Peter Fassbender, the B.C. cabinet minister responsible for TransLink, says he's content with the transit agency's plan to have staff on hand to assist people with disabilities once the Compass fare-gate system is fully up and running, though he's still waiting for a permanent solution.
The issue had become urgent given TransLink's plans to close the fare gates at Canada Line, SkyTrain and SeaBus stations on April. 4. On Thursday, TransLink said it will have staff in stations to assist anyone who can't physically tap in using the card readers. Gates will be left open when staff are not available, TransLink said.
"I am happy with it in the short term, because I can look people with disabilities in the eye and say, 'I know that TransLink is going to meet your needs,'" Mr. Fassbender said in an interview.
The minister – and advocates for people with disabilities – expressed concern earlier this month that TransLink had designed its fare-gate system without ensuring people with disabilities could easily navigate through them. The fare gates require users to hold a Compass cards or a Compass ticket against the reader to open the gates.
At the time, Mr. Fassbender said TransLink would not be allowed to close its gates until it engineered a solution.
On Thursday, Mr. Fassbender said he's willing to give TransLink officials as much time as they need to find a permanent solution.
He said it's his understanding that TransLink wants a permanent, ongoing solution that won't involve its staff monitoring gates. "But in the short term, at least, people with disabilities can be assured they have the unfettered access that I felt was critical."
The minister said one option he's heard of are chips in wheelchairs or other mobility devices that would automatically register payment, as is the case with the Compass technology, and automatically open the gates as the chip users approached.
A TransLink spokesperson declined to make an official available to comment. Speaking on background, the spokesperson said the authority is, indeed, looking for a permanent solution, but there are no timelines to developing it.
The executive director of the Disability Alliance BC said TransLink's decision to place staff in each station is a "reasonable interim solution."
Jane Dyson said she hopes TransLink will be diligent about providing staff to make sure gates are monitored and transit users with disabilities provided help.
Ms. Dyson said, over all, transit is accessible in the Lower Mainland, especially compared with other Canadian cities. However, she said she was "surprised and disappointed" at the oversight that led to the whole problem.
Mr. Fassbender said there is no clear answer about how TransLink proceeded with fare gates without being mindful of accessibility for the disabled. "I don't know if I have the definitive answer on that. I think it's frustrating for everyone that we ended up, at the 12th hour, trying to scramble for a solution," he said.
"The bottom line is, again, another lesson learned. My comment to them was, 'How come we didn't know that this would be an issue?' I can't answer that."