Fare gate and accessibility, a Translink mismanagement tale

March 24, 2016

The compass card/fare gate deployment has been a big disapointment so far, it is also a mismanagement tale, as reminded in a March 4th,  CBC article, as well as other surprise, such  the discontinuity of the fare integration between buses and skytrain, a result, among other of unconsequential choice done by Translink and presented as fait accompli to the public, this under the watch of a  very absent, if not complicit  Council of mayors, when transit fare policy is supposed to be a political choice (to be decided by the council of mayors, not Translink on its own)



a rfid reader in Jianshui, China

We will pass on the lame excuse of the “new high tech technology” to justify all the troublef deployement of the Compass card. That could have been true in the 90s…Since then rfid systems have been deployed flawlessly in countless cities around the world: North America could have been slow to catch the trend, but that doesn’t make any excuse for Translink and its supplier to not deliver…and they didn’t,  as reminded by Stephen Rees.

Even the procurment contract seems to have been botched: Translink has pay Cubic for a solution (tap-in tap-out on buses) which doesn’ work




The recent system accessibility controversy

At first, one could think of it as another manufactured controversy. After all, even with the faregate, Translink will stay one of the most accessible transit system in the world: the overwhelmning majority of people in wheelchair will be still able to access the skytrain, indeed with the impediment of a fare gate: but as a barrier, it creates an impediment to everyone, so no much of a big deal…. However when the concerned people have very limited manual hand dexterity, the barrier can become an unpassable “wall”: Gated transit system around the world have staffed station, which enable them to handle those and other unforseen cases. Many people will rightfully ask: Don’t those people have anyway to use their hand to call a lift to access the platform? …not necessarily:


people with mobility challenge, including hand, can rely on diverse solution, to assist them. Pressing a  button can be a  relatively simple task for an assitance dog – tapping a card is another story


How much a Transit system needs to be accessible?

or should we be content with what we have, or should we pursue ever greater inclusion of people with mobility impairment?

The discussion is  deja vu: it used to be a not so distant time where buses, trams, and subway was not accessible at all to wheelchair…and old  subway system have to deal with the stigmate of such time. In Vancouver it was not judged necessary to install an elevator at Granville station until 2006.

Relevance to switch to low floor buses or trams was not considered obvious  up to very recently:  <em>yes they are accessible, but carry less people…and people in Wheelchair have access to specialiazed transportation such as Handydart, so why go to the expense to accomodate them on the main system? [1][2]

Many choices done as late as the 90’s, which compromised transit accessibility, on the altar of finance, could be politically not palatable nowadays, and it is a progress.

It is true that each time, we need to accomodate people with special needs, this has a cost (supported by the transit agency), but exclusionary solutions have also a social cost (not necessarily supported by the transit agency). so a right balance need eventually to be found, and at the end it should be a political choice (system accessibility is a political choice), not an adminsitrative one.

It appears  Translink didn’t foreseen any accesibility  issue with unattended faregate, in despite of its own 2005 fare gate study suggesting otherwise, or at least didn’t communicate publicly on such limitation [3].

Why this Translink accessibility issue popped-ip so lately?

The faregate has been there standing still for years now, and the controversy seem to have just popped up days before the scheduled closure of the gate! What has happening?

Are the disabled people associations guilty of not have warmed Translink soon enough or is it effectively a deliberate  Translink choice to not address the problem and not even mention it?

The second solution seems als the most likely:  The discontinuation of the integrated fare system has been hidden until presented as a “fait accompli”. It is likely a similar strategy has been pursuing here.

Is the accessibility problem solvable?

Technical and ergonomic solutions able to accomodate people with little or no hand ability in a dignified manner exist: you can see them at work at Whistler:


RFID check to access to the Whistler/Blackcomb lifts: this check doesn’t require any other action of the customer, than moving along the sensor, providing the RFID card is stocked in the right pocket.

It could have been fairly simple to have a  solution  where gates are activated by a compass card attached on the side of a wheelchair.  Obviously, when this come as an afterthought, the retrofitting of existing gate can be much more  complicated (hence expensive).

Why that has not been explored is a mystery: Translink seems fully accountable for it (unless it proves it could not be reasonnably aware of it, but the 2005 study tends to prove otherwise), and that give reason to its contemptors: why pour more taxpayer money on an organization running out of control?

Now, we are faced with the obvious: the infamous 2009 business case [2] presented by Translink to the council fo mayors to justify the fare gates, was unprofessional and worse, unethical. Only the Mayor of Burnaby openly critized it while  the council of mayors voted the fare gates program on the base of this disgracious business case.

This disgrace and the on going mismanagament of the Compass/fare gates implementation, mark a very low point for Translink and cast serious doubt on how much trust we should put in this organization.


At the end, one has to observe it is  under the impulse of the Province, that some people with mobility impairment will be still able to use the Skytrain… the council of mayors has stay silent, way too much silent on the topic …it’s also true all this fare gate debacle has unrolled under their watch!



[1] In fact, Low floor bus became a defacto standard in the transit world not so much because they are accessible than they in fact tunred out to provide greater productivity than high floor buses, due to fastwer baording/alighting.

[2] We have access only to a 2011 summary. as far as we know, Translink never publicly released the complete 2009 report.

[3] In fact , at the demand of the Council of mayors, Translinkissued a business case summary in 2011, which stay silent on the  limitation of the implemented solution, not only in term of accessibility, but also in term of fare integration ( fare issued on a bus can’t be used on the skytrain: a technology tradeoff  decided by Translink which is not presented in the business case either)


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