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Gregor Robertson’s Unfare Fight

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

It was reported in the paper today that Vision Vancouver’s mayoral candidate, Gregor Robertson was caught riding on the Skytrain with an invalid ticket. He was fined $173.00.

This is a stunning hit for boy-wonder of the Vision Vancouver coalition. While it is not as serious as being convicted of drinking and driving which has dogged other political leaders from Metro Vancouver, it is still a major hit against him.

Robertson claims that he rides the skytrain once every six months. Well six months ago, the zone system was exactly the same as it was the day he got the fine. Vancouver, all by itself, is one zone. Travel anywhere beyond Vancouver’s boundaries necessarily means you are crossing into another zone.

Surely, someone who has been a sitting member of the provincial legislature, presumes to be mayor of the province’s largest city- and is an advocate of public transport- ought to know beforehand, or at least be saavy enough to become aquainted with, the zone boundaries and the cost to travel across one.

If this was a mistake, what will this say about his character? Certainly we should expect more of our mayor than this sort of sloppy self-governance. Let’s just hope it was an honest mistake- a sort of slip-up never to be repeated. Ever.

But to make things worse for Robertson, he claims that after receiving the ticket for travelling in the wrong zone with a one zone ticket, he got off the train to buy a zone-upgrade at the next station. Too little, too late, Gregor. The damage has already been done. (After you get a parking ticket, do you then plug the meter? Of course not!)

Then, in an act of political spin that could pull dust bunnies out from under the bed, he postures that he’s going to make a fuss about how the fine unreasonably fits the crime: a $173.00 ticket is way out of proportion to the $1.25 difference between a one-zone ticket and a two-zone ticket.

Is the fine too much? Perhaps. But posture all you want, Gregor. The fine is still $173.00. The fine would have been zero, zilch, nada, had you actually paid for a two-zone ticket in the first place.

Yet Gregor Robertson’s inter-zonal plight highlights a sort of fare evasion that is almost impossible to detect without directly interfering with travellers on the bus, skytrain and seabus. It is so pervasive that one might even go so far as to say unofficially that it is the norm.

People carrying one-zone monthly passes and transfers and travelling in another zone is wide-spread throughout the system. As a transit operator, I see it all the time. It speaks to the unfairness of our zone system.

Why do we still use the archaic zone system anyway? After all, why should someone who lives at Joyce and Kingsway pay $3.75 to go shopping at Metrotown only nine bus-stops away but in Burnaby on the other side of a zone boundary, while pay only $2.50 to go to completely across the city to UBC, a considerably farther distance?

Robertson should take responsibility for his action, inadvertent or otherwise, instead of trying to cover for the fact that he was unfortunate enough to get caught.

But if he prefers not to take responsibility, he should raise the question that would help those who don’t intend to cheat the system, to avoid making the same mistake he claims to have made and make transit use fairer at the same time…

When will electronic payment, a technology that allows for payment in real-time based on actual distance travelled, replace the outdated and unfair zone system we currently have?