– Public Transit: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly



by Brian

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about the transit systems in place in Vancouver. In particular the possible benefits of installing turnstiles into the mass transit stations. I’m sure the debate over the cost/benefits of the automation has been looming in the minds of transit operators worldwide since the dawn of the concept. Most, if not all, of the worlds private transit systems include an automated transit fare collection system- If for no other reason than to collect a more fairly calculated cost (maybe that’s where the word fare came from) for the route traveled; this encourages travel and makes it a reasonable purchase for persons traveling based on their use of the system. Here’s where the Vancouver SkyTrain system demonstrates the “bad”. With a fare calculated based on large zones, people are paying ridiculous sums of $$ to ride the one stop from Burrard to Granville?  $2.50 for a 1 minute (or less) ride is robbery! As such, people will cheat and avoid paying all together, drive, or walk. All three options provide no benefit to the financial well-being of the system.

I have traveled to a number of the worlds major cities, I love to take public transit wherever I go because I feel like you can get in touch with the lives of the people who’s hometown you are visiting – especially when you ride along side them in a train or bus. Hong Kong, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and many other systems that I’ve used, all toll based on the distance traveled with the option of purchase an unlimited pass of some sort if you travel frequently.  In San Francisco, the BART will whisk you up Market for a few cents or under the trans-bay tunnel for a few dollars. I love it and am happy to pay the fare as it always seems fair. Vancouver on the other hand, with it’s honor system and thru the roof fares is a freeloaders dream. Beyond that, it even encourages even honest people to cheat the system. I have friends, colleagues, and family… All of which are upstanding, tax paying, largely law abiding folks… I bet each and every person I ask will have not paid a TransLink fare to ride the train; not because the can cheat, not because they want to cheat, but because they can not bring themselves to pay $2.50 for the less than 1 minute ride especially when no one is really watching anyway.

I just described the honest persons use of the system. Here’s where the current system gets UGLY – the dishonest, the criminals, and the drug addicted. The person who clearly just broke into someone’s home and stole a television, so cracked out they can hardly stand, riding the train downtown to pawn it for a few bucks to buy their next hit. These “users” may be our transit systems most frequent users, hey why not, they’ve got nothing to loose! With a rare chance of getting caught, and and even rarer change that the officer who catches them could successfully remove them from the train, let alone get their real name for ticketing. These people terrify the other users of the trains, they often smell, are bleeding, are sleeping, are yelling, are drunk, are high, are stealing from you, are stealing from the person next to you, are stealing from the tourist next to the person next to you… Moreover, who let them take over?? Let’s blame translink and their refusal to see what they are doing to the middle working class by letting these people roam our city without consequence. Next time your car is broken into on Commercial Drive, not to steal the car but to grab your sunglasses you accidentally left on the dash, think about how the thug who did it got there. Next time you are asked for money on Granville and Robson Street by an obviously drug addicted person who can hardly walk, think about how they got there. Next time your ride the train, take a look around you, often in the best seats, and try to recognize the people on the train… You might recognize the face of the homeless man who was sleeping next to the bank machine in your local branch yesterday morning when you went to deposit a cheque; or the face of the person who held the door for you at 7-11 and then threatened your life when you wouldn’t share a cigarette, or the face of the clearly drug addicted woman who approaches you for money each day as you walk to work. These people freeload on society and furthermore they freeload on transit, one of our cities most valuable systems, but their freeloading doesn’t just cost us money it costs us safety, security, and comfort.  I think back to riding the BART in the San Francisco Bay area; the train was clean, safe feeling, and full of middle class people like myself – it a city the size of San Francisco, with it’s share, or more than it’s share, of social problems, why is the train so civil I thought to myself? Because the people who need it, pay for it, and use it.  Vancouver on the other hand, has allowed our transit system to become the pastime of persons who, for lack of anything good to say, are deadbeats.

On the other side of the debate people argue that public transit is a right people have. The right to move and be moved throughout the city. I grew up in a small town, so I don’t think anything is a right. The smaller the town the fewer rights to draw on public services you have. I believe in Seniors discounts, youth discounts, family discounts, disabled discounts… all discounts are fair! Just don’t give it away for free and people will respect the value of the privilege and stop thinking of it as a right.

I mentioned at the beginning of the article that I was talking to a friend about transit, further motivating this article. The conversation in particular was regarding how she was assaulted at the train for money.  When she reported the incident to Translink and questioned the lack of safety and the possibility of turnstiles as a deterrent, the Translink rep said they hear the same thing all the time, however she was offered only excuses as to why safety is so poor and suggested  a workshop on personal defense. Upon further rebuttal and conversation I believe that Translink just doesn’t care about this issue and that’s really too bad for us!  Under the current model you’ll hear the following in just a few short years:

  • “remember when Richmond used to be such a safe place – before Canada Line”
  • “remember the B-line – it was so much more comfortable than riding with the crack heads on the Canada Line”
  • “don’t take the train to the airport, my bags were stolen last time, and the translink police didn’t even respond because they said it happens so often”

Public transit for the working class, what a novel idea… For once I am pro taxes and have only one comment for translink – Make em pay!!

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