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Archive for the ‘Fare evasion’ Category

Compass Hacked

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When I did a search of this blog for “fare evasion” I found 44 blog posts. I have not tried to read any of them but I do know that one theme I went back to more than once was that the faregates would not eliminate fare evasion, they would just change the way that it was done.

CTV now have a report on how the single ride ticket can be reprogrammed with a cell phone to allow more than one ride. They do not tell you how to reproduce this hack for yourself, but apparently it has been known for some time and has demonstrated on other Cubic systems such as New York. And apparently it is possible for Translink and the Transit Police to determine if a ticket has been hacked. Get caught with one and you face a charge of fraud rather than fare evasion.

I did not know about this hack when I was writing those posts, and I am not promoting its use now. What I did know was that every fare collection system has been a target of hackers: no transit system gets 100% compliance and the case Kevin Falcon tried to make was fatally flawed from the start. The only surprising thing about this story is that the ability to hack tickets had not been identified publicly earlier. Translink’s representative says they knew about it last year. Cubic could not be reached for comment – I suspect because they probably knew much earlier and kept quiet.

Postscript: once this blog post appeared on line,  Jon Woodward, the CTV reporter who produced the original story, did read my older blog posts and tweeted about one I wrote in 2008 about London’s Oyster card being hacked.

And in the interests of completeness Jeff Nagel of Black Press has been talking to Translink who say that the amount that this fraud is costing them is  actually not very much. They even say

“There is a solution, it’s just a matter of measuring the costs versus the benefits,” Bryan said.  “Obviously there is an ability to manipulate this. For us it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of what kind of impact it is having. Right now, it’s very minimal in terms of cost.”

Which, of course, was exactly the same position that Translink adopted when they originally examined faregates before Kevin Falcon imposed  them ignoring the cost-benefit analysis.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Fare evasion

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Starting April 4, They’re Closing All Fare Gates

with 7 comments


So I have a Compass card, and used up my last FareSaver, so I cannot say I am directly impacted. And, since I can afford to not only buy a Compass card but also keep it loaded against possible future needs I will now enjoy a more convenient system. But that doesn’t mean that the decisions that have been taken up to this point are not acknowledgements of failure. When a transit system adopts new fare technologies there do have to be some adjustments – but mostly that ought to be adjustments of the technology to meet the system’s needs and not the other way around. When the transit agency invites bidders to tender for their system’s requirements one of the things that both sides have to look at is how well the proffered technology meets the specification. In the case of the Compass card, Cubic have not been able to meet that test, yet it is Translink that is taking both the criticism and adapting to suit the shortcomings of what it has bought.

They have already abandoned one of the pillars of the fare system: three zones during daytime on weekdays. Yes, in some distant future they may be able to switch to fare by distance, but not with the existing equipment on buses. Now three zones have often been challenged, as arbitrary and based on a region centered around Vancouver (Zone 1) where fares rise based on distance to that centre which is not exactly what this region is now like. A short ride across the harbour costs more than the ride from Langley to Ladner. And since the bus route network has been designed and adapted over the years to feed passengers into the SkyTrain there are not that many opportunities to get a cheaper ride by staying on the bus: though I do wonder if the #19 has seen an increase in use recently. But the reason that the bus is a one zone fare no matter how many zone boundaries it crosses is simply because the tap out reader on the bus doesn’t respond quickly enough. A very basic system requirement, and an equipment failure. In other word’s Cubic’s fault, not Translink’s.

But that one ticket ride – which is so admired in places where multiple transit agencies serve the functional economic region – will no longer be available to the casual – cash paying – user. Who could be a visitor, or someone who either doesn’t need or cannot afford to use transit frequently. If you use the bus to get to SeaBus or the SkyTrain and pay on board you will have to pay again – as there will no longer be a usable transfer between bus and “rapid transit”. And will impact people travelling within one zone quite significantly: their fare has been doubled, just because Translink decided NOT to install a magnetic swipe reader on some gates. Or buy machines that could issue Compass tickets on board buses. I am sure that Translink has talking points about how that is not financially worthwhile, but then the whole Compass system is a financial disaster. It is supposed to improve revenue collection and deter fare evasion, but will never be able to pay for itself that way and the province has had to accept some responsibility for that.

