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TransLink video info screens lashed as wasteful

System at entrance to SkyTrain stations mostly inoperative
A video information screen at an entrance to Stadium SkyTrain station.

TransLink is accused of wasting more than $523,000 in 2009 to put up 13 video screens at SkyTrain station entrances that now mostly do not work.

The LCD monitors and networked content players cost more than $40,000 each, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request filed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).

The video screens were to communicate SkyTrain system emergencies, closures and other information to transit riders, ending the practice of staff scrawling messages on sandwich boards outside stations.

"Any way you slice it, $40,000 for a TV screen in this day and age is mind-boggling waste," said Jordan Bateman, the CTF's B.C. director.

He said the only working screens were at Stadium Station when he recently checked them, while those at Scott Road, Edmonds and Commercial-Broadway had vanished and ones at Lougheed were there but not operating.

TransLink records show the Scott Road screens were damaged by vandals while others were offline as of August 2011 due to various technical failures.

Three quarters of the money for the Station Entrance Emergency Information Panel (SEEIP) project came from a $391,000 federal Transit-Secure grant.

But Bateman said it was not good use of money earmarked to improve safety and security, regardless of whether taxpayers paid for it via the federal government or through TransLink.

The video screens at the entrances to the five stations are different from the more than 160 screens on all SkyTrain and Canada Line station platforms that can also transmit urgent messages.

Those were installed by TransLink's advertising contractor at their cost and TransLink receives a share of the advertising revenue.

"The taxpayers didn't have to pay a dime for that," said Byron Montgomery, general manager for Lamar Transit Advertising.

Asked whether TransLink had tried to partner with Lamar on the station entrance screens, which were installed around the same time, he said they were separate initiatives.

Bateman said sandwich board messages may not be elegant but they work.

He said it's harder for passengers at a station entrance that has been closed due to a problem to peer through a grille at a video monitor inside.

TransLink officials said several of the out-of-service monitors are either being repaired or are temporarily covered up because of station renovations.

"This was put in as a safety measure," TransLink corporate communications manager Jason Martin said.

He said plans to add more of the station entrance video screens in 2013 are under review, adding TransLink now makes much greater use of social media in communicating with passengers than it did four years ago.

The cost of the project, which was in place in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics, included computers, a server, cables, software and other infrastructure.