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The costs of fare evasion

The costs of fare evasion

A Transit Police Officer and SkyTrain Attendant at work

Fare evasion is one of those perennial themes I come across when I scan our Twitter channel, Facebook page and various blogs and forums for TransLink related content. Here’s a couple of examples:

“Vancouver is probably the only city in the world that doesn’t have faregates. Trusting everyone to pay obviously isn’t working.” – from Facebook

@translink Thanks for the free bus ride! Keep it up! – from Twitter

The subject is going to be addressed by CKNW on Thursday, February 9 as part of their Waste Patrol series. Tracking fare evasion on the system is complicated and an issue that all transit authorities face. Refusing to pay for transit is not only a loss in revenue for TransLink, but we believe it is a form of theft and in some cases, a safety risk. Let’s take a closer look at these issues:

How much money is lost due to fare evasion

TransLink has had two independent audits conducted into our method of estimating fare evasion – one in 2002 by KPMG and the other released in 2008 by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Both confirmed that TransLink’s fare audit methodology is sound. These studies marked system-wide fare evasion at 4.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent, respectively. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit noted that perceived fare evasion is 10 times worse than actual fare evasion. The audit noted that:

“Periodically, the media releases articles indicating that evasion is widespread, although few of these provide specific rates of evasion supporting those assertions. These reports have the ability to affect public perception in this regard and … affect the ability of an individual to rationalize fare evasion. In contrast to the media, our findings show only moderate evasion levels.”

Our internal audits show that fare evasion rates across the system are between four and six per cent, meaning that 94 to 96 per cent of customers pay their full fare. The lost revenues for TransLink associated with fare evasion is approximately $18 million a year. In 2010, fare revenue totaled $412 million, so the actual loss is less than 5 per cent.

Mode of transportation 2002 KPMG Audit 2008 PWC Audit
SkyTrain 6.3% 5.4%
Bus 2.6% 1.6%
SeaBus 3.9% 4.2%
West Coast Express N/A 1.1%
System-wide 4.8% 2.5%

What constitutes fare evasion?

When TransLink tracks fare evasion, we don’t just look at those who refuse to pay the fare while using TransLink’s services. Those that pay partial fares are also fare evading, such as those:

  • Who carry FareSaver cards but don’t validate them
  • Who have a FareCard, but haven’t scratched their zone off, or have scratched off the wrong zone or more than one zone
  • Who have a one or two zone FareCard, but haven’t added the additional fare required to travel within or across other zones
  • Who hold a concession FareCard, but aren’t eligible for concession rates

Fare evasion is theft

When you go to a store and don’t pay, you’re shoplifting or stealing. Not paying for your bus, SkyTrain, West Coast Express or SeaBus is therefore also theft. TransLink puts money and resources into reducing the amount of this type of theft. We conduct random audits throughout the system to check fares, encourage fare compliance and where necessary, issue tickets. While these audits can take place anywhere on the system, a focus is maintained on the most heavily-travelled bus and SkyTrain routes.

As a result of the audits, we’ve been able to reduce evasion rates in key areas.  In fall 2011, we implemented a comprehensive security campaign at SeaBus after random audits showed an unacceptable level of fare evasion, in particular with customers that were paying only one zone fares when they were traveling two zones. Since the program got underway:

  • fare evasion on SeaBus has decreased considerably (to less than 3 per cent)
  • the number of interactions at ticket vending machines has increased, and
  • the average transaction amount indicates that customers are adding the appropriate amount to their fares

In late summer/early fall 2011, we campaigned at Commercial-Broadway to address fare evasion on the 99 BLine, where all-door boarding is in use. Since then:

  • Fare evasion decreased from 7 per cent to less than 2 per cent and continues to improve

Compass card and faregates

In 2013, TransLink the Compass card and faregates will be introduced system wide. Among other benefits, this new system will help reduce fare evasion.

Customers will not be able to access train platforms without tapping-on with a valid fare to pass through the gates at SkyTrain stations. They will need to tap their Compass cards when they board and exit the buses; those without a valid fare will get both an audible and visual indicator that they aren’t in compliance. We believe that the project will reduce fare evasion, resulting in nearly $7 million in annual savings.

Since customers will need to tap on when boarding and tap off when exiting, the proper fare will be deducted from the card according to the number of zones covered in the trip. This will eliminate issues where customers, either accidentally or purposely, travel into more zones than the ticket they purchased allows. Issues of customers not validating Day Passes or FareSavers will be eliminated, as will the situation where people give away their unexpired FareSaver ticket or transfer. In addition to reducing fare evasion, the new system will hopefully change the perception that fare evasion, particularly on SkyTrain, is a rampant issue.

Operator safety

When someone is caught shoplifting there can be safety concerns for store employees. The same can be said about someone refusing to pay to take the bus or other forms of transit. The primary role of our operators is to safely operate the vehicles they’re driving. In 2011, there were 145 assaults on CMBC bus drivers. Twenty nine of those assaults were the result of a fare dispute, while others listed under other categories – such as “belligerent passenger” incidents – may also have involved a fare dispute.

Due to fare-evasion related assaults, Coast Mountain Bus Company has gradually changed its training policy to shift away from fare enforcement and towards assisting with fare collection. This involves requesting compliance from customers who refuse to pay their fare, reminding them of the correct fare and advising them that, should they be caught in a fare paid zone without proof of payment, they are subject to a fine. Operators are trained to assess the behavior of customers and determine whether it would be in the best interests of the other customers to pursue one non-paying customer for the fare. If a passenger refuses to pay a fare, the operator can enter “fare not paid” into the bus communications system, which is then compiled electronically.

Transit Police and Transit Security

Transit Police are responsible first and foremost for ensuring public and customer safety on and near the SkyTrain system. They focus on fare compliance and work with SkyTrain staff to conduct fare checks and issue tickets on both an ad-hoc basis and through coordinated blitzes. People often ask why we don’t put an officer on every bus, which is like asking why there isn’t an officer on every street corner. With up to 900 buses on the road at any time of the day, hiring additional Transit Police Officers to check fares would mean we’d have to have a larger police force than the Vancouver Police Department. Hiring more officers to check fares is seen as a poor allocation of resources.

Instead, Transit Police work cooperatively with both Transit Security and jurisdictional police departments to share information and ensure safety and security on buses. Transit Police also works directly with Coast Mountain Bus Company to help target key routes and transfer areas where there are any public safety concerns which may include fare evasion.

Why do people refuse to pay their fare?

Although Compass card and faregates as well as the continued actions by Transit Police will reduce the amount of fare evasion on the system, changing the mindset or attitudes of fare evaders is key to reducing the costs of fare evasion.

When I think about fare evasion, many questions come to mind including these:

  • Why do people feel that they don’t have to pay to use transit?
  • Why does fare evasion sometimes result in assaults on bus operators?
  • If someone does not have the means to pay, what is TransLink’s (and therefore tax payers) responsibility to provide mobility to them?

TransLink has chosen the Buzzer blog as the place to have a thorough discussion with our customers regarding this issue. When people don’t pay their fare, it hurts all of us. There’s a cost to enforcing fares. More importantly, someone has to cover the cost of those who ride for free – customers, tax payers and governments. These are important questions and ones I hope readers of this blog can help me answer.


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