Posted by: Karen Quinn Fung | March 2, 2011

Turnstiles: gate-keeping the space of SkyTrain stations


The Vancouver Public Space Network’s Public Transit and Surveillance and Security working groups will be meeting on Thursday, March 3rd, to consider projects to highlight and explore the impact of both smart cards and turnstiles on the current experience of the public transit system.

To get myself in the mood, I pulled together a short gallery of 18 photos from Flickr of turnstiles in public transit stations around the world for a taste of what’s on the horizon for Vancouver as TransLink moves ahead with planning for and implementing similar systems for SkyTrain. (Unfortunately I’m not able to embed all these pictures in this blog post; however, if you click through you’ll be able to see my comments on what strikes me as interesting or applicable to Vancouver, about each photo!)

Having lived in places like Toronto and Hong Kong, as well as being a visitor in cities with their own versions of these systems, I’m sensitive to the fact that both turnstiles and smart cards provide conveniences and benefits to both transportation authorities and people using public transit.

But I think it’s also sensible to ask some questions about what the experience of transitioning from the honour system to one that will involve both turnstiles and smart cards will be like. For example:

  • How tenable are the cost/benefit considerations associated with turnstiles?
  • What was the process by which turnstiles were determined to be a priority for TransLink? Is the political push from the Transportation Minister to pursue them appropriate?
  • Beyond estimates, what do we know about “fare cheats” anyway?  Why exactly do some people avoid buying a ticket?
  • Will turnstiles and smart cards be used as advertising surfaces as they are in other cities?  (Well, smart cards have been since late last year … so we have an answer to that question already!)

The addition of turnstiles and smart cards will represent a change in the way that we engage with transit.  The honour system (at least in this case) will be set aside for gate-keeping technology.   Depending on your perspective, this could be a minor thing, or representative of a philosophical shift in the way TransLink does business.

If these questions sound like things you want to explore with us, come join us at Vancouver Public Library — Central Library at Library Square on Thursday, March 3 at 6:30, or if you aren’t able to make it, please send an e-mail to say you are interested — quinn [at] — and we’ll be sure to keep you up to date on the status of the project!


  1. The most important point to me about these new turnstiles is that they will NOT eliminate fare evasion. This recent article shows how Toronto is losing increasing amounts of fare revenue, yet had had turnstiles on its subway from day 1.

    The assertion that turnstiles will somehow make transit safer is also not based on reality. One of the least safe systems in recent years was the New York subway – and that had very effective gates on it, but inadequate policing. That, of course, was rectified. Do we have to relearn the same lessons?

    • Thanks for sharing the link, Stephen! Your many blog posts and ongoing coverage of the topic are high on the resource list for this project and have definitely inspired me to push this project forward.

      All my Google-fu seems to indicate that the article you linked too has been taken offline; there are dozens of links to it from the day it was posted but they are all 404 offline now. Curious. But I was able to locate this response to the article in Toronto Life’s blog.

  2. Reposting from the VPSN Facebook – Comment by JM:

    The question is will it put off as many riders as it makes up for skipped fares? I personally think the balance is going to be pretty near center. When lines start forming and people are no longer able to run to catch their trains because… of these turnstiles, more people are going to abandon the inconvenience in favour of private automobiles.

    My advice would be to get the highest-paid police force to actually police our transit system instead of having the public finance their social hours when they stand around in their gaggles at whatever random station. Go to Metrotown Station, now, and I give you 2-to-1 odds you’ll find one such gaggle laughing and having a good old time at the tax-payer’s expense on that platform. Main Street/Science World is another good place to spot the rather unelusive Transit Police public teat-sucker.

  3. The psychology of the space will be irrevocably altered, which is why they didn’t want turnstyles in the first place. The Skytrain, for all it’s faults, is an open, airy, free flowing system that invites tourists as well as commuters. It is remarkably safe, due largely in part to it’s openness.

    I imagine many people who fare jump because they’re only going 1 or 2 stations will take a cab, increasing emissions. The homeless will have their freedom of movement hampered. This is quite simply a desperate cash grab by a bankrupt transit authority with no democratic input into their decision making. They need to pay for their 3 brand new bridges across the Fraser because they’re not getting the amount of drivers that were projected. So they raise the fares to pay for turn-styles that may or may not actually do anything, as Mr. Rees pointed out.

  4. Over the last year or so I have been using transit exclusively. It seems to me that the majority of transit users are using passes in some form or another. I fail to see how this very expensive system will ever pay for itself. The money could have been better spent improving the system.

  5. Reposting from TM on the VPSN Facebook page:

    “Personally, I feel turnstiles equal another obstacle to public transport use. I question both the pervasiveness of fare evasion and the assertion that turnstiles will have a significant impact on eliminating fare cheats. I feel our tax dollars would be far better spent on making the SkyTrain and the city’s bus routes more efficient and more accessible. Sorry to have missed the focus group, hope there will be another one soon.”

  6. I see this post a bit late. The main confusion the post seems to maintain is to let the public believe that smart card and turnstile are correlated: they are not, Not at all…
    In fact I believe that most of the system using smart card don’t have turnstiles.

    And I more than agree with Stephen Rees, there is basically no correlation between turnstile and fare evasion control. Toronto could have low fare evasion numbers, but virtually all of its subway entrances are staffed…

    I have blogged a while ago on it:

    (On it: I have a picture of subway entrance with smartcard but no turnstile… much more inviting than all the picture of gated entrance you have collected)

  7. they are already going in @ broadway right now
    problem with turnstiles is fraud is now easier than ever. simply get a MSR and rewrite the cards. presto free transit, sell them on CL via mail order even. 2600 magazine wrote a full article in 2005 on how they easily breached the MTA turnstiles

    since no attendant you can keep rewriting the same card they’ll never know
    also vancouver is too stupid for turnstiles. it will be a huge lineup of people with some guy confused not knowing how to access holding it up x infinity + 1

  8. it better be easy to jump over! and the reason people don’t pay because you cant support a family on minimum wage! why would you pay for transit when you don’t have enough to eat! and they try to fine you $175 if you cant pay $2.00 or however much it is.. [] the sky train takes 2-3 million to run and makes over 100 million.. the turnstiles isn’t about the money its to know where people are going (when you buy your pass they will take information from you and when you put it in to open the turnstile it goes into the computer) so they can control us even more!!!!

    [This comment has been edited due to inappropriate language. – Karen]

  9. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing.

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