Thursday, April 9, 2009

SkyTrain getting turnstiles, but no lifesaving barriers

SkyTrain is getting FareGates and SmartCards for $100 million in spring 2010, the federal and B.C. governments and TransLink announced on April 9.

I say it's AboutTime. Others might wonder WhatTook SoLong?

The 1986-opened rapid transit system has always operated on the honor system. As such, it's prone to fare evasion. How many tens of millions of dollars of missed revenue is anyone's guess. A transit police force was hired to levy outrageous fines and zap offenders.

Gregor Robertson made a $1 mistake and got a $173 ticket for going two zones on a one zone ticket. It was a minor controversy in last fall's mayoralty race until the Vancouver Olympic Village financing scandal exploded. Robertson paid his fine and is now mayor.

Many bigger and smaller rapid transit systems that already have turnstiles have also erected barriers on platforms to prevent passengers from slipping and falling or jumping onto tracks. At least 54 people have died on SkyTrain tracks. Ten of the deaths were ruled accidental, the rest were suicides.

Systems in Beijing, Hong Kong, Torino, London and Las Vegas have platform barriers. Some of them are floor to ceiling glass doors. They prevent death and serious injuries. They also offer new advertising sales opportunities. There are no platform barriers on the new Canada Line.

When a death happens on SkyTrain tracks, it generally means a three-hour service disruption while the body is removed, area sanitized and investigation completed. It inconveniences those who are rerouted or delayed. It traumatizes those who are eyewitnesses. It is a tragedy for the victim's family. The saddest part of it all? It's preventable.

The local cop-out is that SkyTrain cars have varying lengths and dimensions and may not be compatible with sliding platform doors. If humans can develop methods to safely travel to space and back or jam an encyclopedia on a computer chip smaller than your pink finger, surely an innovative, life-saving solution can be found for the DeathTrain.

In the meantime, SkyTrain CEO Doug Kelsey and Transportation minister Kevin Falcon live in denial with their heads buried in sand and fingers crossed tight, hoping and praying that nobody slips and falls or jumps on SkyTrain or Canada Line tracks during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Now that would ruin the VANOC transportation plan. Big time.

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