For the “choice” rider – those who decide to stop driving for every trip and try transit – this is going to look like a deterrent. If Translink was able to stick to the idea of increasing transit mode share, that might be an issue. But the reality now is that Translink cannot cope with current demand – let alone increases even if they only come from a growth in population and transit share stays static – or even falls!

When the current generation of electronic fare boxes was bought for buses, adaptation to future needs was one of Cubic’s selling points. The decision to only go to magnetic swipe cards and not  smart cards reflected what was then available – but with the knowledge that the technology would change and the electronic farebox was specified to be adaptable to meet that possibility. In other systems, magnetic stripe cards are still in use alongside newer card readers. I have seen that for myself in a number of cities in North America and Europe, including ones using Cubic equipment and many more than three fare zones. Indeed the choice of Cubic as supplier for the new Compass system was influenced by compatibility of the new and old systems.

The issue over the accessibility of the system to people with disabilities ought to have been settled much earlier, and is a profound failure of a transit system which at one time was trying very hard indeed to improve accessibility. There seems to have been a significant unwillingness to listen to what was being said – or a willingness to ignore a small number of users over the need to install and get working a fare system bedevilled by delays and other failures. That is a failure of Translink, not Cubic.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 18, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Pushing the button

with 14 comments

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers is making a big fuss about the number of times CMBC bus drivers push the button which records “fare not paid”. He thinks that the loss of fare revenue is such a big issue that it justifies voting NO in the upcoming referendum. You can’t trust Translink, he says.

I thought it might be helpful to actually work out what the size of the problem might be – something that Travis Lupick has a shot at in the article I linked to above but fails to make clear. The Average Fare on Translink was $1.86 in 2012 (Source: Translink) and the size of the business (according to Lupick’s article) $1.41 billion. 2,762,363 button pushes multiplied by $1.86 is a revenue loss of $5,137,995.10. It looks like a big number but it is 0.36% of the amount needed to cover Translink’s expenses.

So according to Jordan Bateman we should not try to increase transit spending in this region because Translink records a 0.36% revenue loss from fare evasion on its bus operations. Actually a lot of button pushing does not happen, especially on the 99 B Line which has all door loading. So maybe the revenue loss is closer to 0.5%. Big deal.

By the way, this is the same Jordan Bateman who was once a Langley Councillor and an advocate of transit expansion.



I just had a phone call from Jeff Nagel to talk about this post. This allowed me to discuss my “moment d’escalier” – the thoughts I had after I posted. What I ought to have written in the first place.

The amount of money that Translink loses to fare evasion is NOT the biggest issue facing us. If fare evasion could be entirely eliminated the problem of transit in this region would remain. There is not enough transit service to meet existing needs, let alone what we will need over the next twenty years to meet the increase in population – and the increasing preference for people here and coming here to have a more and better choices than driving everywhere for everything. Concentrating on fare evasion was what lead to the Compass/Faregates fiasco. Far more is being spent than than will be recovered once the system is actually implemented. And that is not Translink’s choice – it was one imposed by the province.

The scale of fare evasion needs to be viewed in terms of what is needed to cover the cost of operating the entire system. So that is why my shorthand expression of percentage of revenue loss is expressed that way – and not as how much gets collected by bus fareboxes. Because we have an integrated transit system – people use buses to get to SkyTrain – or ride SkyTrain and then transfer to a bus to get to their destination if you prefer. All door loading was introduced on the 99 B-Line as a way to improve service. Most people on that bus have U Passes or other tickets: they are regular commuters, so they are not about to use cash to pay a fare. And the fare media were not even designed to go through the farebox. And even those who do use Compass cards may not be getting counted. But that does not matter very much. There is no realistic, economical way to check the fare media validity of every rider for  every part of their trip and it does not look like a completely functional Compass system will be able to do that either.

In exactly the same way, the insistence on audits, or the fuss about executive pay, does nothing to address the critical lack of adequate funding for transit expansion. And a half per cent on sales tax in the region is at best a stop gap – and not a real substitute for an adequate funding system. The value of Greater Vancouver to the BC economy means that the people who live outside the region ought to be part of the solution. Just as people in Greater Vancouver help pay for transit in Prince George – and bridges in Kelowna. I do not like the regional sales tax idea and I think the current referendum is wrong headed. But that does not mean I support voting No. That is just shooting ourselves in the foot.

