Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit fare evasion losses doubled over last decade

with 4 comments

Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader drawing attention to a problem that is actually not that much worse than it always has been

This appears to be the key statistic that justifies the headline

“The recent provincial audit of TransLink found fare evasion across the entire system more than doubled from an estimated $6.6 million in losses in 2001 to $14.5 million last year, while ridership climbed 21 per cent in the same period.”

Though what appears to have prompted the story is the complaint of the bus driver’s Union that their members are tired of pushing the button that counts those who refuse to pay.

Jeff updated the story

after a Twitter follower rightly asked how much fares have risen over the same period.
(Answer $1.50 – $2.50 for one zone cash = +66 %.)

The recent provincial audit of TransLink found fare evasion across the entire system rose 120 per cent from an estimated $6.6 million in losses in 2001 to $14.5 million last year.

That’s less dramatic than it sounds – factor in a 21 per cent increase in ridership and a 65 per cent fare price increase since 2001 and losses should account for more than $13 million by now if the same proportion of riders cheat.

The story directs attention to the evasion that will not be stopped by the new faregates on SkyTrain. And there is also the suggestion  – rebutted by Gordon Price and Peter Ladner – that somehow loss of money due to fare evasion is a reason not give Translink any more from taxes.

Translink revenues in 2001 from all sources were $451m (source: Translink 2001 Revenue and Expenditure Report)

Transit revenues (mainly fares) were $78m but that was also the year of the strike – so 35% less than budgeted. So not really surprisingly, the amount lost to fare evasion in that year would also be well down – as no transit was running for four months!

Jeff pointed out in an email to me “the figures in the audit must adjust for the strike, otherwise the 10-yr ridership gain would be much higher than +21 % (294m to 355m cited in the audit.)”

What really needs to be compared is the rate of fare evasion. In 2001 it was around 8.1% of transit revenue. In 2011 transit revenue was $444.7m (source: 2011 Year End Financial and Performance report)  $433m coming from fares – so the rate of loss was 3.3% of fare revenue (3.2% of transit revenue).

Actually, there was some work done on fare evasion around that time, by KPMG and in a report in 2002 they estimated fare evasion at $6.7m or 3.9% – but conceded that the lack of data on buses meant that it could have been 4%, or $1.4m more. Indeed 4% is one of those easy to remember figures that is still in my head, and I am glad that I have now got the source for that.

So the headline does seem to be misleading. Forget the use of 2001 as a base year, since clearly things were not “normal” then, and look at the long term trend and it seems to me that the best estimate we have of Translink is that the rate of fare evasion has been reduced – from around 4% to something closer to 3%, And that is before the new measures to improve collection on fines had been implemented. The faregates are expected to reduce fare evasion by $7.1m a year (source Business Case summary) so roughly half of what is now thought to be lost.

But after all, it must be remembered that all of this is based on estimates. The whole button pushing business (“refused to pay”) does not begin to measure fare evasion. How many people simply waved a pass at the bus operator – but were not actually entitled to use that pass? How many people decided to pay a concession fare when they should have paid full adult fare? How many had a ticket for a shorter journey than the one they actually made? After all, if you stop someone, inspect their ticket and ask them where they got on, you cannot really expect all of them to be completely honest. If we had really good data on travel around the region in general, then maybe we would have a better idea of that the revenues ought to be – but even then that usually relies on self completion surveys. Do the sort of people who are responsible for consistently defrauding the fare system answer such surveys – and would we believe them if they did?

This blog post has been corrected from what was originally posted.

By the way, I do want to place on record here my real appreciation of some very good work done by Translink on their website. The search function on the Document Library has been greatly improved, and this morning I was finding what I was looking for really quickly. This may have been implemented some time ago, and I missed it, for I have been avoiding going into the archives – but this story required it. Thank you.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

4 Responses

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  1. I am hopeful that the new smart card system (Compass) may help somewhat in reducing fare evasion, although I agree that the problem is not as bad as it is made out to be in the media. (It’s also promising that evasion is showing a downward trend.) The cards will deduct the correct fare based on the start and end point of a journey, and they will eliminate cheating through attempting to use concession fares inappropriately.

    However, the greater benefits to the system will be increased convenience for customers (I have used smart cards in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne and found them to be a much better system than the individual tickets and cash fares we use here), faster boarding times, and improved ridership data for Translink. The latter should help them allocate resources as effectively as possible.

  2. Considering that the systems that have had gates for many many years and have also have had smart card for years now STILL have fare cheaters (London and Paris to name only 2) not to mention that even the law-abiding Japanese cheat…


    Quite a few systems try to catch fare cheaters but don’t loose sleep if they don’t. They make money by having a good rapid transit system across a WHOLE city…including posh districts. The city plays its part by encouraging people to use transit by keeping fares reasonable, Not to mention making car-driving (especially a car with one person only) harder by reducing speed in the city, few parking spots, having pedestrian car-free areas etc.
    I noted in a previous post that Portland has only one zone now…and the single trip ticket is $ 2.50… cheaper if one buys a monthly pass..

    Red frog

    October 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  3. There was an article the other day, I think in the Sun, where the words “fare cheat” or variation thereof were used at least four times in two or three paragraphs. Is anyone other than me bothered by that? I ride buses every day, mainly on the east side, frequently on the west, semi-regularly to Tsawwassen and occasionally in the other burbs. I see lots of people getting on asking for a free ride and being waved on by the driver, but I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times, in over twenty years living here, I’ve seen someone outright and defiantly refuse to pay. But automatically all these people are “cheaters”?

    Bill Kinkaid

    October 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm

  4. @ Red Frog – I agree that regardless of what measures are taken, there will still be some level of fare evasion in any system. Similarly, large department stores assume a certain amount of loss/theft of product, despite preventative measures. I feel it’s worthwhile to take reasonable measures to reduce fare evasion, but you’re right, you’ll never eliminate it.

    I think what bothers me most about this whole issue (and the recent Translink audit) is that they’re red herrings. All the media is doing is fomenting popular anger over fare evasion and budget mismanagement (both of which are minor issues) in order to distract from the real issue: Translink needs a sustainable source of funding to maintain and expand service levels across the region.

    Mark Lister (@marklister83)

    October 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

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