Stephen Rees's blog

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

How London Deals with Fare Evasion

with 6 comments

This morning I came across a news story on how Transport for London is to increase its penalty fares. The journal I was reading (Railway Herald) publishes as a locked pdf – which means it cannot be quoted by cut and paste, but I quickly found out that all they had done was copy a TFL Press Release including its headline – so I think I will do the same but at least I have acknowledged where it came from.

Pressure builds on fare dodgers

21 February 2012

Penalty charges have risen to £80 on all parts of the capital’s transport network as Transport for London (TfL) continues its battle against fare evasion.

The increase – from £50 to £80 – covers London Underground, London Overground, buses, Docklands Light Railway and tram services.

Passengers who fail to pay for their tickets will receive a penalty charge which, if left unpaid, could lead to a criminal record and a fine of up to £1,000.

Those who pay within 21 days will see their fine reduced to £40.

Despite a fall in the rate of fare evasion in recent years, the cost to TfL last year was an estimated £63m.

In addition to the penalty deterrent, TfL also employs more than 500 revenue protection inspectors on its network to combat fare dodgers.

West Kensington tube station gateline - cropped

London fare gates image from SkyscraperPage Forum

As I am sure you all know, London’s Underground has been gated for many years now with gates not too dissimilar to the ones now going in on our SkyTrain stations.

I did some quick sums using data from the TfL Annual Report. I reckon TfL’s fare revenue at around £3bn (that’s our North American billions not the UK’s) so the rate of evasion is about 2% – even with all those gates, and 500 inspectors and a comprehensive enforcement strategy.  (A pound is worth about $1.56 Canadian at the time of writing)

The point of this post is simply to re-iterate that the “investment” now being made on our system will not eliminate fare evasion. If we do as well as London – and that would mean we would need penalty fares, the revenue of which comes back to the system, not the coffers of the government, and continued on train and bus fare inspections – we might halve the current evasion rate. I suspect that this actually requires a considerable increase in enforcement resources, which makes the return on capital even worse than anticipated.

The way things are going for the BC Liberals at present, I doubt that they will still be in government by the time this turkey comes home to roost. And anyway it will be Translink that gets the blame I expect – though it ought to be directed at Kevin Falcon.

Yesterday I was interviewed by the Montreal Gazette. Apparently Montreal is seriously considering using the Translink model to reform its current governance of transit. I told the reporter that I thought they ought to look at a metropolitan region that has actually been reasonably successful at providing a good transportation system. London or Paris seem to me to be far better at it than Vancouver. And we weren’t talking about fare dodgers. But at least we seem a bit better than Toronto right now.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

6 Responses

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  1. It seems to me that the best solution is higher enforcement, but without any gates. If people know that there is a 1 out of 100 chance that they will be stopped at any point to produce a valid ticket, many people just would not risk it (even if odds are in their favor and they would save money over time if they try to board the sky train or the 99 without a ticket).

    A side benefit of this practice would be an increased perception of safety since transit police/workers would be physically present and engaging with passengers.

    Of course, this begs 2 questions:

    1. Would the extra money spent on higher enforcement be made back by reduced fare evasions and tickets?
    2. Would passengers really feel safer with a higher police presence, or would transit feel more like a police state with cops swarming everywhere?

    In the end, I think this approach would be cheaper, easier to tweak over time (ie- it’s easier to hire, fire, or reposition transit police than it is to change fare gates), and probably more effective at deterring potential fare evaders.

    Andrew E

    February 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm

  2. Prior to the extension of gating of stations on the London Underground beyond the central area (c1988) , some research was done which demonstrated that most people were economically rational, based on their perception of the risk of getting caught. The cheapest solution was simply to change their perception of that probability. Of course, for a small percentage the risk was part of the game. And the willingness of people to buy lottery tickets shows that we are not, on the whole, very good at understanding odds.

    It is now too late to stop gate installation – that train has left the station.

    Stephen Rees

    February 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm

  3. Hi Stephen

    As you’ve pointed out previously, it’s one thing to enforce and to issue violation tickets, but fines collection is quite another. How does London enforce collection?

    Ken Hardie

    February 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

  4. Thanks Stephen. I read about the level of fare evasion in London in early 2011 (on the TfL site), then about fare evasion in Paris, Tokyo etc. (all places with fare gates) and have written to our local free papers whenever someone goes on about fare gates being the solution to all evils.

    Transit authorities in Europe are pretty much made of municipal politicians, with regional politicians helping inter-cities commuter trains and buses are involved. Transit operators in socialist France are private companies hired by contract for usually 5 years. They only run the transit system. Planing and financing for lines, vehicles, fares etc. is left to the politicians
    Paris and London, due to the size and complexity of their transit system, have a dedicated transit operator but also use private ones. RATP, (Paris Metro operator) for example, operate some bus lines in the Greater London (and also the Manchester transit system).

    The major difference with that our politicians, like most of the average Joes and Janes, wouldn’t be caught dead using transit while the European ones have used transit since they were teenagers and still use it, at least some of the time, as driving when there is so much traffic plus pedestrian areas plus hard to find and expensive parking makes using transit a no-brainer.

    Hope the following reads OK after cutting and pasting:
    Greater London transit: The Mayor of London is responsible for producing an integrated transport strategy for London and for consulting the London Assembly, Transport for London (TfL), boroughs and others on the strategy. The Mayor’s latest Transport Strategy was published in 2010. The Mayor has wide powers of direction over TfL, sets TfL’s budget (subject to the approval of the Assembly) and appoints its board. The Mayor also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London (including ‘black cabs’ but not National Rail or minicab fares). He has a say in how the commuter railways are run. He has powers to fund new transport services, and to invest in new transport systems.

    The VBB (Verkenhrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg ) is the transportation authority for the Berlin-Brandenburg district. A private limited company established in December of 1996, the VBB is comprised of representatives of the Federal government, the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, 14 separate districts, and four cities. The VBB ensures fluid and cohesive movement of people throughout the region, mediates between policy makers and operators, plans and executes a unified fare card system, supports operators, and promotes public transit in the region.
    This agency manages 42 private transit operators that serve approximately 3.4 million passengers every day. All of the represented states, cities and districts contribute to the financing of the regional public transit system managed by the VBB.

    SYTRAL is the transit authority of the Rhône County and the Lyon metropolitan area. Its Urban Transport Zone (PTU) is made up of the 57 towns of Greater Lyon, plus 7 adjacent towns.
    SYTRAL board of governors is made of 16 elected members of the Greater Lyon and 10 elected members of the assembly of the Rhone Region. A staff of 100 implement the board decisions

    The mission of a public transport authority is to: Decide on routes, schedules, fares / Maintain rolling stock, buildings, tracks, tunnels. Design, finance and build network extensions / Delegate network operations to transit operator companies and control the quality of service / Define and implement the urban transport policy. Monitor traffic flow and conduct customer surveys / Finance network operations and maintenance.

    Red frog

    February 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm

  5. Ken – The legislation that Transport for London operates under is rather different to ours. They (and other public transport operators) have the ability to collect “penalty fares”.

    Stephen Rees

    February 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

  6. I think Translink needs to have MORE Transit Security for the buses. They can check and enforce, where bus drivers do not. Yui will also have the added benefit of added safety for the driver and passengers.


    February 29, 2012 at 11:40 am

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