Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Translink fare evasion dropping

with 8 comments

Just two days ago I was writing on this topic and today the CBC call and want my reaction to their story

PricewaterhouseCoopers staff accompanied TransLink’s fare inspection officers on the September 2007 fare audit of the SkyTrain, SeaBus, bus and West Coast Express to conduct the recent study.

In other words all the accountants did was verify what Translink staff have been doing. And they did not “take into account the number of people who might be reusing tickets obtained from other riders or illegal ticket resellers outside transit stations, or the illegal sale of cut-rate tickets”. So what we have an estimate of is the number of people who travel without any ticket – or who have a ticket that is not valid in the zone they are found in.

The point being , of course, the people like Kevin Falcon and Malcolm Brodie grossly exaggerate the amount of fare evasion, and then make the leap from that to “feeling safe on the transit system”.

The only way to calculate fare evasion reliably is to have a good data on travel. And for as long as I have been around Vancouver, that has not been the case. In fact ridership data was always calculated from the revenue based on a mythical “average fare”. For if you don’t actually know how many riders you have, or where and when they travel, this “average” is at best guesswork. Other cities have much more thorough travel surveys and passenger counts. Since I left, Translink has been getting automatic counters for some buses, and they may even have decided to get a bit more ambitious about travel surveys – though if they have they have been very quiet about it. And if we are still using a sample size of 5,000 individuals for the (five year interval) trip diary survey, then I have to say that I  still have very little confidence in the data.

If you casually stop by a SkyTrain station you will see very few people buying a ticket from a machine. That is because most people have either transferred from a bus – so they have a transfer – or they have a monthly pass, which has been selling better in recent years due to various employer incentive schemes. And UPass, of course.

AND just to hammer the point home, the sort of people who make passengers fearful on SkyTrain are not the same as the people who think they are very smart and have figured out ways to beat the system.

Every system has some evasion, and none are very open about talking about it. Becuase you do not want to publicise how fare evasion is done OR how easy it is to get away with it. Becuase the real problem in BC is that our court system is so jammed up even if you do get caught without a ticket you almost certainly will not face any penalty. THAT is the problem. And the way to deal with that is to introduce a penalty fare – not a fine.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 23, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Transportation

8 Responses

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  1. The only reason that fare evasion is an issue is that Campbell’s good bud, Ken Dobel is lobbying a faregates/turnstiles system for Cubit. Kenny boy would not be a good lobbyist if he could not deliver the goods.

    Malcolm J

    July 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm

  2. I didn’t understand the sentence regarding people who make us nervous not being the same people who may be smart enough to evade paying. I would have thought the number of riders who have ‘a system’ for fare evasion would be almost negligible.
    If I’m uneasy about some lout or creep on the system I’m willing to bet 9 times out of 10 that person did not pay. Fare evaders play the odds. I don’t know the odds but at a guess I would think they were substantially better than 50/50 against getting caught on any given day.
    On a related topic, has Translink ever published data on the number of fines, $173.00 (I think), that are written and the number actually collected?


    July 23, 2008 at 4:01 pm

  3. Wayne

    The people who evade fares and cost the most money are those who commute regularly. In London it was decided to target such people, and charge them with fraud – since they cost the system much more than just one underpaid ride. In most cases they plead guilty – which meant that detailed evidence of how to defraud the system did not have to be given in open court. It is worth noting that as a result of these convictions, bankers and accountants lost their jobs. This was a very significant penalty – and the publicity given to these cases reduced fare evasion significantly.

    I assume that most passengers are bothered by homeless people who shelter on the SkyTrain. They pose very little risk to anyone – though they are not pleasant travelling companions.

    The risk that gets the most notice is that of violent assault. These events seem to be very unpredictable – but males between 15 and 25 are the most frequent targets. There is also the nasty case of women travelling alone being followed from stations. No evidence has ever been presented that the perpetrators of these crimes were also fare evaders.

    In general, SkyTrain is a much safer environment than the street – simply because there are more people about and more surveillance. If you commit a serious crime on SkyTrain there will (or should) be evidence quality video to use in any proceedings. Any criminal with an understanding of the risk of prosecution would avoid such a place.

    and from the story cited “The study also found those who do not pay are very unlikely to get caught, with less than one in 100 fare evaders getting a ticket. And only eight per cent of those who do get a ticket will ever pay the fine, the study found.”

    Stephen Rees

    July 23, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  4. If it’s the commuters that are costing the system the most I’m surprised and this seems counter intuitive.
    London has turnstiles and commuters were managing to cheat. I’m in favour of turnstiles but it sounds like it will take more than that to ensure all riders pay all the time.


    July 24, 2008 at 11:44 am

  5. The transit system loses most to those who travel regularly without payment of the correct fare. If 6% of casual uses cheat that is nothing like as big a loss as 6% of the regulars. I do not understand how that can be “counter intuitive”.

    Falcon – and the CBC – like to portray fare dodgers as part of the “criminal community”. It is a common right wing control technique to paint a section of society as needing heavy handed policing to keep them in line. Hence the “broken window” school of policing and the “zero tolerance” and “three strikes and you’re out” philosophies. The result is that the US jails more of its citizens than most of the rest of the world, but still lives in fear of crime.

    What we need to do is increase voluntary compliance. That means understanding why people like to beat the system, and how to convince them that it is not in their interests to do so. We do not seem to be able to do that with tax cheats – easily the biggest crime problem and one which has an entire industry to support its success – so how we do that with fare dodgers is a problem.

    What is also clear is that smart cards and gates at stations do not eliminate fare dodging – but they do cost a fortune. Creating a better transit system – which treats people as valued customers, and gives them good value for money – is actually a better way of improving compliance. Treat your customers as people who need constant surveillance and checking on and do not be surprised if you discover a lot of resentment and a strong motive for hitting back.

    Stephen Rees

    July 24, 2008 at 12:33 pm

  6. Of course Kevin Falcon came right out in the media today with the dubious statement that this study does not pass the “smell test”.

    When the statistics don’t match his preconceived notions, they can’t possibly be right. When they do match his notions, they are unassailable. I don’t think Mr. Falcon even knows what it means to pick apart a study based on the merits of its methodology. That is how intelligent people would respond. Like the NDP that preceded the Liberals in government, ideology takes a back seat to the facts time and time again. One wonders if this will ever stop.


    July 24, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  7. […] Stephen Ree’s Blog, TransLink Fare Evasion Dropping […]

  8. “Creating a better transit system – which treats people as valued customers, and gives them good value for money – is actually a better way of improving compliance.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I am frustrated by Translink’s pricing system. The multi-zone fares are outrageous and the monthly passes offer very little value especially because they are also subject to multi-zone pricing.

    After graduating (and losing the UPass) I prefer to bike or catch a free ride on a B-Line if I need to go very far. I would happily buy a monthly pass if it were priced around $50 (for all THREE zones!!).


    February 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

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