Earlier this week TransLink held a press conference for the installation of its first faregate on the SkyTrain system. This is part of a $171 million project which will see the installation of faregates at all stations except for Main Street and Metrotown. This project got me thinking about how sometimes government builds projects not based on fact, but because people feel like it's the right thing to do.
The cold hard fact of any transit system is that there will always be cheats, faregates or not. Fare evasion is a calculated cost of business and is cost-effectively managed in Vancouver by random fare checks that keep honest people honest. The installation of faregates is a reaction to reduce the perceived problem of fare evasion. The facts are these: fare evasion costs TransLink $3 - $7 million a year while the cost of faregates will be $9+ million per year. While people may now feel like the issue of fare evasion on the SkyTrain network has been dealt with, at best TransLink will now lose $2 million per year more than before the installation of the faregates.
Another reason touted for the installation of faregates is the perception of reducing crime. Of course if faregates actually had an impact on crime you won’t get stories like “‘Trained’ thieves send subway crime soaring” in New York. Any perception of reduced crime or improved security due to faregates will fade once the SkyTrain system has its first post-faregate crime headline.
I had a conversation with a friend last night about faregates and even after telling him the facts, he thought that faregates just felt right because other major cities have them and so should we. I’m sure this is what most people feel, so we are spending $171 million for a feeling.
Another project that comes to mind that is based on a feeling is the $2.46 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 Project which will see the construction of a 10-lane Port Mann Bridge and the widening of 37km of Highway 1 to:
-Reduce congestion and travel time
-Improve safety and accessibility
-Facilitate reliable transit
-Expand networks for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV)
-Expand network for Cyclists
-Expand network for Pedestrians
The feeling is that if we have congestion, the solution is to build bigger roads. The fact is that the majority of research shows that you can’t build your way out of congestion and that is proven in city after city. If you want to reduce congestion, you have to curb the demand through tolling or road pricing. Road pricing has been shown to work in places like London and Stockholm, but is political impossible to implement in many places. The money collected from the toll would then go to pay for maintaining highways and expanding the transit, cyclist, and pedestrian network giving people transportation choice. The reduction of congestion would also facilitate reliable transit service. The fact is that the only reason that a bigger Port Mann Bridge would be warranted is to expand the HOV network, though the George Massey Tunnel shows that HOV lanes can work even if you don't expand the river crossing.
At the end of the day both the TransLink faregate program and the Province's Port Mann Highway 1 program are being built, projects that are based on a $2.6 billion feeling.