Vancouver-region transit police say some passengers have become convinced they can pry open the doors of stalled SkyTrain cars since a pair of shutdowns across the light-rail system last month. The result: a new effort to fine offending passengers $115.
The options for such fines have long been on the books, but not used by the police force that patrols the light rail, buses and SeaBus ferries and other operations of Lower Mainland transit.
But police say media and social-media images of passengers walking the tracks of SkyTrain after bailing on cars stalled between stations last month have convinced some passengers they can just exit during short, routine delays.
“These are very brief delays where people, almost as soon as the train stops, are deciding to pry the door open and pop out,” Anne Drennan, a Transit Police spokewoman, said Tuesday. “It would appear the coverage of the shutdowns had this effect on a certain number of people. Our concern is that if this continues, it’s just a matter of time probably before something major happens.”
There have been five such exits since July 21, when a mishap adjusting the main control panel shut down the system for hours, stranding thousands of passengers. Some of them took a do-it-yourself approach to their rescue after the trains stopped and the public-address system crashed so the transit authority could not communicate with stranded passengers.
Last weekend, a man on a train paused for a routine stop near BC Place stadium waited moments before prying open the doors, jumping out of the train and running to the next station, where he fled ahead of transit police.
“This is something that’s relatively new to us,” Ms. Drennan said. “It has only started since the systemwide shutdowns.”
Police are now going to investigate all such incidents and issue fines of $115 under provincial violations of interfering with the operation of a transit vehicle or preventing or delaying the closing of a transit-vehicle door.
“We feel that we’ve reached the point where we had to put out a pretty strong message that this is not something that can be tolerated, and there are penalities in place and we will use those penalities,” Ms. Drennan said.
The situation has prompted the regional transit authority, TransLink, to begin developing its first-ever public education campaign to persuade passengers to stay in stalled trains – a mix of social media, baseball-card-style handouts and advertising on train platforms and in cars that should be ready to go in six weeks, said Colleen Brennan, a spokeswoman for TransLink.
Ms. Brennan said passengers are evacuating cars even when there are public-address announcements warning of short delays. Despite an independent audit of the recent shutdowns due in October, TransLink has decided it can’t wait to start warning passengers, Ms. Brennan said. “We don’t want to wait for [the report]. We need to get on it,” she said.
Passengers who bail on cars risk electrocution due to a 600-volt charge in the guideway. Ms. Drennan also said police fear fleeing passengers will fall off elevated tracks. And trains cannot move unless doors are closed, causing further delays.
Ironically, Ms. Drennen said last month police would not be ticketing passengers because the force could understand their frustration during long delays – though police did not recommend such exits. “We felt this would simply be adding insult to injury,” she said Tuesday, recalling the earlier view.
Peter Suedfeld, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of British Columbia, said it would appear passengers have noted that there were no consequences for people who fled the trains during the July shutdowns. He said TransLink might find it easier to retrofit the doors so they won’t open than to change passenger behaviour.