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Estimating fare evasion

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