A lifelong transit user has said she is “absolutely disgusted” by a recent interaction she witnessed between TransLink police and a senior citizen.
On August 19, Shirley Hall, a retiree and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, was riding the Number 16 bus west along East Hastings Street when two Transit Police Service officers boarded the vehicle and began checking tickets.
“There is some poor old geezer—I’d say he was about 70—and he had his walker and he didn’t have a ticket,” Hall recounted in a telephone interview. “So they said, ‘You have to get off the bus.’
“I said, ‘Look, I’ll pay for his ticket, I’ll pay his fare,’ ” Hall continued. “And they said, ‘No, you won’t. He has to get off.’ ” The man was evicted from the vehicle.
“I’m really appalled at what’s happening with the transit system,” Hall said. “I could see that the poor old guy was scraping close to the bone. You could see he didn’t have money.”
TransLink declined to make a representative available for an interview. In an emailed response, spokesperson Jiana Ling confirmed that riders holding tickets cannot save fare evaders from TransLink evictions.
“All persons using transit are required to provide proof of fare when asked,” she wrote. “The fact that someone else is willing to pay for them from that point of their journey onwards does not cover the retrospective offence.”
The email notes that TransLink officers do have the authority to exercise discretion in the issuing of tickets.
Susan Soper is another lifelong public-transit user. She’s worked in the Downtown Eastside for more than 25 years and described Hall’s story as “shocking”. Soper said she’s also noticed transit authorities’ aggressive ticketing, especially at SkyTrain stations. “It’s like a turkey shoot,” she told the Straight. “They’re just writing tickets all over the place.”
According to a March 2012 CBC news report, TransLink police issued an average of 150 tickets per day in the preceding 14-month period.
A rider found in a TransLink “fare paid zone” without proof of payment is subject to a fine of $173, according to TransLink’s website. If that amount is not paid within 180 days, the penalty increases to $213, and it goes up to $273 after 366 days.
Soper emphasized that she sees many TransLink employees regularly showing sympathy for people living in poverty. “The bus drivers seem to be compassionate and understanding, especially on the Hastings route,” she said. “I rarely see a bus driver say no, and people do just walk on.”
Soper noted that a one-zone fare of $2.75 isn’t much to a lot of people, but for somebody on welfare, public transit in Vancouver can easily become an unaffordable luxury. She suggested TransLink police could learn from bus drivers and give more thought to circumstance when issuing tickets.