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On the system – fare evasion

The Transit Security badge

To say fare evasion is a hot topic [1] on this blog and in Metro Vancouver in general is an understatement. Not only has it spurred much debate of late, it’s generated a lot of questions. One of those questions is just how is TransLink trying to reduce the amount of fare evasion on the system. The most current numbers are that between four to six percent of riders are not paying for fares, resulting in a loss in revenue of roughly $18 million dollars. One of the aims of installing faregates [2], which will come into use at SkyTrain stations along with Compass Card in 2013, is to help reduce the number of people getting on SkyTrain without paying the proper fares. However, we know that faregates alone won’t completely solve the problem on SkyTrain, not to mention the rest of the system. Along with Transit Police and SkyTrain Attendants, Transit Security are actively on the system every day checking for fares. If you’re a user of the multiple modes of transit in Metro Vancouver, it’s very likely you’ve met or seen a member of our Transit Security team on the bus, SkyTrain or SeaBus.

On Monday, I joined the members of Transit Security on one of their numerous targeted fare check blitzes [3] on a Metro Vancouver bus route that is particularly prone to fare evasion. Transit Security has taken a new approach this year to reducing fare evasion, and while I can’t get into details about exactly what they’re doing, I can tell you that so far, it’s working.

Over the course of one week in February, fare evasion was reduced from 11 per cent to just under eight per cent on one problem route.

Being a user of the system for many years, I assumed most fare evaders were simply not paying for fares when they get on the bus. What I discovered is that fare evasion is a much more complicated problem than I thought, and it’s a problem that spans socioeconomic status.

Bobby, Security Operations Coordinator with Transit Security

I was paired up with a veteran of security on transit with more than 20-years experience working in various capacities involving transit in Metro Vancouver. Bobby, a Security Operations Coordinator, takes his job seriously but always has a smile on his face. He took me to a corner in East Vancouver where we met up with two of his colleagues. As each bus pulled up to the stop, one member of the team would get in the front while the other two would enter at the rear or middle doors. Of the eight buses I entered along with the team, no two experiences were the same.

The Transit Security Team checking fares

On the first bus, three people travelling together were not able to produce a ticket. The Transit Security team asked them to either pay for a ticket or leave the bus. They said they had money and proceeded to the front of the bus to pay. Once Security left the bus, they had to get back on, because it turned out those customers didn’t have the money they said they did. Still, they were very polite to Bobby when he told them they couldn’t ride for free and would have to walk instead of ride the bus.

There was at least one person per bus that was searched who hadn’t paid their fare. Five of the eight buses were almost filled to capacity, while the remaining three were about 40-60 per cent full. I would estimate that there were perhaps one or two more fare evaders on these buses judging by the quick exits by some customers out of the back doors as soon as the Transit Security team entered the bus.

To check if these people had paid their fare, sometimes one of the team members would wait outside of the back doors and ask people for proof of the fare payment as they exited. Many of these people had fares, but two others told the team member that they simply hadn’t paid their fare. One such man explained that he was on welfare and was waiting for his Provincial Transit Pass. From my perspective, he looked like someone who didn’t have much money, and his story about welfare matched my assumption. He was extremely polite to the team member and was apologetic for not having paid his fare. A general respect for authority is what I saw from the riders without means.

Civility and respect would not be the words I would use to describe the next fare evader the team met. Having asked everyone else for proof of their fare payments, the last person to be asked was a woman in her early 20s, with nice clothing, sitting at the back of the bus. She pretended not to hear Bobby’s request for proof of payment and avoided any eye contact with him. After several requests, she produced a monthly U-Pass BC that turned out not be hers. She insisted that it was, but when informed that the school she attends is not part of the U-Pass BC program, she returned to ignoring Bobby and picked up her Blackberry to make a call. Bobby asked her to leave the bus and informed her that he would have to keep her fraudulent pass. Outside the bus, he politely informed her that she could be given a ticket for using a fraudulent pass. She continued to talk on her phone then started verbally attacking Bobby, swearing and using a racial slur. Bobby once again informed her that she wouldn’t be able to take that bus, at which time she quickly walked away swearing.

A UBC student using an SFU U-PASS BC pass

The next fare evader was a young, expensively dressed young man (every item including his headphones had expensive labels) who said he was a UBC student. The problem was that he was using an SFU U-Pass. When asked whose card he was using, he insisted that it was his. After being asked the same question repeatedly without an appropriate answer, he was asked to leave the bus. He then admitted that he bought the pass from his friend for $20. He was informed that what he was doing was a fraudulent, “his” transit pass was confiscated and he wasn’t allowed to board the bus from which he was removed.

Another man also admitted that he had bought his Government of British Columbia issued bus pass from a friend. I wouldn’t have suspected his pass wasn’t his own, but after the man wasn’t able to produce other identification, the Transit Security team member asked him for his date of birth. His date of birth didn’t match up with the date on the pass. He, too, had his pass confiscated and wasn’t allowed to board the bus.

A customer using someone else's Government of British Columbia transit pass

The remaining fare evaders I saw came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and proved that fare evasion can come in nearly as many forms. Some people were using one-zone FareSaver tickets when they had traveled beyond their designated zone. One teenager was using a FareSaver card from the day before. Another customer was travelling using a March monthly FareCard even though it was February.

In all, I was on the beat with the team for roughly 45 minutes. In that time, I learned more about how fare evasion actually happens than I have over the past 10 months. I found that most people were more than willing to show their fare, and if they had the wrong fares, they apologized and promised that it wouldn’t happen again. I also witnesses a level of disrespect that no one should have to endure.

Seeing fare evasion first hand reaffirmed my belief that it isn’t solely about saving money. It seemed to me that for some of these fare evaders paying for transit wasn’t a priority for them. They had access to money, but would rather spend it on something else. This once again raises the question I ask in my past post,

Why do people feel that they don’t have to pay to use transit?