We have to stop giving Jordan Bateman, The CTF and the Fraser Institute so such attention. They are like climate change deniers, howling at the moon. We have serious problems and we need serious people to deal with them. Jordan Bateman has no interest at all in those problems or how to solve them.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2015 at 8:24 am

Posted in Fare evasion, fares

Tagged with ,


with 7 comments

We are leaving here tomorrow. It is a shame to have to say this, but I am actually glad to be going home. Our landlady in Florence told us that there was no point in staying for two weeks, there was not enough to keep us here. We have been in Venice last weekend largely as a result of this advice. We fell in love with Venice, and would have liked to have been able to stay longer. The expense alone was enough to deter that thought. If we could have got back to Vancouver from there … well anyway. Let me tell you about today, which is all about the sort of issues that get discussed on this blog all the time.

Last weekend, on Saturday, before our departure for Venice next morning, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet guide and decided to “get out of town”. Fiesole is a beautiful Tuscan hill village with stunning views and amazing archaeology. You can get there on a #7 bus, from Piazza San Marco within the 90 minute validity of a single ride. So tram ride ride from the apartment, walk across the Centro Storico, and up the hill we go, with a bus full of American art students. When we get to the village square – where the #7 turns round and goes back down the hill – there is a sign on the bus stop. Something obviously rushed out at the last minute on the office printer. No service on the #7 after 15:00 because of a road race – the 100km super marathon – a big deal – through Fiesole which means road closures and who knows when regular bus service can be restored. We saw the view – stunning – had lunch – ordinary but twice the price because of the view – and then caught the next bus back to town in case we got stuck and missed our train to Venice in the morning.

Today we tried again. Fiesole deserved a second chance, if only for its archaeology. Not just Etruscans and Romans but Lombards too. The bus stop for the #7 was beseiged. Local buses could not get near because of a flood of tour buses. In Livorno a massive cruise ship had landed, and tipped off its human cargo onto fleets of coaches full of punters sold on the idea of seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” for real. They get to see Florence in the morning and Pisa in the afternoon (or vice versa). The #7 bus stand is close to the Academy where this version (the real, authentic, actual statue as seen on tea towels and t shirts) could be seen. If you are waiting for a #7 local bus and many tour buses occupy the space where your expected municipal service is going to be, you get anxious. What if the local bus drives straight past, unable to pick you up because of this huge, throbbing airconditioned landwhale is unloading its cargo of bemused, earphoned tourgroupistes onto the one person wide sidewalk? It was chaos I tell you.

Eventually things sorted themselves out and the #7 arrived and we boarded within our permitted 90 minutes. It was a struggle for the bus from there but we just sat and observed how the usual dramas of urban life unfold. An MVA involving another bus, a BMW and a motorscooter, closing three of four lanes. A delivery van, double parked, while urgent packages are rejected for damage incurred while dealing with … a sudden intervention by several varieties of cops (carabineri, local plods, security company wannabes) misdirecting – an ambulance with the horrible wailing siren, unique to their kind, makes all thought impossible. Daily life in Florence.

Etruscan Altar

Roman altar

We got there. Roman ruins were seen. The difference to Etruscan ruins was noted. Lombard burials were studied in minute detail. The play of mottled sunlight on Tuscan hillsides was dutifully recorded. Lunch was eaten, beer was drunk, Fiesole was given its due. Time to return. The #7 is waiting in the square but somehow some other distraction means that it has – how sad – circled the roundabout and gone back down the hill, without us. We find a bench in the shade, where we can wait the quarter hour that must elapse before another #7 will appear. And as we sit observing the human life around us, we note the numbers of others who place themselves between us and the bus stop. There is no orderly queue. The bus has three doors, and all are fair game for entry. And the capture of the very few seats – let alone those that face forward and allow a view out of a window – requires strategy and cunning.

When the bus does arrive, two schoolgirls nip aboard and occupy the seats designated for those over 65 – to which I am entitled and feel that I have earned, being at the bus stop a full 15 minutes before they appeared. My partner deals with the smart cards (proximity reader not being proximate to the desired seats). They get the window seats and pretend not to understand my protests.

