Stephen Rees's blog

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

Millions of dollars in transit fines go unpaid

with 6 comments

It never ceases to amaze me what passes for “news”. This story, which appears in today’s Province, merely confirms what fare evaders have known for years. And everyone who has worked for Translink or its predecessors in the area of fare evasion. If you are caught without proper authority to travel within the fare paid zone, and you are issued with a fixed penalty notice, nothing happens subsequently if you do not pay the penalty. Translink can take no further action since the collection of unpaid fines is not their business. The fine revenue goes to the province of BC. Not that there is very much.

This year, transit cops checked 374,000 people and handed out 11,500 tickets for fare evasion. …

The Insurance Corp. of B.C., which keeps track of ticket collections, was only able to provide The Province details through the end of June: 9,909 tickets handed out and 1,423 paid. There were 142 tickets partially paid and 6,829 unpaid — leaving $1.181 million in outstanding fines.

In 2008, 14,400 tickets were handed out and 11,300 went unpaid, for an unpaid-fine total of $1.95 million.

The scofflaws were even worse in 2007, when 24,200 tickets were issued and just 2,400 offenders paid up.

By the way, that’s a 3% fare evasion detection rate. Also well below the ludicrous claims made by local and provincial politicians. The installation of gates is the only thing that has ever seriously been discussed here. And will, of course, do absolutely nothing to reduce fare evasion or improve net revenue.

The penalty, by the way, is $173. So there is not a great deal of incentive to follow up each individual ticket. There are other ways of handling the problem. One would be to replace the provincial fixed penalty by a “penalty fare” levied as part of the transit tariff.  This would be less than the “fine” ($40 might be about right) but would be collected immediately, or the passenger escorted off the premises and told not to return without the ability to pay.

Secondly, attention should be directed at the “frequent flyers”. Most people are law abiding, and even if caught once or twice, will usually pay if they think there is a chance of being checked. But some regard fare evasion as a kind of sport. This has also been a problem with parking fines in the past. What is needed is some sort of system to identify those who regularly abuse the system. This is the old 80/20 rule in action. 80% of the offences will be committed by 20% of the offenders. The Province piece even uses the term “scofflaws” – which indicates to me they were talking to someone who knows his stuff, but they ignored the important bit. If you can target the “scofflaws” you do not charge them with fare evasion but fraud. This is a criminal code offence and is based on a record of regular, persistent behaviour designed to evade fare payment. The penalties for fraud can be significant. This approach has been used in London since the 1980’s. A $173 ticket can be ignored: a criminal case with a really significant penalty and a criminal record is something else.

This situation, left in the hands of ICBC, will continue indefinitely. The fare “scofflaws” are not the same people who prey upon transit passengers and pose a danger to the safety of their persons or property. They are also not the people currently being lifted by the transit cops for outstanding warrants and other offences. To have effective policing of the system, we have to be able to distinguish between real and imagined threats. Unfortunately, we are governed by politicians whose main qualification is party loyalty and adherence to the party line not experience in any field, or the ability to review evidence and reach sensible conclusions. The sorry story of Kash Heed being only the most recent example.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

6 Responses

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  1. Wouldn’t charging the worst offenders with fraud cost more in court time than would be lost during a lifetime of fare evasion? Like fare gates it seems like a scheme guaranteed to cost a lot of money for very little return.

    I do, however, like the instant fine. It, too, has problems like getting a cost effective way to collect the money. One solution would be to program the ticket machines with an additional type of ticket, one that doesn’t appear on the touch screen until a key is turned or some special code entered. Then the process of validating bank cards and credit cards would simply go through the same system already in place for purchasing individual fares.

    I don’t think the Province would like that though because it would mean more revenue for TransLink and less for them.


    November 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

  2. The $40 penalty fare would have to co-incide with an enforcment level such that you’d be fined more than 2 or 3 times in a month to deter those that “play the odds” INteresting that the article mentions that withholding Driver’s Licenses doesn’t deter those who don’t drive, but what about BC ID, which is basically the Driver’s License for those who don’t (or can’t) drive? Can *that* be withheld, and do those who that would apply to even care?


    November 24, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  3. Mea Culpa, it was a different article (in one of the freebies) that mentioned the DLs


    November 24, 2009 at 9:56 pm

  4. Given that evidence suggests a fare evasion rate of only 3%, there aren’t many people playing the odds.

    As Stephen has said repeatedly, there simply aren’t enough people riding without paying to make much of a difference. Most of us don’t want the shame of getting caught, much less any of the other consequences. I’ve seen some well dressed people pulled off trains. If that made them late for a job interview or other important appointment then I’m willing to bet they pay their fares every time now.


    November 25, 2009 at 10:33 am

  5. The liberals should outsource government debt collection. It fits with their ideology of anything goverment does private enterprise can do better (“anything you can do I can do better ….”). They could employ an army of call center workers and pay them $8/hour to call people all day long and hassel them for money. We already accept telemarketers using these exact tactics to try and sell us things we probably don’t need.

    Chris S.

    November 25, 2009 at 11:55 am

  6. In London the check is never done on trains but at the end station, where there will be a mass of revenue staff and possibly accompanying police. I can tell you there are quite a few caught without tickets, or at least questioned about their travel. There are 6 zones on Londoon’s public transport, so the amount of the evasion can vary quite a lot.


    November 26, 2009 at 10:10 am

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