Stephen Rees's blog

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

Far too much on Fare Evasion

with 10 comments

The right wing press never lets go of a bone. Though to be fair they are also giving the NPA a beating on the False Creek loan too. But Gregor’s fine is getting lots more ink this morning in the Sun.

It would really help if they actually did some sums. For instance, there is this in the op ed bit under the heading “TransLink must stop the leakage from fare evasion”

cost to the agency of $6 million to $7 million a year in lost revenue.

Estimates of retrofitting SkyTrain stations with turnstiles ranged from $90 million to $120 million.

So add in the cost of capital (interest payments on money they don’t have) and some figure drawn from the ether for operating costs – say $10m a year (turnstiles mean that there have to be people at every station for when they go wrong, or people with wheelchairs, strollers or luggage show up – oh and bikes too) and the pay back looks like what 20 years? Actually a lot more, once inflation starts to bite again. Of course, the Expo Line stations are all being rebuilt anyway to take longer trains, so the extra emergency exits that would be needed to meet evacuation requirements can be smuggled into that project. After all when you are spending $3bn, a few hundred million here or there will not be noticed. If you had to add those costs to the gates then they would never pay for themselves, which is why they haven’t been installed so far. And of course, bus operators will still be allowing anyone to board and simply “advising” them of the fare, for reasons of personal safety, and I don’t blame them one bit.

And gates do not eliminate fare evasion either. But then Daphne Bramham also gets a long opinion piece out of it as well.

Robertson contends he made an honest mistake, riding one stop beyond the one-zone line. I believe him.

Any occasional SkyTrain rider knows how hard it can be to figure out what you need to pay. And, heaven help all of the visitors and people whose first language isn’t English. Even people who ride SkyTrain frequently or some who work in the system marvel at the seemingly capricious determination of where one zone ends and another starts.

Not exactly “capricious”. Mostly it is large water bodies – the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River (both arms below New West). Hard to miss really. On the peninsula it is the municipal boundaries. You know when you leave Vancouver and go into Burnaby because you cross Boundary Road. The Burnaby/Coquitlam boundary is a bit mor complicated, I grant, but the maps are everyhwere, and always at the places where you buy tickets. We only have three zones. Here’s a map of London’s six zones and that is just on a tube diagram. It looks even worse on a bus map (warning large pdf file).

And of the 82 people ticketed every day, only one in 10 pays the $173 fine.

A recent survey suggests that one in four people doesn’t pay the fare. But the official TransLink estimate is that it’s only 54 out of every 1,000 SkyTrain riders who don’t pay or don’t pay enough.

Even Mr. Highways-and-Bridges Falcon has called that estimate ridiculously low, suggesting that it’s more likely that eight to 10 of every 100 riders don’t pay, which translates into an annual loss of about $40 million from the cash-starved transit system.

But, of course, he has absolutely no evidence at all to back that up, and is simply trying  to divert attention to the failure of the provincial government to actually do something about a court system that simply cannot cope with all the stresses on it. Because for the AG there are a lot tougher issues than worrying about collecting outstanding fines for fare evasion, and Translink gets not one red cent from the fines. So the incentive to collect just isn’t there.

Then Ms Bramham starts to compare our system to Hong Kong and Beijing. Which is alll very multi-cultural and pacific oriented, but fails to acknowledge both the difference of scale and money available for transit investment. Which is also true of London which uses the same Oyster farecard system that Hong Kong does and is now looking for something else. Which, they say, they would have done anyway due to its unreliability (a number of “look up tables” turned out to be flaky the last time they put the fares up) and nothing whatever to do with the fact that hackers have cracked into the system and can produce free travel quite easily.

It is amazing how these “experts” suddenly appear every so often banging on about what is wrong with our transit system.

Frankly, the comment I wanted to see that was not made is that $120m would get you a lot more buses – which is what the system desparately needs. Not gates and not more armed police, but more service!

Written by Stephen Rees

November 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Posted in transit

10 Responses

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  1. I wish the media drop the subject of turnstiles/fare-gates until they have done some research. Recent news reports from the LRTA in the UK tell of even the Oyster card being ‘hacked’ and hundreds of people using the transport system for little or no cost!

    If there is a will, there is a way to defeat almost any turnstile/fare-gate system.

    In 1990, the last time I was in London, taking the TUBE to Heathrow, a squad of ‘Bobbies’ arrested a man. I made mention to one of the constables that it was rather over excessive force and was he a wanted criminal.

    First, the constable apologized to me, and indicated that the person was a chronic fare cheat and not a dangerous felon and that they were giving him a lesson and a “good day and safe journey home.”

    Does TransLink keep a list of chronic fare cheats; do they care?

    Malcolm J.

    November 7, 2008 at 2:34 pm

  2. Even if Mr. Falcon is right about the number of fare evaders, the loss figure is way too high because many of them don’t pay because they can’t. If TransLink installed an effective barrier system, those people would simply not ride the train.


    November 7, 2008 at 2:47 pm

  3. The London Underground actually has ten zones if you count A B C and D on the far edges of the Metropolitan Line


    November 7, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  4. One of my English ‘transit types’ mentioned in an email that studies done in Europe on fare evasion showed a lot of fare cheats do so because they can, but if caught they cease to take transit, This is called soft ridership.

    The important thing to realize is that, though they do not pay, they would not take transit if they had to pay!

    The sad fact with the fare evasion debate is that we have no hard numbers, nor do we have any studies on fare evasion since the 1993 Ahad report.

    David, this why the Oyster card is so useful in the UK, it automatically gives you the best fare.

    Malcolm J.

