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On the system – following fare evasion with Transit Police

Crowds at Burrard Station are checked for proper payment of fares.

We’re continuing the conversation about fare evasion with this second installment of on the system [1].

This week is the beginning of an increased focus on fare evasion on SkyTrain and on buses, West Coast Express and SeaBus.

The observant SkyTrain rider might have seen the “We don’t have a freebie line” interior sign or heard SkyTrain platform announcements about increased fare enforcement. Riders might also notice more Transit Police, Transit Security and SkyTrain attendants asking to see proof of payment on the transit system.

Interior sign about increase fare enforcement. No freebies here.

We’re stepping up our focus on fare evasion in anticipation of new legislation [2] coming into effect in early September 2012. This new legislation will allow TransLink to collect unpaid fare evasion tickets and resolve disputes. Tools TransLink will have to help collect those tickets include escalating fines over time, the possibility of outstanding fines being sent to a collection agency and ICBC having the right to refuse to issue or renew a driver’s license or vehicle registration.

As noted in the first installment of this series [3], which looked a Transit Security increasing fare checks on buses, 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. Like Transit Security, Transit Police are doing more fare checks this summer in order to deter fare evasion and make sure everyone is paying their fair share.

Fare evasion on the Expo Line – July 23, 2012

Jhen and I met up with Constable Gusic of Transit Police on the first day of heightened fare checks this summer. The Constable, who’s been with the force for four years, has checked more than a few fares in his day. In fact, he says roughly 50 per cent of his time on the job is devoted to fare evasion.

For Transit Police, fare evasion is an important daily exercise, but one that takes a back seat to the protection of human life. All of the activities of the Transit Police on the system relates to the maintenance of the public peace and the prevention of crime and offenses according to the laws of Canada and British Columbia (more info on Transit Police [4]). This focus on crime prevention relates to the Transit Police Priorities of protection of persons, property and revenue.

Transit Police stepping up enforcement of transit fares at Main Street-Science World Station.

So when Constable Gusic isn’t checking fares, he’s responding to calls about medical emergencies, public safety and investigating offenses on or around transit property, which including daily liaising with Metro Vancouver Police departments in all of the communities served by our transit system.

Constable Gusic told us, “Most people pay their fares, and most people who don’t pay their fares are polite and cooperative.” However, it’s the smaller percentage of people who aren’t truthful about their true identity that take up a lot of the Transit Police’s time. As the Constable says, “It takes a while to identify who they are.”

Improperly identifying oneself could mean that the Police issue a ticket to someone that doesn’t exist, or even worse, the wrong person. Either way, lying about ones identity when responding to a police officer in the execution of their duty is a Criminal Code of Canada offense [5].

There were more than 10, 000 fare checks made and over 100 violations tickets issued on Monday, July 23 along various station on the Expo Line. Transit users can expect coordinated check like these throughout the summer across the entire system.

Transit Police writing a ticket.

What we saw

As illustrated in the Burrard SkyTrain fare checks, fare evaders may be wanted for other violations besides fare evasion. In 2011, Transit Police made over 700 arrests of persons who were breaking court imposed conditions or wanted for outstanding justice systems warrants.

After Burrard SkyTrain station, Transit Police, Transit Security and SkyTrain attendants moved to the Main Street – Science World Station. Within the first 15 minutes, all three groups of fare checkers were busy.

A background check on one possible fare evader was one of the first fare evasion issue on the Main Street platform. The person in question had a warrant for his arrest in Ontario. We also witnessed a woman who was stopped because she was using a concession fare instead of an adult fare. She tried to negotiate paying the difference in cost between the two fares rather than being issued a ticket. On the other side of the platform, a man was caught without a ticket in the fare paid zone and was stopped by Transit Police when he tried to get away via the stairwell.

Once you enter the fare paid zone you may be asked for your fare.

We asked Constable Gusic what process is taken when someone is unable to produce the proper fare. “We run the name through a database,” says Constable Gusic.  “If it comes back with no previous tickets on record and if they’ve been truthful about who they are and their reason for not having a ticket, that officer, depending on the circumstances, could write a warning ticket.” That warning is added to the database. If that person is found using the system without the proper fare again, the officer would know that they had already been warned.

Fare evasion and TransLink

As we approach September and the change in mechanism for collection and resolution of fare evasion fines, we’d like to restart the dialogue about reducing the amount of fare evasion on the system.

We know from a couple of our internal audits that the fare evasion rate across the system [6] is between four and six per cent. We also know that stepping up fare evasion checks can reduce the amount of fare evasion on the system. We’re curious about what you think.