The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is questioning whether Transit Police will be worth their $27-million annual cost once TransLink's new fare gates are installed on the SkyTrain and CanadaLine system.
Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says the annual budget for Metro Vancouver's Transit Police is already twice the size it needs to be.
The force pays nearly 60 of it's 167 officers more than $100,000 each a year to perform fairly routine police work, says Bateman, who has been a persistent critic of the cost of the force.
"Two-thirds of Transit Police files are fare checks, and a Vancouver Police Department audit showed the average transit cop works on less than ten serious or property crime files a year," said Bateman earlier this week.
"The Transit Police should be disbanded, with half its budget being invested in the much cheaper, more effective Transit Security," said Bateman.
"The other half of its budget can go to improving transit service or better yet – relieving taxpayers of some of TransLink’s relentless property, gas, Hydro and parking tax increases."
Other crimes investigated
But Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan says those numbers don't tell the whole story.
"Those are statistics that can be twisted and turned to meet the Taxpayers Federation's needs. Our officers are busy each and every shift. Of course fare checking is a part of what we do, we are transit police."
But Drennan says officers also investigate assaults, frauds and sexual assaults on the transit system.
"Even through fare checks, the number of warrants arrest that we make, the number of immigration issues that we encounter, the number of suicidal people, of mentally distraught people that we encounter through fare checks is phenomenal."
Drennan notes Transit Police officers are trained to the same standards as municipal police departments throughout British Columbia.
Visible presence valued
Former TransLink director and SFU urban transportation expert Gordon Price says measuring the number of ticket and crimes police investigate may not capture their full value.
"Do we need them? It depends what you want to buy. If it is a fairly narrowly defined policing service, you may be able to do it cheaper," says Price.
But Price notes that simply having police officers visible on transit may be a valuable service.
"If what you really want to buy is the perception of safety, you can't put a number to it, but it's invaluable. And if you don't have it when it comes to transit, you pay a huge cost: the confidence of your riders."
"Fundamental to transit, you've got to perceive it as safe if you're going to use it in the first place. Certainly applies for say women at night, children at any time, and the general user has to believe that the system is going to be at least minimally safe and what that means is they're not going to have incidents."
Price also says once the fare gates are installed, that is no guarantee the system will stop fare evasion or reduce crime on transit, so the officers will still have a role.
The best way to gauge the value of the force would be to wait until the fare gates have been operating for a year and then conduct a performance audit of their service, he says.
Price notes heavily used bus routes, like the 99 B-Line, may benefit from redeployed Transit Police.
"There's work to be done there. So I suspect they can find a role for them, but we're going to have to wait and see what the impact of fare gates is."
- CBC News hosted a live chat on the transit police issue from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. PT Wednesday night. Hit replay to see what participants had to say: