.pdf

    “The results of before-and-after surveys undertaken by the management of the Underground suggest that fare evasion has been cut by two-thirds and that the additional revenues generated should soon pay for the cost of installing the automatic gates”


    July 6, 2010 at 9:49 pm

  22. I am not sure what station staff you guys are talking about…the only ones I see are on their way to somewhere else, they don’t stay by a booth in each station, as they do in many other transit systems..

    About gates reducing fare evasion..considering the huge number of people using London transit it is not surprising that there was lot of fare evasions…our numbers are much smaller.
    It all depends on the type of gate too. High gates prevent people from jumping over them, low gates don’t. At any rate I have seen people pushing their way in through both types of gates by standing tight against the paying customer walking in just before them and pushing them through the gate..a rather unpleasant experience for that person..
    Note that in many cities in Europe buses and LRT are boarded by all the doors. But they do have roaming inspectors. In the Japanese city buses I have used to board in the back and pay at the front by the driver, then exit

    The current Transport for London site has a page about the benefits of walking!
    quote: ” Walk to work Have you ever considered getting off the bus or Tube a couple of stops early and walk the rest of the journey? Or would you like to fit walking into your busy day? ”

    “Walking Meetings Instead of staying in your usual stuffy room, why not hold a meeting on the move? ‘Walking Meetings’ – you talk while you walk – are a great way to get some energy and generate some innovative ideas. Find out how to hold a walking meeting…”

    Red frog

    July 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm

  23. Mezzanine,

    didn’t read your link yet, but just want mention this quote from

    “As turnstiles are being installed, fare inspectors have been catching more fare evaders at the next available “open” station”

    what provide strong counterpoint to the assertion of your study. As mentioned by Redfrog, fare dodger need to acclimate to new circomstance and usually what happen in weeks after new turnstile device are installed say nothing of what happen one year later. The study you mention seems based on number collected in the first week after installation of turnstile…

    at the time of the mentioned study when only some tub station was equipped with turntsile, the general lost revenue due to fare evasion was estimated at 3.47%…
    Paris subway fully equipped with turnstile see fare evasion in excess of 10%…

    And see here for a reality check of how turnstile prevent fare evasion and improve security.

    like girl will be happy to know a camera will record potential rape attempt, turnstile will not replace human presence, what is the ultimate security device: period.

    Back to the smartcard. yes RFID is not the essential feature of the smartcard, but really when the user speak of the smartcard: it indeed thinks of the RFID feature: from Octopuss to Oyster, it is what people like…

    Regarding original post topic. I see distance based pricing as virtually impossible to put on bus, limiting the impact of such a policy, which could be put in place only on skytrain in order to smooth the zone boundary effect. so I think there is not too much to worry on it.


    July 7, 2010 at 1:01 am

  24. “I see distance based pricing as virtually impossible to put on bus” usually towns have 2 types of buses. One within the city itself, another for close suburbs and towns that are farther away in the region. This means different fares. City buses have a flat rate, the others–often owned by private companies–charge by the distance, just like commuter trains.
    In Paris the basic metro ticket allow transfer from metro to bus but NOT from bus to metro. But then buses in any city with rapid transit are mostly used for short distances.
    On my first visit to Paris and London their buses had a distance-based fare. A conductor would come around, with a machine around the neck, and give you a ticket that was made of several strips of flimsy coloured paper, each colour for a certain section of the route…something like that.

    French cities, even small ones like Rennes and Bordeaux, make life easier for commuters by having 2 different type of passes, one for city travel (weekly/ monthly/ yearly) and one for suburban/intercity regional travel (weekly/ monthly)loaded in a transit smart card.

    This of course has been common practice in Japan for longer than in Europe. Japanese transit smart cards also have an e-wallet section, allowing transit users to pay for small purchases.
    They even have credit cards that are also loaded with commuter passes..
    AND a JR smart card for the greater Tokyo can be used in other cities in the country..Greater Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka etc. while THEIR cards can be used in the Tokyo region (with a restriction:on JR transportation only)

    One thing that is not discussed is how we will pay for the TransLink monthly commuter pass loaded in our smart card. In many other cities the fee is automatically withdrawn for a bank account (in London you get a confirmation e-mail) or you can use a machine and either cash or a credit card. Getting a smart card set up the first time takes a while…I can’t wait to see the crowds lining up..

    Red frog

    July 7, 2010 at 11:58 am

  25. @mezzanine:

    Yes funding for the fare gates is coming from province and federal government, however the real issue is why will these higher levels of government only fund what THEY want and deem sexy projects rather than what the agency on the ground who know what they need want funded?

    Its a larger question of how we fund public transit in Canada and the fact that cities and regional districts are pretty much left to flounder for themselves with unsustainable funding models, while higher levels of government ignore and wash their hands of the problem.


    You felt unsafe on deserted MAX platforms without station staff? Obviously you haven’t ridden Skytrain recently outside of rush hour, not a station attendant to be seen, anywhere. It might as well be an LRT system with bus stop style stations.


    July 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

  26. Matt: a deserted station and a un-staffed one are a different thinks.

    unsafety feeling come from of lack of human presence in general: that is true of station like of street.

    a surface LRT can have an apriori advantage on subway, when their route is shared with other traffic bringing presence.

    but the subway usually with higher ridership/station usually can overcome it, especially if the station are designed to be visible by “eye on the street”.

    to be sure, the original skytrain station are poorly designed in that regard, but certainly safety feeling is much better than the one to be almost alone at an LRT station in the middle of a P&R, what is the typical North american experience outside rush hour.
    …For the reason exposed above, safety feeling has been measured by a study of city of Calgary to be higher at bus station than at LRT one.


    July 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm

  27. Not sure if this was mentioned in a previous comment, as I didn’t read them all.

    There seems to be this assumption that if we do go to fare based distance. That zone fares would be gone. Why can’t we have a mixture of both.

    An example would be I pay for a monthly 1 zone fare for zone 1 on my future smart card. Just as with my current monthly pass. I would be able to go anywhere in zone 1. Now if I cross over to another zone, I would then start to pay by the distance I travel in the other zones.

    Of course if someone paid for a 2 zone pass then they can go anywhere in their 2 designated zones.

    Paul C

    August 8, 2010 at 6:50 am

  28. You clearly do not understand the concept of “fare by distance”. The current zones would be eliminated as they only look at distance from downtown Vancouver, and that very crudely. The idea is that long trips (including those now within one zone) would pay more and short trips (including those now across zone boundaries) less. A stored value system, such as that used by London’s Oyster card would calculate the fare based on a new tariff for each trip as it is made, but would incorporate whatever discounts there might be by time of day or number of trips made.

    Stephen Rees

    August 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

  29. Actually I do clearly understand the concept of “fare by distance.” I’m about 50% for the idea. It would depends a lot on how it affects the general public as a whole. In some cases people would be worse off and having to pay more. Yet in other cases people would end up paying less.

    My only thought is why can’t you have a mixture of both. I’m not saying it will be that way, and chances are it won’t be. Or put another way, why would the system have to be “fare by distance” and only that and nothing else.

    Paul C

    August 13, 2010 at 3:10 am

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