Window Seat: Downtown fare-check blitz by transit cops just business as usual, TransLink says
So there I was riding the #16 Arbutus to work at about 10:15 a.m., westbound on Hastings Street, on Monday (January 7) when something unusual happened: the driver pulled over and transit security backed up by gun-toting transit cops boarded to check for fare compliance.
After entering through the front and side doors simultaneously, they swiftly and efficiently made their way through the half-full bus, then exited. Inside the vehicle and outside, there were six of them: three security and three cops. One of them, ticket book open, appeared to be questioning someone outside on the sidewalk.
That’s not so unusual, you might think. But for that bus, at that place (Hastings and Homer, just across from Sikora’s Classical Records), it was very unusual. I’ve been taking that bus (or the #14 UBC on the same route) on a daily basis for seven years and only had my fare checked three times that I can recall.
Once was on Granville Street between Pender and Georgia streets (my first time ever for Granville downtown), only about two months ago, and the other two times were at the northwest corner of Commercial Drive and Hastings, but those both took place soon after the Olympics and when I was on the #135 SFU/Burrard Station express (my "time travel" bus that I sometimes use to speedily catch up to a just-missed trolley while it is still on Hastings).
The other thing that I found odd was the fact that the place where the latest fare check happened is not a stop for trolley buses; it is where the limited-stop #135 picks up and drops off.
I asked the driver, after the shock troops had departed, why he had stopped there. “They flagged me down,” he explained.
Again, the first time I had ever experienced that.
The next day, Tuesday, they were there again, six of them. This time I was on the #135, so I got off there to walk west a block and transfer to my usual #16 or #14. One of them had detained an elderly and somewhat bewildered-looking and fearful Asian women and was speaking into his radio, seemingly looking for guidance, as I overheard him say something along the lines of: “…but she doesn’t have any ID to prove that she’s 65.”
She appeared to be at least that old, and I thought it a bit heavy-handed to be cracking down on seniors by carrying out ID checks for concession fares (what’s next, moms having to carry birth certificates to prove their free-riding child is four or under?).
But it was the cop with the open ticket book talking to the young man outside the adjacent storefront language school that intrigued me. He was explaining to the (seeming) student the city’s smoking bylaw and loudly emphasizing that you couldn’t smoke within six metres of a building’s door or open window.
The officer concluded his talk with a cautionary: “I’ll let you off with a warning this time.” When I asked the man if he had, indeed, been singled out for smoking on the sidewalk, he rather sheepishly said “Yes,” and rejoined his friends. I’m not sure why none of that group, most of them smoking, received a warning as well.
Admirable, if a bit overzealous, I guess, except: are transit cops charged with enforcing city bylaws? One of the most common sights downtown are knots of young people on the sidewalks outside these ubiquitous language schools, having a smoke and a chat while on break or lunch. The six-metre restriction detailed in “Health By-law No. 9535” would mean, realistically, that you couldn’t smoke anywhere in downtown Vancouver.
So was this all an enforcement blitz to put an exclamation mark to the recent fare hikes? Was it a show of force to serve notice to the downtown core, notorious for years for its daily heavy rates of noncompliance on buses? Was it a demonstration of the muscle TransLink now has as a result of the 2012 post–Labour Day bylaw that replaced the provincial statute and that allows TransLink to issue tickets and collect fines for fare evasion? Or was it meant to finally put to work some of that expensive police force that previously worked the relatively cushy, climate-controlled SkyTrain and Canada Line, the routes that are soon to be regulated with the $100-million fare-gate system? (Surely there will be calls to trim that force once the turnstiles are in place and functioning.)
The answer, it seems, is: none of the above.
TransLink Police spokesperson Anne Drennan (yes, the same former mouthpiece for the Vancouver cops), when I called her Wednesday afternoon to enquire about the unusual crackdown, said it was just everyday business.
“No, no more than usual,” she said on the phone. “We constantly do fare checks. If this is a particular area that has been ID’d as a problem area…then we’ll target that area for a period of time to get it under control.
“It has nothing to do with the fare increase,” she continued. “There are times when we will make a more concerted effort.” By way of explanation, Drennan pointed out that in September last year, when students were heading back to school and people generally were finishing vacations and returning to work, “there was a targeted, more concerted effort”.
Otherwise, she added, “we tend to move our officers throughout the entire system to try to maintain their visibility.”
As for the officer seemingly enforcing city bylaws, she said that she would have to check on that and get back to me. “I don’t want to give you a definite answer on this one.”
Thursday (January 10), they were there once more and, extraordinarily, flagged down my #14 around 9:40 a.m. to check fares yet again.
So, business as usual.
Except it’s not.