But all is well and we are seated, if not optimally at least satisfactorily, and eventually the girls get off and we can arrange ourselves … wait, what, some scruffy individual, wants to inspect my ticket?? No uniform, no apparent authority?

Florence tickets

It seems when the “smart card” was waved in front of the reader, no new ride authority was actually established. My partner’s card is fine, mine despite its three ride validity remaining is deemed “expired”. FIFTY EUROS cash to expunge the offence, once the details of the UK passport I carry with me to get free entry into National Monuments (but not, be it noted Fiesole Museums or archaeological sites) are copied onto a three part, no carbon required, form.  He even digs into his clothing and produces photo ID which shows that he is actually the Yoda of ATAF – so there is no point in arguing – and a new crisp €50 note saved for “a rainy day” is handed over. The alternative is not worth contemplating. The shame, the publicity, the headlines. Far better to sign on the dotted line on a form – being Italian – that I have no hope of understanding. Your card reader, ATAF, failed but I must pay the price, or face ignominy.

I note, from a distance, that once again the Compass card is under assault. That Cubic is once more fair game in the fare evasion/faregates/fare or foul fraud foofooraw. Meh! Life goes on. I will be back next week, refreshed. Able to sleep all night and function on Pacific Summer Time. This too will pass.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with , ,

We’re not the only ones

with 5 comments

The Guardian reports this morning “Glaswegians revolt over ticket changes for ‘Clockwork orange’ subway system”. Like the Translink issue, the problem is that the new stored value “smart card” (in Glasgow called “Bramble”, in Vancouver called “Compass”  and in the Guardian compared to London’s “Oyster”) is being introduced at the same time as a significant fare increase.

some passengers have been angered by the withdrawal of 10 and 20 journey tickets, which took place in June, arguing that the new system will leave them paying considerably more for their journeys.

This is precisely the same issue we have with Compass.  It really surprised me that the (paywalled thus not linked) Sun actually produced a pro-Translink editorial on the subject. Indeed, I think this must be a first for that organ. It reads like a Translink press release, except that is criticizes those who use other media to voice their opinions. Because they differ from the official line, and the Sun, and, of course, in some respects with each other, they must be wrong.

The Guardian concentrates on the withdrawal of fare discounts. There is not quite the huge penalty for cash use for some kinds of trips as here – but there are definitely incentives to use the smart card. The problem is that these incentives are not nearly as good as earlier incentives to use transit more frequently. Paying up front for a bunch of tickets helps the organization’s cash flow. Not everyone makes two trips every weekday, so passes are not a universal answer. Monthly discounts work well for commuters, not so well for people who have a more varied trip pattern. The point about Oyster was that did not matter as the system would ensure users got the best deal going no matter how many trips they made. The policy in London at the time of its introduction was to encourage people to use the transit system.

Translink made two fundamental errors. The first was to use the introduction of Compass to raise fares in general. At the same time it has been forced to cut service in many places, to meet overcrowding elsewhere. It has not been able to do enough for the most crowded routes and at the same time it has caused considerable inconvenience to users who were already putting up with slow and infrequent services. The second was to ignore the lack of provision in the new system to open gates with existing magnetic media during the changeover period, which was going to have to be years not months due to the need to replace bus fareboxes that could not issue Compass tickets for cash. Due to the omission of this facility in the specification of the system, and the lack of funds to replace not yet life expired bus fareboxes, one type of “seamless” journey (cash on the bus transfer to SkyTrain and SeaBus) would not be possible. It is possible to buy magnetic readers for fare gates – or for ticket vending machines. It may have seemed expensive at the time, but in the context of a hugely expensive and uneconomic (it cannot ever pay for itself) crackdown on fare evasion, balking at the last few million having lashed out $170m of public funds seems obtuse. And by the way, Compass itself will allow for new kinds of fare evasion.

