Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transport for London gets tougher on fare dodgers

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Bedny Bus at Waterloo Station - my photo

Bendy Bus at Waterloo Station - my photo

The London Underground is, of course, entirely gated with the latest technology. Buses have become a bit more vulnerable, since to speed boarding they use all doors at all stops. At least for the “bendy buses” in Central London. There are ticket machines at all these stops, and Oyster touch pads at each door on the bus. But even so it is thought that bus fare evasion has risen.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “Fare evasion costs Londoners £70 million a year, which is money that belongs to all Londoners that should be invested in making the transport network better.

“We are investing record amounts in renewing the network, and it is only fair that those who travel on the Tube or bus pay their way.

“These changes to penalty fares will provide a greater deterrent to those who would otherwise try to short-change Londoners.”

Boris is, of course, a Conservative: so he is idealogically inclined to stiffer punishments. In fact the size of the penalty is not nearly so important as the perception of the probability of being caught. There is nothing in this short piece about increasing enforcement activity. And for £70m it might be worthwhile. Penalty fares are much easier to collect than fines, and the revenue flows to TfL not the courts.  But in a £2.5bn revenue stream a 2.8% loss is not that big of a deal. (That rate is lower than estimates of fare evasion here of course.)

But the impression that Kevin Falcon likes to give is that putting gates on SkyTrain stations will end fare evasion, and what this story shows is that it won’t. The figures we have do not justify installing gates even if it did, but at halving fare loss, they will never pay for themselves, let alone the additional staff and operating costs.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 12, 2008 at 8:56 am

Posted in transit

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5 Responses

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  1. Interesting idea about the penalty fare. One of our big problems in Metro Vancouver is that the tickets we have are pretty much unenforceable. Sure, the fine is $173, but if you crumple it up and throw it away, nothing will happen to you. All regular fare cheats know this. To me, the biggest bang for dollar would be actually changing legislation to make these tickets enforceable.

    Aside from that though, the penalty fare idea could have a lot of merit. Pay a $5 or $10 penalty fare now, all major credit cards accepted, and you won’t face a stiffer penalty ticket. People would rather just be done with the whole affair now that later.

    Of course, the problem with that is the fact the vast majority of fare cheats don’t have two dimes to rub together. This goes back to the larger social issues of drug abuse and homelessness which our senior governments love to talk about and yet take little to no action on. Measures to make meaning dents in the problems of drug abuse and homelessness would probably have the trickle down effect of reducing fare evasion rates as these individuals once again become productive members of society.

    Fare gates do nothing to solve any of these problems. Falcon wants them to be done as a P3. Any corporation that wants to enter into this will probably structure the deal so that actual fare evasion rates have no consequence on whether they get paid or not. I doubt anyone would bite without such a clause. This means, in the end, all that Falcon’s scheme will do is waste taxpayer money and do nothing to solve the problem.


    October 12, 2008 at 11:43 am

  2. The “vast majority”? Really? Do you have a source for that assertion, or is it just your opinion?

    Surveys that I saw when I was working – which typically are not published (we don’t want you to know how it is done) showed that fare cheats come in all shapes and sizes. And may well be quite well off, but just get a kick out of “beating the system”. One them was a Very Senior Planner at the GLC.

    And the penalty fare has to be mutiples of the regular fare. The new level of penalty in London (£50) is $101.

    Stephen Rees

    October 12, 2008 at 11:54 am

  3. Bit of a change of subject, but are there any surveys about bus ridership increasing as buses are added? That is my experience, at least with the 410 bus from 22nd street station to Richmond, but was wondering if there was data on that. Kind of the positive flip side to if you build freeways to relieve traffic congestion, traffic only increases. If you add buses will there be more riders?

    Bernadette Keenan

    October 12, 2008 at 10:05 pm

  4. Yes of course. In fact bus use is more responsive to increases in service frequency than almost any other measure. In Britain, when bus service was privatised and competition was fierce, the companies that succeeded were the ones who increased service frequency. Often the easiest way to break into an existing market was to flood a route with small “minibuses”. This technique not only took ridership from existing services it encouraged more bus use.

    If there is money to spend it is better invested in increasing service than cutting fares. A good reference for this is

    Stephen Rees

    October 12, 2008 at 10:17 pm

  5. Recent news from London is that even the ‘Oyster’ card itself has been hit by fraud, just like how credit cards are ‘cloned’ here.

    The problem with fraud in London Transport and why they take it very seriously is that there are many private companies, taking their share of the ‘transit’ revenue. If one takes more than one mode (say bus to tram to tube), the fare must be apportioned 3 ways, to pay the 3 different operators. Oyster made this fairly easy, compared to previous methods.

    We do not apportion fares in Vancouver and up the valley, even two different bus companies are not allowed to use the same bus stop!

    Malcolm J.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:47 am

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