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Archive for the ‘Fare evasion’ Category

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

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

Millions of dollars in transit fines go unpaid

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It never ceases to amaze me what passes for “news”. This story, which appears in today’s Province, merely confirms what fare evaders have known for years. And everyone who has worked for Translink or its predecessors in the area of fare evasion. If you are caught without proper authority to travel within the fare paid zone, and you are issued with a fixed penalty notice, nothing happens subsequently if you do not pay the penalty. Translink can take no further action since the collection of unpaid fines is not their business. The fine revenue goes to the province of BC. Not that there is very much.

This year, transit cops checked 374,000 people and handed out 11,500 tickets for fare evasion. …

The Insurance Corp. of B.C., which keeps track of ticket collections, was only able to provide The Province details through the end of June: 9,909 tickets handed out and 1,423 paid. There were 142 tickets partially paid and 6,829 unpaid — leaving $1.181 million in outstanding fines.

In 2008, 14,400 tickets were handed out and 11,300 went unpaid, for an unpaid-fine total of $1.95 million.

The scofflaws were even worse in 2007, when 24,200 tickets were issued and just 2,400 offenders paid up.

By the way, that’s a 3% fare evasion detection rate. Also well below the ludicrous claims made by local and provincial politicians. The installation of gates is the only thing that has ever seriously been discussed here. And will, of course, do absolutely nothing to reduce fare evasion or improve net revenue.

The penalty, by the way, is $173. So there is not a great deal of incentive to follow up each individual ticket. There are other ways of handling the problem. One would be to replace the provincial fixed penalty by a “penalty fare” levied as part of the transit tariff.  This would be less than the “fine” ($40 might be about right) but would be collected immediately, or the passenger escorted off the premises and told not to return without the ability to pay.

Secondly, attention should be directed at the “frequent flyers”. Most people are law abiding, and even if caught once or twice, will usually pay if they think there is a chance of being checked. But some regard fare evasion as a kind of sport. This has also been a problem with parking fines in the past. What is needed is some sort of system to identify those who regularly abuse the system. This is the old 80/20 rule in action. 80% of the offences will be committed by 20% of the offenders. The Province piece even uses the term “scofflaws” – which indicates to me they were talking to someone who knows his stuff, but they ignored the important bit. If you can target the “scofflaws” you do not charge them with fare evasion but fraud. This is a criminal code offence and is based on a record of regular, persistent behaviour designed to evade fare payment. The penalties for fraud can be significant. This approach has been used in London since the 1980’s. A $173 ticket can be ignored: a criminal case with a really significant penalty and a criminal record is something else.

This situation, left in the hands of ICBC, will continue indefinitely. The fare “scofflaws” are not the same people who prey upon transit passengers and pose a danger to the safety of their persons or property. They are also not the people currently being lifted by the transit cops for outstanding warrants and other offences. To have effective policing of the system, we have to be able to distinguish between real and imagined threats. Unfortunately, we are governed by politicians whose main qualification is party loyalty and adherence to the party line not experience in any field, or the ability to review evidence and reach sensible conclusions. The sorry story of Kash Heed being only the most recent example.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

SkyTrain police catching more than fare evaders

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This is a Vancouver Sun story but somehow it found its way to Global. (The Aspers need to save money obviously.) My only reason for posting this is that I have covered the issue of fare evasion on this blog for some time. And, once again, the real figures are way below what so many claim.

Transit Police Chief Ward Clapham said only 3.6 per cent of people were caught riding SkyTrain without the proper fare in October, which means “fare-dodgers are not our biggest catch.” …

In the month of October, police checked more than 50,000 people and issued 1,000 tickets for fare evasion — 23 per cent below the monthly average so far this year. …

That translates to a 4.7 per cent fare evasion rate: higher than the system-wide fare evasion rate of 2.5 per cent estimated in the 2008 audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, but considerably lower than the 5.4 per cent rate estimated for SkyTrain.

