Crackdown on transit crime
Transportation minister plans transit security measures to deter cheaters
John Bermingham, With a file by John Colebourn, The Province
Published: Friday, November 09, 2007
The B.C. government wants to take the crime train out of SkyTrain.
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon unveiled ideas yesterday to radically overhaul the transit system to make it a safer ride -- and to stop fare evaders in their tracks.
His sweeping plans include:
- Installing electronic turnstiles at every SkyTrain and Canada Line station before the 2010 Olympics, along with more closed-circuit cameras.
- Launching a smart-card system to be used on trains and buses, which can be recharged at vending machines or on the Internet.
- Pursuing fare evaders with criminal prosecutions and on-the-spot fines.
- Boosting security outside SkyTrain stations.
- Improving safety for bus drivers.
Falcon said he was impressed by the London Underground and the Dutch Metro system in Rotterdam during a trip to Europe in September.
After talking with senior security officials in London, he became convinced SkyTrain needs to install turnstiles and more closed-circuit TV.
"The personal safety of commuters improves dramatically in a closed system," he told The Province.
"Women, in particular, feel safer and are safer. It's a controlled area and criminals generally stay out."
Falcon said turnstiles weed out the hang-arounds and reduce the chance of an act of terrorism.
The head of the Dutch transit system told Falcon that prior to installing its gated system, 60 per cent of all violence and assaults were caused by people who didn't pay fares.
After the turnstiles went in, fare evasion fell from 20 per cent to two per cent and ridership rose by almost 30 per cent.
Turnstiles have been priced at $100 million plus, but Falcon hopes to find a private partner to build and operate the system on a revenue-sharing basis.
A smart-card system would allow passengers to pay as they go by touching their card on an electronic reader. The card automatically debits the fare and can be topped up at stations or on the Internet.
"It's very easy to use," said Falcon. "It actually grows your ridership dramatically. It's really convenient."
Falcon called current fare-evasion enforcement in B.C. "a joke," with evaders giving bogus names and refusing to pay $173 fines.
Transit cops in London criminally charge evaders if they give wrong names and levy on-the-spot fines. Falcon wants a similar system here.
"Your fare-evasion figures drop to single figures overnight," he said. "The fact is, it's too easy for people not to pay today. It has a corrosive effect on the honest people."
Fare-evaders cost TransLink up to $7 million a year.
Falcon said he's also relying on municipalities to increase police presence around SkyTrain stations.
TransLink chairman Malcolm Brodie welcomed the turnstiles, smart-card system and toughening the fare-evasion regimen.
"I believe it's a matter of safety and security," he said. "And the perception and the reality of security will increase with the gated system."
Brodie said smart cards are "inevitable."
"Not only will the smart-card system support the turnstile system, I believe it will result in greater fare collection, and it will result in greater convenience to the public."
Meanwhile, commuters at the Waterfront SkyTrain station yesterday said the proposals make sense.
"I think turnstiles are a good idea," said SkyTrain rider Sharon Farrar, 50, of Port Coquitlam.
"Too many people are getting a free ride," she added.
Farrar also said more security cameras and more transit cops are welcome.
"There's no problem with more security if you aren't doing anything wrong," she said.
Jason Beck, 26, uses the SkyTrain regularly and wonders if fare cheats will be stopped by turnstiles.
"I think a lot of people will jump over the turnstiles," he said.
And he said he has more safety concerns when on buses.
"I think buses are worse than SkyTrains," he said.
"The stations are secure and most of the attacks are happening outside of the SkyTrain stations," he pointed out.
Summerland resident Krista Plomish, 35, in Vancouver on business, said she prefers to use the SkyTrain rather than her car.
She likes the system but knows ugly incidents happen.
"I have concerns about taking the SkyTrain at certain hours. More security is a good idea."
Falcon said he doesn't know the final cost of the security measures but will make sure TransLink gets the money to pull it off.
- Falcon also said he is thinking of starting random checks of vehicles and passengers prior to boarding B.C. Ferries to thwart terrorists.
"You can't check every vehicle and car," he said. "But there are random checks that could be undertaken. There are different ways you could approach it, that create real nervousness amongst people that have nefarious intentions."