Earlier this evening, I finished reading The Tyee's fascinating series on one of my favourite topics -- free transit. The series and the reactions to it -- in comments, additional articles in The Tyee, and in blogs such as Stephen Rees -- have given me a lot to think about; and I will certainly be writing a detailed response myself.
However, while that was foremost in my mind, the TV happened to be playing the end of a "Wheel of Fortune" episode. The all-American-pretty young woman won an SUV. The genuine almost overwhelming excitement she and her friends expressed at winning a vehicle (I really thought she was going to faint!) showed just how deep the auto culture has bred itself into the very DNA of most North Americans. And in that moment I recognised once again how hard it is going to be to argue against the car, and why most people look at me as if I am crazy for not having had a car for so long.
From the people who brought you fully-armed wannabe cops to wander the aisles of public transit, now comes the idea of filming everything that goes on in the bus. According to a staff report quoted in the Georgia Straight:
"The purpose of the video system is to deter ... on-board security incidents, improve the safety of bus operators and passengers, and provide evidence for investigation of incident claims." A later section of the report notes that it is to deal with "vandalism, absenteeism, assaults-related costs and insurance claims and premiums."
There is opposition, of course. Andrew Pask, coordinator of the Vancouver Public Space Network, told the Straight that he's concerned about the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on buses. "People should be able to use public spaces without having to be recorded, without having their movement tracked, their conversations taped, their actions videoed," he said. "People should have that right. When you start infringing on it, you start inching ever closer to a police state."
What planet does this naive guy live on? Cameras follow us in taxis, on SkyTrain stations, in every supermarket and corner store, in most parking lots and most building lobbies and elevators. I don't believe that adding buses to the list substantially reduces the freedoms we have already squandered.
However, according to the figures quoted by the Straight, the plan doesn't make any economic sense. The annual cost for the system is said to be $470,000 in order to generate savings of just $140,000. And how exactly will this system deal with "absenteeism", I wonder? Has the bus drivers' union considered what the cameras may really be for?
Jackboots On The Bus
I was going to wait until I'd seen the BC Transit Police in action on my regular bus routes before commenting. However, they haven't shown their faces yet -- and the bastards their bosses raised the fares! So I'll say my piece now.
As of last Monday, Translink -- our local transit, ferries and roads operator -- has declared all buses to be officially "Fare Paid Zones". That means it is an offense to be on a bus without proof of purchase of a ticket or ticket-equivalent such as a bus pass. It's been that way forever on Sky Train and the Sea Bus, but they are aware the rate of fare avoidance is infinitely higher on the bus system; and so, the new policy may meet stronger resistance.
To cope with anticipated problems, the onus of refusing or sanctioning non-paying passengers has been taken off the shoulders of the already-stressed-by-traffic bus drivers. Instead, the newly beefed-up BC Transit Police will enforce the rules. Just what we need on our streets -- a posse of wannabe failed cops with guns. Yes, guns! Christ, anyone would think we were Detroit or Atlanta or Camden, New Jersey.
Armed police to make sure we all pay our two dollars and a quarter, or the hundred and seventy five buck fine if we don't. What a stupid and dangerous idea. And to make this week even more perfect, the Translink Board approved a twenty-five cent increase in fares!
My position has always been that transit should be free, so long as it is run by the government. There are so many reasons why, besides the fact that it is just the right thing to do. Economically, I bet it is easy to prove that the net revenue from fares after all costs of fare production, sale, enforcement and accounting have been removed, is minimal. Certainly less than the economic bounce the region would get from the additional discretionary spending of those who previously paid fares. Not to mention the political goodwill that would be generated.
It would encourage beneficial environmental changes by significantly reducing the number of private cars on the road (transit ridership would doubtless increase with a zero cost); and will reduce the cost of expensive medical care over time as the general health of the population improves with an increase in walking.
It would encourage Translink directors to focus on improving services instead of trying to manage an armed militia for the sake of a few bucks. With the elimination of the need for payment enforcement, the Transit Police can be shrunk to a reasonable size and the armed guards removed from the streets.
Its a win-all-around idea. And about time.
I'm A Transit Booster, But ....
I know a lot of people will disagree, but I think Vancouver transit is pretty darned good. Do I have qualifications to make such a statement? I sold my last car in 1991 and I've used transit essentially every day since -- 16 years or more. Every workday, I travel from Commercial Drive to Richmond, and back; a total of about 2 and a half hours commuting each day. I wouldn't go back to traveling by car every day.
However, I do have to object to the awful new cattle-truck type buses that have been introduced on some routes. Riding a bus should be a pleasure, an oasis from the rest of the city. One should be warm and comfortably seated. That's not an option on these trucks, where the few seats seem designed for discomfort and are separated by wide open standing spaces. These buses are more cavernous than a SkyTrain compartment. These buses are a dreadful mistake, especially when the wonderfully articulated 98s, 99s and 135s show they can do so much better.