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Translink needs turnstiles

Translink has much to prioritize before resorting to another poorly justified fare hike. Translink is a victim of free-ridership and has trouble covering the costs of operating the system.  But instead of finding ways to collect the  $6.4 million shortfall in evaded fares from the services they are providing, Translink believes that pilfering from existing customers is a sound business plan.  

A salesman once sold a thousand-dollar vacuum to my parents.  He refused to leave our house, imploring that he would lose his job if he did not make the sale. My parents did not need to buy a vacuum but they were inclined to buy that vacuum anyway. I am reluctant to believe that we were the only newly immigrated household he peddled that act to. All I know is that 1000 dollars was not a small amount of money back in the day, and it crippled my parents’ finances.

I embrace the frugality that was part of my upbringing and have an appreciation for money earned from wages. What I do find spiteful are those, such as the vacuum salesman, who yearn to make a quick buck from exploiting hardworking families who are just getting by.  Translink, should be reminded of the purpose of a public transit system and the people they serve and not gouge into the pockets of users who are willing to pay for a service they’re using.  Just like the vacuum salesman protecting his job security, it is unethical, negligent and insulting for Translink to pass its fiduciary burden onto the honest fare / tax payers.

Translink needs to start taking due diligence, to ensure profitability from all users, collection of fares and to be accountable for fare evasion by securing revenue through the use of turnstiles.

BC Transportation Minister, Kevin Falcon expressed  interest in the added safety and security of train stations and supports the idea of turnstiles. So why aren’t there any installed yet? We see these devices used since the day of conception at some of the oldest public transportation systems in the world such as in Europe. The “Canadian honour system” is not so prized in our sister cities’  like Montreal or Toronto’s transit system where their population is greater and turnstiles are used. Metro-Vancouver and its growing region requires the expansion of the current transit system into the far reaches of the Fraser Valley. Pressure to fund the expansion can’t be financed by fare hikes. This will only hurt and deter low-middle income families, students, elderly, from using the service, and promote greater fare evasion. So why is Translink embracing the honour system when they can’t afford to?

Translink's independent audit done by done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers for Translink in 2006, indicated that there is an estimated $6.4 million lost from fare evaders. The counter argument is that operating a turnstile system in our train stations on all 3 lines will  cost more money than it will recover.  The breakdown includes  $3.5 million per year to capital costs of the turnstiles, and a suggested  $25.1 million per year needed for gate staffing.  $25.1 million in staffing? If each attendant’s salary is a comfortable $60,000 and there are 48 stations on all 3 lines, this equates to 8.71 staff (additional to current train attendants) estimated to operate the gates at each station. These estimations are outrageous and exaggerate the true cost of installing turnstiles. In the Metro of Montreal, I did not see any attendants in the stations except for the single attendant in the ticket booth. Translink’s concept of staffing is purely excessive.

According to my breakdown, 1 additional gate staff per station at all 8 stations should only cost $2.88 million per year. Accounting for 2 shifts per day, that’s $5.76 million a year. Including the capital cost, the total cost of the plan is merely $9.26 million. Translink’s $25.1 million labour estimate artificially deflates any momentum towards having turnstiles.

Adding more transit police does not implicitly generate more revenue, maybe the opposite. According to the audit, the probability of catching a fare-evader is less than 1 in 100 (1%). Pairs of Transit Police who are only capable of catching the lone ticket evader are as good as naught seeing as fare evasion tickets are rarely paid. According to the same report, only 8% of caught fare evaders will pay their fine.

Funds for staffing, as evil as it sounds, should be diverted into turnstiles which guarantees the collection of fares – Simply put, they get the job done.

Regardless of how much the contraptions cost to install and maintain, they secure revenue, completely eliminate fare evasion, promote the increase ridership and in turn will help keep fares low to attract a healthy optimum capacity.  It is the right thing to do.

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