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Estimating fare evasion

Over the last day, there has been quite a discussion on the Buzzer blog and on our Facebook page about fare evasion. The discussion has also spread to the Price Tags blog. It’s clearly a hot topic, one that generates a diverse range of opinions.

A Transit Officer in action

One of the questions we’ve heard since the fare evasion discussion started is how exactly TransLink estimates fare evasion each year, particularly on our buses and on West Coast Express (which had a fare blitz earlier this week). I checked in with transit security to find out more about the process. What I found is that fare audits involve much more than simply asking bus operators to press a button that records whenever someone refuses to pay a fare. While this is something that operators do, it’s just to get a picture of where fare evasion might be occurring and the scale of the problem. For official fare evasion estimates, TransLink uses fare audits and “yellow card” checks, both of which are considered best practice by the International Bus Benchmarking Group (IBBG).

Fare audits

We conduct three in-depth fare audits each year on SkyTrain, SeaBus, buses and West Coast Express, with each audit lasting a total of 225 hours. Fare audits are system wide and the data collected contribute to where to allocate resources and the cost of doing so. Last year our fare audits checked more than 141,000 people to get a representative sample of fare evasion on our system

During a fare audit, staff check passenger fares as they board a bus or enter a SkyTrain or West Coast Express Station or SeaBus terminal. They typically stand out of sight to make sure they’re getting a true picture of what’s happening with fare payments. On buses, someone will stand by the farebox at the front to check fares and, on buses with three-door boarding, staff will check fares just inside each door. Staff keep track of the type of fare product being used (e.g., pass, single fare ticket, FareSaver), time of day and direction of travel. If an audit is interrupted for any reason, it is cancelled and completed at another time to ensure that our audit results are accurate.

Yellow card checks

The other way we estimate fare evasion on buses is with yellow card checks. These checks are specified by particular transit routes as opposed to the system as a whole. If a certain route is shown to have a high rate of fare evasion, these checks flag this so resources can address the issue. Staff will get on board and check fares as a bus travels along its route, and as passengers enter. These also take place at zone boundaries, where staff will board a bus, check fares, and then get off and wait for the next bus. Yellow card checks take place throughout the year – in 2011, we checked more than 92,000 fares this way.

…and the random checks

It is worth noting that the fare audits and yellow card checks are distinct from the random checks that often take place – and which many of you have probably experienced while using the transit system.

I hope this helps to answer the question of how TransLink estimates fare evasion, and adds clarity to the ongoing fare evasion discussion. You can also read the independent fare evasion audit report on our transit system from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2008.

Author: Tina Robinson


  • By Kitty Cats, February 10, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    I have a upass, and I go on transit like 5-6 days a week, not just to school.
    I use it on skytrain, langley, downtown, surrey… all areas.
    I’ve been checked once in the pastyear and a half…. and seen loads of people let on free
    so what a joke

  • By Jean, February 11, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    I do not have problems with faregates.

    I lived in Toronto for over 20 years before to Vancouver. So personally I found it strange that Vancouver doesn’t have faregates.

    What continues to be a disturbing problem which is somewhat related to fare payment, is the increase of violence/threats to bus drivers who ask people to pay but they don’t. I’ve seen this happen several times on TransLink buses when I worked out in Langley. In 1 situation, I witnessed outright threat to a driver while I was a passenger.

    The further away from core downtown areas, the more likely it may happen out in the suburbs where ridership is thinner during certain times of day, etc. So a fare evader feels emboldened..

  • By T, February 11, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    It’s nice that you’ve addressed this issue, but the major issue, as discussed on “The cost of fare evasion” blog post, is that a lot of people simply don’t want fare gates. Why would you dedicate a whole blog to a question that maybe 1 or 2 people asked, when most of the comments on the “Cost of Fare Evasion” blog are anti-fare gate comments? It would be nice if you guys at translink could at least address the elephant in the room…

  • By Erik G., February 12, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    Do rest assured that Translink will never capture that “$18 million” it claims it is losing. At least half of the fare evaders will just “dissapear” and find another way to get where they are going. Perhaps on foot, perhaps on bike or perhaps, sadly, on one of the buses that they know they can just push past the driver without consequences.

  • By Ben K, February 12, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

    Why do auditors not check fares upon departure? Surely this would provide results that are as accurate—or likely more accurate—than such checks performed at entry/boarding, since there is no opportunity for an astute evader to avoid entry upon seeing the inspectors.

    Also: why are “yellow card” checks so named?


  • By Tina Robinson - Buzzer Contributor, February 13, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Kitty Cats: I think what the “Costs of fare evasion” post was trying to make clear is that the perception of fare evasion is ten times worse than actual audited fare evasion.

    T: In answer to your comment about faregates, blog comments aren’t our only indicator of public opinion. When we do outreach in the stations, for example, we overwhelmingly hear, “It’s about time!”. At this point, the Compass card and faregates are definitely coming to the system – if you are interested in the business case about the project, you can read it here (fare evasion is just one of many considerations):

    Ben K: I made the same comment to the transit security person I spoke with when writing this post, and he said that they do the audited checks in places where they can’t be seen until it’s too late (e.g., deep inside a station, or inside a bus). On the other hand, random checks may not always be out of sight, because they sometimes want to be visible to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise to pay fares – these aren’t used for the official fare evasion estimates though.