I frankly doubt that the idea of making people pay twice for one direction of travel really was thought of as a good incentive to switch to Compass. It sounds to me like people covering their rear ends after discovering an omission. And – to correct the false information in the Sun’s editorial – it was not “leaked”.  The bus operators were concerned that the passengers who found out about the need to pay twice would take it out on them. The operator is, after all, the most visible and vulnerable face of the organization. I have always preferred the cock-up theory of history to the conspiracy theory. That does not mean there is not evil in the world, just that bad things happen more often due to mistakes than deliberate malevolence. For reasons that we need not discuss here, Translink has long been incapable of admitting error. Yet it is run by people and therefore mistakes are inevitable.

The most egregious error now is that the view that Translink is using fare policy to deter ridership is gaining credence. The transit police in particular have taken to tweeting (and other communications) in ways which have convinced many that bus transfers will not be accepted anywhere on the system.

It is too late now to roll back the fare increases slid through as part of the Compass system. It cannot now be made to look like something that every transit user will welcome. It is not about being convenient. It is simply a worse deal than transit users now get. And Translink should admit that. The discount for ten rides is not nearly as good as with ten tickets. Don’t pretend that we should be happy with that. Translink could move back the day when the gates close until something can be done for those with bus transfers. Or operators could simply inform cash payers that they will have to pay at the station (not on the bus) to get the gate to open. After all, unless a fare boundary has been crossed, there is no revenue loss. Compromise is a solution that dissatisfies all equally. Translink  cannot now expect to win everything it wants. The ease of transfer is essential. We always have had an integrated fare system and retaining that ought to have been a prime objective in adopting any new system.

This is not to damn Translink and all its activities. This is not part of a “hate on” against this or any institution. This is pointing out that a mistake has been made and must be corrected. Pretending otherwise is simply not good enough.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2013 at 9:05 am

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

Faregate: More Information

with 18 comments

Faregates at King Edward

Faregates have now been installed at King Edward Station on the Canada Line
my photo on flickr

Faregates at King Edward

CORRECTED 16 August – my math was at fault

In the Vancouver Sun story from yesterday’s media event more information is forthcoming about fare evasion – and most of the points I made in yesterday’s blog post are conceded.

TransLink’s $171-million program to install faregates at SkyTrain stations and the SeaBus in Metro Vancouver isn’t expected to reduce policing costs

So then all the expected savings have to come from collecting more fare revenue. One way you can tell when somebody’s lying is that they do not answer the question directly but point to some other true statement that makes them look better. So when you look at Translink’s performance recently on fare gates, you have to take into account how often the new smart card gets brought into the discussion. Smart cards could have been introduced at any time, once the new machine readable tickets were introduced. It is just matter of plug in modules for ticket vending machines (TVMs) on buses and stations, and they were designed that way. Similarly the payback calculations treat contributions from provincial and federal governments  as cost reductions – which from a narrow, institutional perspective (commonly accepted standards of bookkeeping) might be acceptable but for public sector accounting is simply a fudge.

The province provided $40 million and the federal government contributed $30 million from the Building Canada Fund. TransLink will fund the additional $100 million.

So we ought to be looking at the payback on $170m not $100m. But we also need to discount the effect of the introduction of the long overdue new regulations that put fine collection revenue into Translink (not the province) but also give them powers to collect those fines. When it comes to people saying how much fare evasion has been reduced the period between now and the new gates going live will be the critical one to assess the effectiveness of these measures. Note that the possession of a driver’s licence is important to make these rules work. What happens when someone has no license is less clear. So far as I am aware, we are still in this country not required by law to carry an identification document with a valid mailing address. This seems to me to be a critical weakness of the collection of fine revenue.

Transit police Chief Neil Dubord said some 60,000 violation tickets were issued last year, and similar numbers are expected for 2012. In 2011, TransLink lost $14.5 million in revenue, which is a combination of people not paying or paying only a partial fare and travelling into extra zones.

Of that figure, $7.7 million in fare evasion occurred on rapid transit, with $6.2 million on buses. So far in 2012, TransLink has lost $6 million in revenue.

These figures are very different from those that Frank Luba was quoting yesterday from earlier Translink reports.

TransLink did audits in 2004 and 2008 that showed annual losses to fare evasion on the rapid transit system were between $5 million and $9 million. But another TransLink report from 2005 showed that yearly operations and installation costs for the system amortized over 20 years would be $30 million annually.

