The real reason for transit turnstiles: a privatization opportunity

Ian King of 24 Hours does a comprehensive rebuttal of Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s case for “smart card” turnstiles on the Translink system in his Aug. 1 column. There simply is no business case to justify the massive expenditure based on reductions in fare evasion or improved security.

But King, like others, fails to explain why Falcon pursues such a patently wasteful policy when more and more transit services — like the 99 B-Line, for example — are reducing requirements to prove fare is paid simply to speed up the service.

My theory: it’s a privatization opportunity. In Hong Kong, the transit system uses the smart cards like a debit system or a Starbucks card. You load it up with some money and the balance is drawn down every time you travel. The convenience has made the card a natural tool for stores like 7-11, which do a large volume of small transactions. So the Hong Kong system makes money on the deposits in its system and controls the expansion of the card throughout the local economy.

That would be a big money-maker once Translink had forced hundreds of thousands of riders to make the switch. But in Falcon’s world, that’s a private sector profit opportunity, not a way to facilitate and finance transit use. Translink will pay the start-up costs, but a private service provider will get the long-term benefit, just as happened with privatization of government information technology services.