Crazy train
// Harrison Pratt

Alot of people take public transit in our fair city. Every year within the last ten years, TransLink has been breaking its own records with the amount of passengers who take public transit. This trend as of 2010 has exceeded more than 211.3 million passengers. However, is the general public being served adequately, or is the system they rely on to get around failing them?

Making public transit in Metro Vancouver better has been a goal for City Council recently. In Vision Vancouver’s last campaign, they promise to ameliorate the system by increasing the infrequent night bus service; however, this hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, TransLink has some interesting ideas on how to improve ridership.

Most recently, TransLink has begun the installation of the fare gate system, slated to be up and running by 2013. The fare gate system is meant to stop people from getting onto the skytrain without paying.

This is what James Moore, B.C. Senior Federal Minister, had to say about how the gates will make transit more accessible: “Not only do I think it’ll crack down on those who are trying to cheat the system by getting on the system for free, but on top of that, I think you’ll probably have more people using public transit.”

This is a completely negative perspective coming from the Senior Federal Minister that falsely criminalizes the people he is suppose to serve. Public transportation is an essential service that is supposed to serve the general public – the general public including everyone from the unemployed to the stinking rich.

Some cities have recognized that transportation is a right. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is one example. In 1997, after improving their bus, pedestrian, and cycling infrastructure, they introduced fare-free transit. The yearly operating budget is around $7.8 million and is largely funded by the national government. Their ridership increased by 1,223 per cent four years after removing fees.

An independent audit was completed in 2007 about these “cheaters” that Moore refers to, and found that TransLink was losing an estimated $6.4 million per year worth of revenue, due to fare-evaders. This has been an issue that Translink has been fighting against for a long time now, and to them, fare gates are the solution they’ve been looking for.

Other fixes to the fare-evasion problem have been lacking. In 2005, TransLink created the transit police, and operates the force at a whopping $27 million per year to eliminate this yearly estimated loss of $6.4 million.

We'll be generous and round that number up to $7 million. So let’s do the basic math: 27 minus seven is 20. That means that every year, $20 million of taxpayer money is being wasted and not being used to improve the transportation system.

Some might argue that the transit police make the system safer, but a report done by the city of Edmonton says otherwise: in looking at the B.C. model while considering instituting their own transit police system, they found that overlapping jurisdictions with municipal police forces and the RCMP renders these transit police a waste of money. Edmonton decided not to follow in our footsteps.

The current installation of fare gates and administrating police force is further derailing the purpose of public transit considering the disposition of the general public it serves.

Right now, a fare of $2.50 may not seem like a lot to people; however, for those who need mobility in order to survive, a single-zone bus pass costs $81. This is a substantial amount for many people; for example, single employable people living on the $610 welfare provided to them with the requirement that they be looking for work – an activity that requires regular travel throughout the city. With the cost of transit police and fare gates, people who have it worst off in all circumstances will find it difficult and possibly physically impossible to get around.

Put this in perspective with the current honour system, without the transit police: more people would be able to ride transit without the paranoia of a police force which actively looks to charge people $173 for not paying $2.50 for a transfer. Safety would be at a similar level, considering the municipal police, and we wouldn’t be in concrete deficit of $20 million a year.

Currently as it stands, the transit system put in place isn’t working. The amount of money being spent on the transit police and the installations of the turnstiles doesn’t benefit the general public.

Instead of trying to do patchwork on this sinking ship of a system, we should look at existing models of transportations that work. Perhaps we should demand a fare-free system such as that of the city of Hasselt instead of paying exorbitant costs to enforce something that doesn’t work. Public transit should put the needs of the public above all.

Harrison Pratt is a musician, former Capilano film student, and resident of East Vancouver. His experiences working minimum wage and handing over most of his income to pay for his previous education have led him to write about issues affecting the low-income population of Vancouver.

//Harrison Pratt, columnist

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com