  • By Derek Cheung CMBC, February 13, 2012 @ 10:29 am

    “Yellow Card” checks are so-named because of the colour and the paper stock used to record the captured statistics.

  • By Ben K, February 13, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    While I understand that explanation, it doesn’t answer the question. Why do they not do departure-time checking instead—or, at least, in addition?

    There are only a couple of stations (e.g. the subway platforms downtown) where the “deep inside a station” approach can work, since the open design of the above-grade stations makes personnel visible from a distance. Same goes for buses—unless the vehicle crush-filled (in which case I imagine inspectors would not work very efficiently), it is relatively easy to see a uniformed official from outside.

    On the other hand, the “deliberate visibility” rationale is reasonable, in the cases where that is the goal.


  • By Tina Robinson - Buzzer Contributor, February 14, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    They don’t do departure-time tracking because it would be difficult to do, and less precise, because of the types of interactions that come up as a result, e.g. people who claim they lost their ticket, or just threw it away, etc. Checking on entry is the most accurate way to estimate what people are doing with respect to fares.

    To your point of people being able to see the people checking, they do their best to stay out of sight, but they also have a more sophisticated way of tracking the various things people do as they approach. For example, they have spotters who also record people who approach a station, or step onto a bus, and then turn around and leave when they see the check taking place.

    I guess the final word is that our methods of estimating fare evasion have been independently validated, and are considered international best practice.

  • By John B, February 13, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

    I would like to see more Transit Security Officers hired so they can check more buses and sky trains. I find it quite amusing when they stop someone using someone else’s pass. I have my own pass and would never let someone else use it.

  • By Bob, February 14, 2012 @ 6:42 am

    If someone is found without a fare, do they get a criminal record?

  • By Tina Robinson - Buzzer Contributor, February 14, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    Bob: No, they don’t get a criminal record.

  • By Jack, February 14, 2012 @ 8:58 am

    The easiest two ways to stop fare evasion are (a) turnstiles, and (b) low fare prices. The first is being implemented; but, if transit gets any more expensive even to stay within one zone, no one in their right mind will want to pay. Again, cut the fare zone system and charge per distance. If you’re going between Sperling and Brentwood Station for instance, $2.50 is a tad much!

  • By Tina Robinson - Buzzer Contributor, February 14, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Jack: We hear that from a lot of people. Although we are rolling out the faregates and Compass card with the current fare structure, we will be looking at possible ways of rejigging it after the system is in place. There’s been quite a lot of discussion about this topic in the comments to the “Costs of fare evasion” post:

  • By Sheba, February 14, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

    Complaining about fare gates now is pointless – that should have happened when the gov decided transit needs them. I’m not wild about them either, but this is far from the first time they’ve been brought up.

    This is also not the first time that it’s been brought up that the gates and Compass card will start up on ‘X’ day and the zone system will be decided upon/changed at a later date. If too many changes are made all at once, a lot of people (esp ones who don’t ride transit all the time) will get confused.

    I just wish upgrades to the Expo line stations like a roof covering the entire platform and replacing the mesh walls with glass ones (to match the Millennium line) would also happen. Whoever decided on the design of the Expo stations obviously never considered what it would be like during the dark half of the year.

  • By ???, February 14, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

    When the Expo stations were built… the idea was to minimize light pollution into the adjacent neighborhood. Personally I wished more of the Canada Line stations was above ground like Marine.

  • By Voony, February 17, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    “they sometimes want to be visible to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise to pay fares – these aren’t used for the official fare evasion estimates though.”

    Why not?

    This one will tell you how much cheater will buy a ticket (so you have to couple this kind of control with how much more business do the vending machine when you do preventive control): that is probably good information to estimate how much more revenue the fare-gate will bring.

  • By Brandon, February 22, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

    Weird. Last time I talked to a Translink official at Granville Station (Some time ago they were talking to ppl about the new faregates…I got a sweet re-usable blue bag) he said the gates don’t make sense from a money perspective (because you will NEVER re-coup costs) and essentially said you will never find a ‘real’ business case for the gates. Faregates are all about ‘perception’.

  • By Cliff, February 23, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

    There’s quite a simple solution available that would allow both the honour system we have now and fare gates.

    Use fare gates only at known “problem” stations and in downtown. Better yet, make the fare gate system modular and cycle them around a few times every year. People’s perception that the system is now “unfriendly” or “untrusting” would drop and passengers would be more accepting of fare gates in general.

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Buzzer blog » On the system – fare evasion — March 1, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  2. The Buzzer blog » New legislation introduced to better enforce fare evasion fines, plus a few more items — May 11, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

  3. The Buzzer blog » TransLink 101: welcome to our February special post series! — February 6, 2013 @ 8:59 am

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