Fear of Random Public Death at the Olympics

I have many Gen X friends, those friends who are just a little older than me who became teenagers during the 1980’s. One of the defining characteristics of this set of friends is a lingering existential angst about the impending nuclear doom. For me, given that I was all of 11 in 1988, the threat of nuclear war has always been remote – a relic of a previous age. For me, despite absolutely zero personal experience, my existential angst has long revolved around being blown up, shot or poisoned in a public place – a victim of terrorism of some sort. When I was a teenager, I witnessed a drive-by shooting in Chinatown in Toronto. I was also much more conscious of the world at large (due, in no small part to my dad’s subscription to the Guardian Weekly), right around when there seemed to be an uptick in IRA-related bombings in the UK – the London Stock Exchange (1990), Manchester (1992, 1996) and so on, the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Subway (1996). In the middle east, the early 90s were the core years of the First Intifada (1987-1993), which involved wave after wave of attacks on (what to me at the time seemed to be) primarily civilian targets.

This likely is a direct contributor to my intense dislike of crowds & fireworks in particular (huge crowds + explosions? No thank you!), and it has, from time to time, given me pause as I use transit. Particularly in Vancouver. I have taken transit in cities all over the world, many vastly larger and, at least in theory, more dangerous than in Vancouver. However, overall, I feel the least safe riding Translink than virtually anywhere else. Our system is so open, so understaffed, so automated, so spread out and so easy to infiltrate. I’ve watched several people jump down into the tunnels downtown, seen a woman wandering aimlessly along the tracks towards Joyce station. This should not happen.

And now we have the Olympics. For very good reason, the organizers are encouraging everyone to take transit. But that also means that everyone will take transit, and if you wanted to disrupt these games, there’d be no better way than to cause an incident on Translink. And here’s the thing: if there’s one thing that Israel has proved to the world, is that police & military are of no protection against a determined attack, so it wouldn’t matter if there were soldiers and police on every bus and train (for the record, that would also prevent me from wanting to use transit – violence’ only product is more violence, and soldiers and police embody violence).  And so, I’ve had, in the back of my mind, this growing unease about taking transit as the Olympics draw nearer. I know, statistically, that its incredibly unlikely that anything would happen. But this is not a rational fear. It’s just a fear. And sadly, it’s growing stronger right now. I’m sure that our contemporary media-culture of fear-based reporting doesn’t help either. While I normally think of myself as fairly healthy, psychologically speaking, I’m realizing that this phobia is not, and is starting to affect how I live my life, so I should probably do something about it.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll take transit during the games. I would like to enjoy many of the LiveSite events going on, but I’m breaking out in a nervous sweat just thinking about all those people that’ll be there during the Olympics. So maybe not. We’ll see.

Translink (Canada Line) & the Olympics

Quite rightly, VANOC is suggesting that people use transit during the Olympics to get around. This is a good & Noble goal. However, I have some concerns, particularly around use of the Canada Line. At the best of times, my experience is that tourists find our lack of transit gates to be confusing. It’s not terribly clear how to buy tickets, how to “activate” (or whatever the proper term is) them, and how long they’re useful for. This all seems clear enough to residents (although due to the supposed level of fare evasion, maybe it isn’t), however I’ve on at least a dozen of occasions helped tourists figure out how to use the Skytrain (buses are not an issue, due to there being a driver to  manage this).

Opening Day Line Up for the Canada Line. Photo Credit: The Buzzer
Opening Day Line Up for the Canada Line. Photo Credit: The Buzzer

About once a week, at Oakridge Skytrain station, there is a Canada Line attendant who stops and asks to see people’s tickets. This inevitably causes a slow down in getting on the train, and clearly, by the look on people’s faces, is annoying. Given how incredibly packed the Canada Line is already, I can just imagine the confusion & anger if Translink tries to do this during the Olympics. And, as I imagine Translink is looking at the Olympics as a golden opportunity to make some much-needed revenue, I’m expecting to see a veritable army of green-jacketed people checking for tickets. As a result, I’m imagining an even larger army of angry, confused & frustrated people trying to get on over-crowded trains to get downtown to venues, hotels, events and the whole thing just ending up with Translink having a black eye.

I hope that this doesn’t turn out to be the case, but given how poorly thought out the Canada Line constructions appears to have been, I am quite worried that it will end up being a fiasco. Does anyone remember the insanity of the opening day of Canada Line? Imagine that for 2 weeks now. Only it’s tourists stuck in the huge lines, who are perfectly willing to complain to all the media who I’m sure will rush to cover it, rather than us locals, who are more likely to put up with it.

It may be easier for all involved to either a) simply allow free travel on the Canada Line (or all skytrain lines) during the Olympics (highly unlikely at this point) b) provide each and every visitor who has an even ticket a commemorative transit pass (also unlikely) or c) have the Canada Line staff at the stations to help buy tickets, etc, but don’t sweat any accidental (or on-purpose) fare evasion during the Olympics to make using the service as nice as possible for all involved (also unlikely, but seems to be the lease unlikely).

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