    November 7, 2008 at 7:04 pm

  5. Such a system would get rid of anomolies such as a one stop trip from Gilmore to Rupert or Patterson to Joyce being charged a double fare. Back in the very early 80s we had a “common zone” between Zone 1 (Vancouver) and what is now called Zone 3 (Surrey); you could travel between either zone and the common zone (roughly equivalent to today’s zone 2) for a single fare, only if you went from zone 1 all the way across the common zone to zone 2 would you be charged a double fare (1.50 vs 0.75… those were the days) the advantage being that there was no way you could get dinged extra for a short hop accross a zone boundary)

    As for Gregor Robertson, it’s a textbook example of how not to handle a ‘scandal’; if he truly wanted to use his case as an example, he should have announced it himself, and not waited for the media to grab ahold of the story. The “optics” appear that he was waiting for the election to be over before his December court appearance came to light… and it took far too many days to just bite the bullet and pay the fine to put an end to the media frenzy…. Fortunately for him a new issue has taken the spotlight; a week is an eternity in politics and the fare evasion issue may largely be forgotten by election day.

    And FWIW, it’s not rocket science to buy the correct ticket on SkyTrain; all stations in Burnaby have a map that shows Burnaby (Zone 2) in yellow, and all other Lower Mainland destinations (zone 1 and 3) in red… all you have to do is press the red adult button and the correct fare is charged based on the time of day), not that I myself am without sin; one day I forgot my wallet, and last November I forgot to buy a pass until the 2nd; from what I’ve read such offences can be pleaded down if you go to court with 36 bus passes in hand; of course we all keep them forever now for the tax break…. then there was Germany; in Frankfurt you just purchase a ticket for the U-Bahn from the machine, but in Munich you purchase the ticket AND validate it…. Oops.

    David Banks

    November 8, 2008 at 12:45 am

  6. Leaving it to the court appearance makes sense to me. But how did the ticket become public knowledge? Someone inside the system decided to contact the press, obviously for political reasons. The glee with which the press fell onto the story says much about them.

    What is even more nauseating is the way that Ladner now accuses Robertson of “playing politics” (over the False Creek loan) as though the NPA wasn’t.

    Stephen Rees

    November 8, 2008 at 8:42 am

  7. Probably the reason we’re seeing this crop up again is because Cubic hasn’t received their contract for the turnstiles. Time to massage the media again to get the ball rolling forward so Dobell can earn his keep.


    November 8, 2008 at 11:11 am

  8. I posted this in the other thread but may be missed since that thread isn’t fare gate specifi:

    I agree that the controversy and the need for gates is being too hyped.

    When smart cards come into force I really wonder how the fare schedule will have to be changed to accommodate it. If there’s a distance based fare on Skytrain (like Octopus and other systems, like Bart) how will the fares for buses integrate? Many systems with smart cards have separate subway and bus system fares. Will we need equipment so that passengers swipe off of buses too (that would slow exiting)? Or will there be a flat rate for a bus ride (presuming that bus rides are “short” distances)? I could see a trip on Skytrain providing a free transfer to a subsequent bus (within a set timeframe after exiting the gate), but if you start off on a bus, do you get a credit applied towards your Skytrain fare (within a given time frame – but how does it know when you’ve left a bus – what if your bus ride to Skytrain is 30 minutes?). Or will the bus and Skytrain fares be cumulative (in which case a de minimis fare for either bus or Skytrain may be artificially low and not reflect operational costs)?

    Whatever fare system is created would have to ensure that linked trips (transfers between bus and Skytrain) are not discouraged.

    Ron C.

    November 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm

  9. I have used transit smart cards (not all smart cards are for transit!)in several towns in Europe and in Japan. In both big and small towns the card works on all the vehicles (buses, trams etc.). In some European small towns there is no zone and the fare is the same all across, in bigger towns in Europe and Japan there are zones or routes. Everywhere, regardless of the town size, the distance-based fare is ONLY for infrequent users. Frequent users buy commuter passes only for the zone(s) they use the most (in Japan instead of a circular zone they actually have individual routes for each user between his home and work or..). Any commuter pass user who need to travel outside his daily regular zone(s) or route pay a special “cash” fare deducted automatically from the electronic wallet section of his transit smart card (that e-wallet is used for small “cash” purchases like a newspaper, a coffee, a movie ticket etc.) BUT that extra “cash” fare is always cheaper than if actually paying cash AS A BONUS for having a commuter pass in another section of the smart card (you can also have a credit card in yet another section and they all communicate with one another). Let me rephrase that in a different way.. for a commuter a zone (Europe) or route (Japan) includes ALL the various vehicles taken during a trip between start and end. The card is smart enough to can even get off and back on several times along your daily regular route and you will not pay extra. As for slowing boarding/ exiting… for many many years people in other places have been boarding/leaving buses and streetcars by all the doors. There are several card readers by each door(you don’t actually swipe the card in a slot, only wave it very close to the card reader0. I should add that in some towns the buses and the commuter trains may be owned by several private companies, the subways by yet another..but it all work smoothly for the commuter (or even tourists who have no clue who own what). Obviously implementing a smart card system in any town is a complicated process as each town of a good size has a complex system of routes using all sorts of transit vehicles. I am concerned that TransLink management and board don’t have enough experience with all that..Check and look at the pages for several towns on a couple of continents. On each town page look for that town transit authority page and check the fare system, smart cards etc… AND FINALLY the chip that is the brain of a transit smart card can be placed in a cell phone. the Europeans and the Japanese have been using cell phones for a couple of years now to use transit, buy small stuff etc.

    Red frog

    November 11, 2008 at 11:11 pm

  10. The new light rail system in Seattle will have an honour system and smart card technology.


    March 27, 2009 at 7:46 am

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