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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Want Olympic tickets? Join the government

VANOC sold $94.7 million of tickets during last fall’s Canadian ticketing phase. More go on sale June 6. Just how many were available then or will be available in June is a closely guarded secret.

VANOC has deliberately put the focus on nabbing scalpers. But tens of thousands of tickets worth millions of dollars are being bought with your tax dollars for use by politicians and bureaucrats. Slowly, but surely, some of those governments are ‘fessing up on how many they’re buying.

City of Richmond disclosed at its April 5 meeting that it ordered 732 tickets for $196,990 and it assumes half the cost will be recovered through sales to the city’s 2010 partners, such as Tourism Richmond, Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the School Board.

City of Vancouver voted March 24 to spend $340,000 on 1,700 tickets, with the assumption that the net cost to taxpayers will be $217,000. In January, the city’s acting Freedom of Information clerk Chris Shin told me that she had 17 pages of Specialty Client Ticket Request documents and she wasn’t giving me any of them. She was kind enough to omit “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah” from her letter.

Yes, that's the same City of Vancouver that Mayor Gregor Robertson rules. That's the same Mayor Gregor Robertson who promised openness and accountability when he was sworn in last December. "When the city uses your money, you have a right to know where it’s being spent, and what it’s being used for," he said.

Richmond and Vancouver claim they need to buy so many tickets so they can host 1,600 international and domestic dignitaries.

According to its May 26 Venue City Contribution Agreement, Surrey can buy 50 tickets to the opening ceremony and 50 tickets to the closing ceremony plus an average 60 tickets per day, including 10 to prime access events like hockey playoffs and figure skating. That’s a total of 1,120 tickets. Whistler is even more secretive. It dealt with ticket purchases at a closed-door meeting.

BC Hydro and ICBC, both Crown corporation sponsors of VANOC, won’t say how much they spent. But they did say how many they ordered after my FOI request.

BC Hydro got 1,520 tickets to 43 events. ICBC got 2,264 to 56 events. The costs were almost entirely censored, except for one entry that showed “icky-bicky” bought 134 tickets for Feb. 21, 2010 at a cost of $19,090.

My calculator says if ICBC spent $19,090 every day of the Games, the bill would be $324,530.

Appeals seeking full and complete disclosure from Vancouver, ICBC and BC Hydro have been filed with the Office of the Freedom and Information Commissioner in Victoria.

Meanwhile, Tourism British Columbia allowed all regular employees who were successful in buying tickets in last fall's public phase to apply for a six-month, no-interest loan of $500 to $4,000. Still no word from the Crown corporation on how many employees applied and how much dough was doled out.

GM=German Made

Your humble Volkswagen-driving servant pulled up to the VANOC headquarters on March 31 before the International Olympic Committee coordination commission's plenary meeting and inadvertently witnessed VANOC executives scurry into the city-owned tower on 3585 Graveley Street.

Ceremonies executive producer David Atkins was seen parking his red late model Audi A4 1.8T Sedan. Mere minutes earlier, VANOC chairman Jack Poole scored the best spot in the lot for his silver Mercedes Benz ML 500 sport utility vehicle.

Atkins' car had a Dueck General Motors dealer decal on the rear, the only connection to the near-bankrupt Detroit auto giant that is the official auto supplier to the 2010 Games. There was no Kelowna Rockets bumper sticker or flag attached. The Aussie is a supporter of the Western Hockey League team, but maybe playoff fever hasn't struck?

The nearest GM dealer to VANOC -- Wolfe Chev-Olds on Boundary Road -- is no more. It's a victim of GM's desperate struggle to remain solvent.

Wanted: Habs tickets for IOC executive

Overheard near the elevator at the VANOC headquarters on April 1, after the International Olympic Committee coordination commission meeting.

International Olympic Committee director of sport Christophe Dubi asking, with a tinge of desperation, for help in sourcing tickets to Montreal Canadiens' playoff games from none other than VANOC executive vice-president of revenue, marketing and communications Dave Cobb.

Cobb is the former chief operating officer of the Vancouver Canucks and General Motors Place.

Dubi was disappointed to learn that Cobb could offer no help. Dubi then asked about "the black market," but Cobb suggested Dubi explore the team's official website.

Good luck, Christophe. And good luck, les Canadiens.

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