TransLink says its $170-million expenditure on SkyTrain fare gates and smart cards may give authorities new tools to control the flow of partiers taking transit to big events that may turn violent.
Spokesman Ken Hardie said it's too early to respond in detail to transit-related recommendations issued in response to the June 15 Stanley Cup riot.
But he said fare gates being added at all SkyTrain stations could be used to limit the rate at which riders board trains.
He noted SeaBus terminals have turnstiles that count the number of passing passengers. When the outgoing vessel's capacity is reached, the turnstiles temporarily lock out others from entering the boarding area until the next sailing.
Fare gates could similarly let transit officials meter and restrict the number of people who board the system at certain stations, Hardie said.
"That's not to say we would do it, but we know it can be done," he said. "It becomes another option, another tool that potentially has some use."
TransLink's Compass smart cards may also be tied to transit riders' identities – although it's not yet clear if that will happen only if users register their cards for protection against theft or loss.
Hardie would not comment when asked if it's conceivable TransLink could lock specific riders out of the system – perhaps ones previously ejected from transit for liquor violations – by temporarily deactivating their smart cards on a day when riot-like trouble is brewing.
Fare gates are to start working in early 2013, reducing the number of fare evaders who board trains without paying.
Hardie would not discuss the feasibility or potential cost of implementing airport-style bag searches for rapid transit – an idea raised by the Vancouver Police Department's riot review.
The VPD and provincial riot reports urged TransLink to find ways to limit the volume of people heading downtown for major events to give organizers some control of crowd sizes.
One suggestion is TransLink force downtown-bound passengers to exit at a variety of downtown stations, to avoid heavy concentrations at any one site.
Most celebrants were headed to Vancouver Centre station on June 15, with an estimated 500 people exiting there from incoming trains every 90 seconds.
The provincial report said TransLink should be prepared to slow down the rapid transit system if necessary, even though it noted TransLink objections that slowing or stopping trains over concerns in one area can unnecessarily delay huge numbers of passengers travelling on the rest of the system.
"It's just not reasonable... to allow an unlimited number of people to go downtown to party," it said.
Hardie noted TransLink did halt southbound SeaBus sailings at one point on the night of the riot to keep more people from arriving downtown from the North Shore.
Although Transit Police made more than 3,000 liquor pour-outs June 15, the provincial riot review found they had no meaningful ability to intercept drinking passengers once trains became packed.
Up to 200,000 extra riders were carried by transit that day.
Transit Police are limited in their ability to search passengers for alcohol – officers must have probable grounds someone is breaking the law.
But the riot has sparked calls for new legislation giving police wider powers.
Citing the health risks of heavy drinking, Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical health officer Patricia Daly called for a ban on carrying unopened alcohol on days of big public events, along with legislation letting police conduct random searches.