Fix access issue before closing SkyTrain gates, TransLink told

People with severe disabilities would have had to phone ahead for an attendant under TransLink plan to close fare gates by April 8

TransLink has been ordered to find a solution that works for wheelchair-bound people with disabilities before it closes all the fare gates at SkyTrain stations.

The transportation authority said this week it intends to close all the fare gates in the first week of April.

That scenario would leave a couple hundred severely disabled users who can’t physically tap out with the Compass card forced to phone in advance to have an attendant meet them to open the gates, using the same station assistance service that ensures access for the visually impaired.

Minister responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender said Wednesday that’s not acceptable.

“This government has made it very clear to TransLink that before any gates are closed, solutions will be in place to ensure unfettered access for persons with disabilities,” Fassbender said in the legislature.

RELATED:SkyTrain fare gates close in April

TransLink officials said Tuesday they were striving to find a better solution, but one wouldn’t be in place before the planned closure date of April 8.

“No person should be prevented from having appropriate access to the system,” Fassbender said in an interview. “If they don’t come up with that then they have the responsibility to leave a gate open so that people with disabilities can have that access.”

He suggested phone apps could offer a solution to open the gates as disabled riders approach.

NDP MLA David Eby said a workable solution should have been found before now, particularly since other issues for the disabled were addressed earlier, such as gates that were initially too narrow for some wider wheelchairs.

Fassbender’s directive once again raises questions over who is in charge of key decisions at TransLink, he added.

“Either TransLink is independent or it’s a puppet of the minister. It’s really hard to say on a day like today,” Eby said.

“Now that we’re in this crisis moment, it’s pretty clear to everybody that the solution TransLink put forward was inadequate.”

Eby is concerned that looming deadlines to complete the project could leave TransLink on the hook for more costs with the Compass system contractor.

A delay would also mean more users paying too much if they forget to tap out when they exit SkyTrain through the open gate at each station.

The original directive to add fare gates to SkyTrain came from the provincial government to end what was seen as rampant fare evasion and increase security on the transit system, with a target opening date of 2010.

TransLink initially opposed gates as too costly for the expected reduction in fare evasion, but later embraced the payment system in particular as a way to get better data on travel patterns.

The system’s budget climbed to $194 million. It was promised to be operational by fall of 2013, but it would be two years later before the full Compass rollout to all users happened.

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE OF FAREGATES ISSUE

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