What this means of course for the cash strapped authority is that the $100m they have been strong armed into “investing” in fare gates will be wasted. The cost recovery – when you add in the additional operating costs – is pushed ever further out. And the idea that gates will make people “feel safer”is also hogwash. Becuase it is the police action that actually catches the real bad guys – “criminal code offences, as well as for breaching probation conditions and being in possession of narcotics, stolen property or weapons.” Though apart from the weapons none really seem to pose much of a threat to passengers. Once the gates are in place, the police will not be so active – because there will, it is claimed, be less need for fare evasion checks. Even though systems that have gates report similar fare evasion rates.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Fare evasion

Friday round up

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re:palce magazine regularly links to my stories but I have not really paid a lot of attention in return. So I am pleased to draw attention to a post called “Pedestrians need their share of the road” written by Jay Ameresekere and posted yesterday. It is inspired by an article in The State of Vancouver titled Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate says SFU professor. Anthony Perl takes the City to task for taking pedestrian space for cyclists. What  I think is missing from the analysis in re:place is a reference to pedestrians in the rest of the region. The City of Vancouver covers a small part of the area and only a quarter of the citizens, and pedestrians get ignored in most of the suburbs.

I am on the cover of the Richmond Review this morning, banging on about the forced transfer to the Canada Line again. But what caught my eye was this gem from Ken Hardie

He also said revenue from new Canada Line riders plus the savings from running fewer buses will be enough to cover its payments.

I added the emphasis since it is the first time that I have seen a public admission from Translink that cuts to the bus fleet were part of the strategy. Of course I have been saying that all along – and so have the CAW in their recent campaign. But the public stance of the cheer leaders has always been that bus service would now be so much better since the Canada Line would free up resources to be moved elsewhere. That’s true to some extent, but the impression given was that it would be 100% switched when it is now admitted to be less than that – and probably quite a lot less. Though you would probably have to be an insider to get access to the data to prove that contention. Just like Hardie could not say exactly what the subsidy payments to InTransitBC are going to be. It’s public money they are spending so sooner or later it will be found out: just not while we are celebrating, eh?

If you enjoyed the celebrations – or missed them – the Buzzer has more photos of the opening day. They, naturally, don’t link here or to my flickr stream but over 50 people did take a gander at my pictures, even if they were of the second day. There is also an effort by transit geeks to record the last few days remaining of express suburban service in Vancouver. If you have a digital camera or camera phone  there are still a few routes not represented at the time of writing.

The CBC notes the decline of US tourists to BC, which takes the shine off the new second Amtrak train – which now runs to Portland not just Seattle. (This had been a running story here for some time) They also record cuts to Greyhound bus services, which will hit some small BC communities hard: I had mentioned Greyhound in my recent piece on not competing with commercial services, but it may soon be needed that some public provision is needed to keep up basic connections. Not that there will any money to do that of course.

And one story I missed, the keeps cropping upon this blog is the “Fareless Square” in Portland OR, which many people want duplicated here. It has now been partially cancelled for bus riders – due to fare evasion they say. Part of a wide swathe of transit service cuts and fare hikes across the US

Written by Stephen Rees

August 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

No turnstiles for SkyTrains until 2012

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Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie

Fare Gate at Wilshire/Normandie, Los Angeles

The CBC is reporting that not only will the Canada Line be turnstileless when it opens – so will SkyTrain for at least another three years. That is when a new smart card system might start to be implemented.

“We could see turnstiles starting to appear in the system by 2012,” Hardie told CBC News on Thursday.

“We hope to actually have some work done a little bit later that will lead to some contracts for not only turnstiles, but also the smart card system that complements the turnstile system.”

The turnstiles, regular readers will recall, were an obsession of the previous Minister of Transport Kevin Falcon. (He now overseeing the breaking of the election promise not to cut healthcare spending.) In his eyes turnstiles would eliminate crime on the transit system. It turns out of course that the two issues are not related. And even though Translink is strapped for cash, the turnstiles do not seem capable of doing much for cash flow either. They do not appear among the many revenue generating ideas that Translink has floated – but they will of course be a significant capital cost to introduce and a major addition to operating and  maintenance costs if they are indeed installed.

I suspect that if Translink does not get all of the new $450 m it is seeking, then this idea may well get quietly forgotten about. After all, since it will not actually increase net revenue  and does nothing to boost ridership, then plenty of other ideas will take precedence – especially if there is no political pressure to make it happen. And that pressure to be effective these days will have to come from Victoria, and they are going to have a great deal more important things to worry about in three years time, when a lot of chickens will be coming home to roost.

That does not mean necessarily that smart cards bite the dust either – but gates are not actually necessary with new technology. Indeed, for safety reasons, some systems with gates leave them open by default, and only close them if no valid media is present near them when somebody tries to get through. You can also use smart cards, proximity readers and mobile checkers in a gate free system and get very high levels of compliance – especially if the users have an incentive to use the readers, as they would with a fare by distance system. But that would require a complete reworking of the current system – which itself may or may not be worthwhile but is well beyond the scope of this post.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2009 at 9:56 am

Transit police fare-evasion blitzes catch bigger fish, too

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I found this today on the Financial Post but the story is taken from The Province.

This is the important bit:

Forty-two people were booked there for fare evasion in the one-hour blitz by 21 officers and two SkyTrain staffers on Thursday afternoon – an average of one evader for every 61 riders.

Or to put it another way, less than 2% of riders were evading payment. A pretty impressive result – and one which is consistent with experience across the system over time.

Estimates of revenue loss are higher than 2% – but that is all they are. Estimates. Someone without a ticket is not likely to be an especially reliable source on the number of zones they have travelled – or intended to travel – or how often they do that.

This is a typical random sampling – and there are differences at different places, times of day and days of the week.  But it shows that there is, once again, absolutely no case for barriers and gates. Which also fail to catch “others wanted for more serious offences”

Written by Stephen Rees

December 14, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Fare evasion

City Bus Drivers Say That Fare Beaters Have the Upper Hand in Confrontations

with 4 comments

New York Times

It is with some reluctance that I open up, once again, the can of worms that is fare evasion and transit safety. I would not have done so had not the CBC once sandbagged me on air with an unexpected clip of a New York cop talking about fare evaders as criminals.

Before you comment on this post you are required to click on the the link at the top and read the whole story in the New York times. There are also related links (the NYT understands how to use a web site now: it will take the Aspers years to catch up). It is desperately sad and my deepest sympathy is extended to the family, friends and coworkers of Edwin Thomas, who died trying to do his job.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, acknowledged that while the department’s Transit Bureau has more than 2,000 officers dedicated to the subway system, there are none dedicated to buses except during operations like fare-evasion crackdowns. One such crackdown, which began on Oct. 22, has resulted in 86 arrests and 349 summonses, he said.

That is because there are city police on the streets who can be summoned and get to the scene more quickly.

The point I want to make is that the NY subway system still needs to be subject to “fare evasion crackdowns” even though there are turnstiles at every station. A significant police force is required because the existence of those barriers has not made the NY subway “safe”. There was a lot all over the media yesterday about SkyTrain safety and the gap between public perceptions and reality. And a clip on CBC news of the SkyTrain CEO Doug Kelsey repeating the mantra “perception IS reality”.  Most of media decided that the proposed use of dogs made the story newsworthy. (If you want the full meal deal go to the Buzzer blog – and be sure to read the comments)

All kinds of people evade fares for all sorts of reasons. They are not all hardened criminals, and their reasons for evasion range from indigence to an attitude that fare collection is a “game” they can win at. The right wing here likes to cite New York as an example for us to follow. The examples of zero tolerance and the “broken window” strategy are cited approvingly. Yet there are on average 89 assaults on New York bus drivers a year. Edwin Thomas did not seem to get much benefit from these policies. I am far from convinced that they would change much here.

I also remain skeptical that introducing dogs will do much good either. There are plenty of people here who are extremely uncomfortable around dogs, both for cultural reasons and, even more sadly, bitter experience. There are far too many regimes that use police dogs to intimidate the populace in general. Not that I think Translink wants to do that – but (as Kelsey seems to be aware) some people may perceive it that way.

But as always my theme is that barriers on SkyTrain will not do what their proponents claim. They will be an immense waste of money and a continuing drain on the system. Money that could be spent on better transit service, which gets more people on the system. Which is what makes people feel safe. But is also what we need to make this region more livable.


Written by Stephen Rees

December 3, 2008 at 11:48 am

US judge gags subway card hackers

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Regular readers here will realise that this judge is busy slamming a barn door shut after the horses have bolted. He also seems not to understand that the way information is transmitted these days, a conference of security experts is not the thing the transit operators ought to be worried about. In fact, if this leak is going to be plugged effectively you need to have people working in the field of transit revenue collection well aware of the holes so they can come up with solutions quickly. Open source software like Linux is inherently more secure than proprietary systems since there are many more “eyes on the street” making sure that hacking is prevented. And systems get updated very quickly when flaws are found – there is no waiting for some big corporation to get its act together.

While I quote just one source, this story is all over the internet as it is seen as a fundamental attack on free speech and the need for researchers to share their findings. Expect an appeal. And also note that (if you did not know) a similar attamept to block discussion in Europe already failed – so the bad guys are already busy. Hog tying the good guys is not going to help get a solution.

And if you think fare evasion is all new and hi tech try this

Written by Stephen Rees

August 10, 2008 at 10:50 am

Posted in Fare evasion

Oyster card hack to be published

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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