Friday, December 2, 2011


It has been a long time coming but TransLink is launching a large-scale construction project involving faregates at all SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express stations. It is hoped that by abandoning the old fare paid zone "honor system," the system will attract fewer fare evaders as well as provide a feeling of security and safety on board. Also, it will integrate the new reloadable transit card ("Compass" card).

Construction is already underway at several stations. As with most new projects, TransLink is offering some information to the public about what is happening. Many people in Metro Vancouver have experienced faregate systems before; others have not.

I have had the pleasure of experiencing faregate systems in eight different cities around the world. I'm guessing that is more than the average person.

Of course, the biggest concerns I have with faregates are accessibility-related. Until recently, my concerns about TransLink's faregate accessibility were present but they were fairly minimal. But that changed the other night when I was discussing accessibility with faregates with someone online who is somewhat of an expert on public transit issues.

When stating my concerns about accessibility, the reaction from that person was, "All they need to do is widen the faregates for wheelchairs/scooters."

While that is true, it is not completely true – widening something is not all it takes to make something accessible.

That was when I realized that if someone who is so well-versed in public transit issues thinks that, then there is a chance that TransLink officials will think along the same lines.

I've been concerned about the lack of prototypes. When TransLink or Coast Mountain Bus Company introduces a new vehicle, they tend to show off a prototype before the full-scale launch. I have seen nothing of the type for faregates (and I was told that prototypes are not available yet).

At the presentation at Edmonds Station the other night, the artist's depiction of the faregates confirmed some of my concerns (though I am aware it will not be exactly as shown) and the representative I talked to did not seem to foresee some of the accessibility issues that I did.

So what does it take to make the faregates accessible?

1. Wider pathways: This was already discussed and confirmed. However, this is only the beginning.

2. Lowered displays and card-swipe area: Height is surprisingly the most overlooked aspect of accessibility, not only for transit but also for things like washrooms (where towel dispensers are often too high for people in wheelchairs to reach).

I once encountered a faregate system that was quite efficient. However, one sore spot they had was that the digital display (showing how much money was charged to your card and how much is left) faced the ceiling. For a standing person, that is fine. But for a person in a wheelchair, this is useless; how can you see a display at your eye level that is facing the ceiling?

In addition, if the card swipe pad is at the top of the faregate (a.k.a. wheelchair users' eye levels), it is nearly impossible to see WHERE we are supposed to swipe. In addition, those with limited hand and shoulder function (such as partial quadriplegics, those with cerebral palsy, etc.) will not be able to reach high enough to use their transit cards.

This is a VERY important feature that should be looked at carefully. The cities I've seen that have done it right had lowered swipe and displays, approximately 3 feet from the ground, in addition to "normal" standing-level swipe and displays.

3. Depth of card swipe area: One mistake I've seen is some cities with such "touchless" transit cards have swipe areas that are indented INWARDS towards the machine. In other words, the swipe area is in a 1-inch "sinkhole" into the machine itself. This can cause some problems for those with limited hand function.

Some cities have rectified this by doing the opposite: having the swipe area jut OUTWARDS instead. This is a very simple solution that would also work for those with limited vision -- they can feel around for the part that is jutting outwards and swipe their cards that way.

4. Audio cues: This is mostly for those with limited vision and I am sure TransLink will consider this. Some cities I have seen will play a sound clip reading out how much money is left in the card and how much has been subtracted.

5. Another possibility (perhaps a bit far-fetched): For those who use power wheelchairs and have almost no use of their hands, many choose to wear their transit passes around their neck. While bus drivers and transit police will be able to see the pass, a machine will not. I have never seen this solution before -- but perhaps a proximity reader is possible for this situation. For example, once you get 1 foot within the faregate, it will read the card.

I honestly do not know if this is possible but it might be something to think about. Perhaps the technology is available already; if not, I could see a local organization spearheading this.


  1. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts about accessibility and faregates. The concerns mentioned in your post have been important things for us to think about as we design the new system. TransLink has and will continue to demonstrate great willingness to listen to the disability community when building infrastructure and go beyond the minimum building codes to address accessibility concerns. In relation to faregates, to help us address the types of concerns and other potential issues you’ve referenced in your post, we’ve been meeting regularly with TransLink’s Access Transit Users’ Advisory Committee over the past year and they have been giving us some great guidance.

    So far, the Committee has given us some helpful feedback on how to address accessibility and operations of the gates. With their help, and with experience shared by other systems around the world, here is where we’re at right now:

    - The accessible faregate aisle will be 1.08 metres wide, the gate console is 1.02 metres high and the gates are designed with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility considerations in mind.
    - Our supplier has provided similar equipment to other jurisdictions including Miami and London.
    - The card readers on the faregates are contactless and will only require to be placed within proximity (less than 3”) of the reader.
    - The fare card vending machines will have audio functions and are the same dimensions as the machines currently used on the Canada Line.
    - Compass card users will have other options aside from the fare card vending machines – they can load their card online, over the phone and using an auto-load function.
    - The fare card validators on buses and at West Coast Express stations will have an audible tone, but whether this will be included on faregates is yet to be determined.

    We are expecting to have a demonstration accessible-width gate in the spring of next year. That will give users a better idea of what they will see and experience when the system is operation in 2013.

    In the meantime, we’d love to have any additional input from you on ideas and other suggestions, email us at

  2. Thank for you the information! I'm aware that this is still a work in progress but I am glad that my concerns are not going unnoticed.