Lately I’ve been thinking about public transit. It’s a buzzing sort of worry that comes to me when I am doing something mindless. Actually, I’ve been trying NOT to think about public transit. It gives me no small amount of anxiety to do so. But much as I try to distract myself, I have to say that I am really worried about the people that ride the buses and trains here in Vancouver.
Two news items have been floating around in my mind over the last couple weeks. One, the shooting of Charles Hill in San Francisco by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officers. Charles Hill is the fifth man killed by BART police since 1992, and the first white man to be killed by them. He was homeless and drunk, and shot within 60 seconds of police arriving on scene.
Just days before, MUNI police shot a 19 year old Black man when he fled during a routine fare check. These are sad, infuriating, and increasingly familiar stories.
And the other news item is closer to home. Turnstiles in Skytrain stations. Lauded by many pundits as a blow against ‘free loaders’ in the transit system, the turnstiles don’t make any sort of fiscal sense. They will cost 170 million dollars to build. 15 million dollars a year to operate. ‘Fare evasion’ costs between 5 – 9 million dollars per year (a number that many say is overblown).
So the benefit of the turnstiles isn’t financial. They will cost far more than they save. The turnstiles are a coup for people who think transit should be privatized. They are a triumph for people who think poor people should be ashamed and kept out of site.
Mark my words. The Vancouver transit police (with their guns) won’t go away. We’ll have both the police and the turnstiles. No question in my mind.
Turnstiles and guns. Blood and money. Life and death. People need to ride the bus to get where they need to go. To get to the doctors. To get to their job. To get to the welfare office. To see their kids. Sometimes I feel like this city is becoming more cruel every day.
What’s the health impact of all this? In some ways we could measure it (maybe a survey of the amount of walking poor people have to do before and after the turnstiles? The amount of doctors appointments missed? Family not seen?) and in some ways we can’t really measure it. How do we measure the feeling of being an outsider in your own city? Of feeling criminalized for being poor? The stress of keeping track of every quarter so you can make it to work tomorrow?
And the connection between the two stories? The police killing someone who can’t pay their fare is to me a predictable result of criminalizing people for being poor, or Black, or mentally ill. And that makes me really sick.