January 14, 2008
Ever since Kevin Falcon announced his desire to install turnstiles at SkyTrain stations across the Lower Mainland, the B.C. transportation minister has been on the receiving end of a predictably hot-headed response from some vocal adversaries.
Falcon’s critics have trashed his proposal, arguing that securing the stations with new gates is a colossal waste of energy and money.
But the detractors should reconsider their tough stance.
It’s time to get tough instead on the freeloaders who think they’re entitled to ride the rails for free, at the expense of taxpayers and fellow riders.
According to TransLink, nearly five per cent of SkyTrain revenues are lost through fare evasion — a number that both Falcon and TransLink chairman Malcolm Brodie think is even higher.
Then, there’s the issue of safety and order. There’s a perception out there that SkyTrain attracts more than its fair share of criminals.
Commuters who use SkyTrain at night, particularly women, the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, would feel better using the service, knowing that lawbreakers aren’t free to enter the stations at will.
Of course, these fare gates will not come cheap.
Falcon has estimated the cost of installing them to be in the range of $80 million to $100 million — before paying attendants to staff them. But it’s an investment that’s worth making, especially from an environmental point of view.
Our civic leaders, focused on reducing automobile pollution, continue to encourage commuters to junk their car keys in favour of a transit pass.
But to get folks out of their vehicles, it’s critical that the public transit to which they’re switching is clean, comfortable — and secure.
Metro Vancouver isn’t alone on this issue. Los Angeles, which also relies on the honour system, is moving in the same direction. It has found that five per cent of the folks who ride its subway, light rail and rapid bus network are doing so for free.
So earlier this winter, the California city’s transportation board voted to begin the process of installing 275 ticket gates on its subway and light-rail network.
Assuming that they both complete the job, Los Angeles and Vancouver will finally be bringing their stations in line with the likes of London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong — cities known for first-rate transit systems and a longstanding tradition of controlled-access gates to keep the freeloaders at bay.
And the benefits go beyond security. Hong Kong’s subway gates use a payment system called Octopus — a smart card that allows riders a convenient way of paying for all forms of public transit, as well as shopping, dining and parking across the city.
Back in B.C., Falcon’s proposal might be pricey, but it will pay for itself in the long-run by clamping down on pesky fare evaders and improving TransLink’s service for everyone else.
It’s time to end the free ride on Metro Vancouver’s transit system.