Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Smart Cards and Fare Gates

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the UK and Brussels in Belgium, and now I have a bunch of things to post about public transit. Today I wanted to talk about smart cards and fare gates.

As you know, the provincial government will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on installing fare gates in our transit system as they claim it will reduce fare evasion and make people feel safer. In Europe, fare gates only seem to be used on the old systems like the 100+ year old Glasgow Subway and London Underground. All the other systems I was on work on the proof-of-payment system, just like TransLink today. Even the UK National Rail system works on a proof-of-payment system! Fare gates are old school and I don’t know why we are installing them. On the matter of feeling safer, station attendants are part of the solution. At most rail station in the UK, there was a station agent that helped out with issuing tickets and minded the station. No amount of fancy cameras or fare gates can make up having a person at a station. I say that the provincial government should scrap the installation of fare gate, and just hire attendants at key stations in our system. We could use the capital money saved for things like light rail in the South Fraser, for example.

On the matter of smart cards, I think they are a good idea as they allow for more flexible ticketing and really help when you have multiply public transportation agencies in the same region. We are very lucky in Metro Vancouver to have only one public transportation agency. Most regions in the world have fistfuls of public transportation agencies. Sorting out the different fares and rules between the systems is confusing. Smart cards really make transit easier in these regions as it sorts everything out for you. For Vancouver, smart cards could allow for the use of distance based fares which many see as more fair than the current 3-zone system. You simply tap you smart card when you get on the system and tap when you get off. Here is a picture of a smart card tag station in the Seattle Downtown Transit Tunnel. Note the lack of fare gates!

The very cool bus/light rail tunnel in downtown Seattle

Orca smart card tag station in their fare gate free system

Close up of smart card tag station

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