Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

City Bus Drivers Say That Fare Beaters Have the Upper Hand in Confrontations

with 4 comments

New York Times

It is with some reluctance that I open up, once again, the can of worms that is fare evasion and transit safety. I would not have done so had not the CBC once sandbagged me on air with an unexpected clip of a New York cop talking about fare evaders as criminals.

Before you comment on this post you are required to click on the the link at the top and read the whole story in the New York times. There are also related links (the NYT understands how to use a web site now: it will take the Aspers years to catch up). It is desperately sad and my deepest sympathy is extended to the family, friends and coworkers of Edwin Thomas, who died trying to do his job.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, acknowledged that while the department’s Transit Bureau has more than 2,000 officers dedicated to the subway system, there are none dedicated to buses except during operations like fare-evasion crackdowns. One such crackdown, which began on Oct. 22, has resulted in 86 arrests and 349 summonses, he said.

That is because there are city police on the streets who can be summoned and get to the scene more quickly.

The point I want to make is that the NY subway system still needs to be subject to “fare evasion crackdowns” even though there are turnstiles at every station. A significant police force is required because the existence of those barriers has not made the NY subway “safe”. There was a lot all over the media yesterday about SkyTrain safety and the gap between public perceptions and reality. And a clip on CBC news of the SkyTrain CEO Doug Kelsey repeating the mantra “perception IS reality”.  Most of media decided that the proposed use of dogs made the story newsworthy. (If you want the full meal deal go to the Buzzer blog – and be sure to read the comments)

All kinds of people evade fares for all sorts of reasons. They are not all hardened criminals, and their reasons for evasion range from indigence to an attitude that fare collection is a “game” they can win at. The right wing here likes to cite New York as an example for us to follow. The examples of zero tolerance and the “broken window” strategy are cited approvingly. Yet there are on average 89 assaults on New York bus drivers a year. Edwin Thomas did not seem to get much benefit from these policies. I am far from convinced that they would change much here.

I also remain skeptical that introducing dogs will do much good either. There are plenty of people here who are extremely uncomfortable around dogs, both for cultural reasons and, even more sadly, bitter experience. There are far too many regimes that use police dogs to intimidate the populace in general. Not that I think Translink wants to do that – but (as Kelsey seems to be aware) some people may perceive it that way.

But as always my theme is that barriers on SkyTrain will not do what their proponents claim. They will be an immense waste of money and a continuing drain on the system. Money that could be spent on better transit service, which gets more people on the system. Which is what makes people feel safe. But is also what we need to make this region more livable.

UPDATED Dec 5

Written by Stephen Rees

December 3, 2008 at 11:48 am

4 Responses

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  1. I only go to Paris or London every 2 years or so yet see people jumping turnstiles or pushing behind someone everytime. I haven’t noticed policemen in the London’s tube but Paris street policemen patrol the subway all the time, usually in teams of 3, one of them with a machine gun (this is a common sight in France since the wave of bombings in the 1980s). Buses in many French towns (dito in some other European countries) have long allowed boarding by all doors so, obviously, fare evaders don’t use the door by the driver. There are roaming supervisors who check fares and likely use common sense and don’t argue with potential trouble makers. Not fair but..In LRT (modern tramways) the drivers are behind a locked glass door and do not deal with passengers at all.

    Red frog

    December 3, 2008 at 3:03 pm

  2. On that route, riders now pay at curbside machines before boarding. The machines give riders receipts that they must show, if asked, to inspectors making random checks on the buses.

    The system, which is meant to speed travel by cutting the time it takes for riders to board, frees drivers from having to worry about who has paid and who has not. Drivers on the route say the system greatly lessens the stress of the job.

    I think Kevin Falcon should go on a fact-finding trip and take a look at this system they’re trying out in New York. This notion of paying a fare at a machine and then boarding the bus/train, with the possibility of being asked to show proof of payment, is intriguing.

    sgt.turmeric

    December 4, 2008 at 10:23 am

  3. That system is also in use in London. Popular wisdom there, of course, is that on articulated buses with all door boarding “nobody pays”. Ignoring the fact that most people carry oyster cards or other types of pass (“season tickets”). Penalty fares for those without proof of payment go to the service provider not the government.

    Stephen Rees

    December 4, 2008 at 10:53 am

  4. Boarding a European bus or tram by all the doors (many regular buses have 3 doors) go back to quite a few years now. In many towns the buses have long had small devices by the center and back doors to stamp tickets. There are cheaters in Europe too but by and large most people stamp their tickets. A few times the buses I was in was super crowded. Some people yelled that they were too far to stamp their tickets so they passed the ticket to another person who passed it to another one etc. The stamped ticket then was passed back from one person to another back to the owner! now buses,trams, LRT have new small devices that both stamp tickets and pickup data from a smart card. Again I noticed that people do it as a matter of fact, in the same way that most of the people who use the SkyTram daily do have a monthly pass or a ticket and would have one even if there was no one checking. We aren’t angels, we just want to pay back some of the cost of the transit because otherwise we would have to pay even more taxes or something like that.

    Red frog

    December 5, 2008 at 10:39 pm


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