Now $14.5m is a lot more than $5m but then fares have gone up a lot since 2004. Fare revenues last year were $356.6m (Translink 2011 Annual Report) so the evasion rate is still around 4%. Actually, the evasion rate is probably higher than that, simply because this only counts those who were caught, and accepts what they said about their journey as truthful. There will be some people travelling on tickets they were not entitled to (concessions and passes) and others making longer journeys but only buying a single zone. If there was much better data on travel that did not depend on ticket purchase data then there might be a better understanding on the extent of evasion, but we have for many years preferred to cut the cost of data collection to the point where I begin to doubt the validity of a lot of what is said about travel here.

There is nothing said about the additional operating costs of moving to a gated rather than an open system. This extends far beyond policing costs, but also requires some insight into how the staffing needs to change to cope with the new system. I would not expect Translink to be forthcoming on these kinds of details (but see that 2005 data Luba quoted) and anyway the use of Compass already makes the situation confusing enough. Let us assume that they are lucky enough to cut evasion in half in the first year of operation and let us further credit all of that to the gates – forget the extra revenue from fines. So now Translink has $7m a year to pay down the $100m it is spending – and again we assume that policing and operating costs are a wash. Which is pretty much what Doug Kelsey was saying yesterday.

Kelsey said TransLink is optimistic the system will “pay for itself,” with savings of $7.1 million every year, starting in 2014.

CORRECTION But the faregates only impact SkyTrain. So if they cut fare evasion there in half, there is only $3.8m in “new” revenue, since evasion on SkyTrain is said to cost $7.7m a year now.

I do not see how this “pays for itself”. I also see no estimate of how much it is going to cost to rebuild Main Street and Metrotown stations to allow for the gates to be installed – all of which I think needs to be charged to the Faregates account since it would not be necessary (however desirable) if the project had not proceeded. I suspect too that the gaping hole on the revenue protection fence that will exist until these two stations are gate fitted, which will also significantly lower the expected savings.

The decision to install faregates was made by Kevin Falcon when he was Minister of Transport. It made no sense then and it makes no better sense now but we are stuck with it. It is also too late now to turn back the clock and unmake it, and the BC Liberals are now so low in the polls that one more scandal can add nothing to the balance. Next year they are gone, and then – hopefully – some more sensible transit (and related) policy making will be seen. Not that that was a feature of previous NDP governments, but we must have hope, mustn’t we?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with

Thoughts about Paris

with 6 comments

I returned to Vancouver last Thursday: the jet lag has now relented, and my brain seems less fogged. We were there for nearly the whole month of May, which was probably not the best choice, since France has no less than four public holidays in May.

While we were there we did not drive at all. There was really no need for that. We bought a Navigo Decouverte card, and loaded it with a month’s unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2 – roughly the same as the 20 arrondissements of the city out to the peripherique. Now I am going to surprise my readers by telling you that our system is actually somewhat better than theirs in one respect. If you have a zone 1 ticket or pass here, and need to make an odd trip out to Surrey, you can buy an “addfare”. There is no such equivalent there. So for a trip out to La Defense (the major office centre, with lots of challenging architecture and lots of public art) which is in zone 3, we had to buy a whole new ticket. It was actually cheaper to buy an all day unlimited Mobilis ticket (€8.55) than a round trip ticket (€10) and we made the most of it by riding all three of the tram lines – most of which are outside the City.

La Defense dominates the skyline

La Defense dominates the skyline over the Bois de Boulogne

The Navigo pass is a smart card with a photo – but you have to write your name on it too. They are very keen on that, though quite how it improves security I cannot say. We made a point of not carrying anything with us like passport or a driving licence which we did not actually need, simply because of the risk of loss to pickpockets. They are a plague of the system – and have been for many years. We saw a successful arrest of small gang, but the general view is one of cynicism that the legal process does little to deter what is a very profitable activity. Pickpockets can easily afford a ticket. Fare checks were apparent – we saw several in the time we were there both on buses and the metro, and each time there were people being given penalty notices.  I also learned, from reading a notice in a bus shelter, that there is a free transfer from bus to bus or bus to tram provided that you did not pay a cash fare to the operator, but cancelled a pre-purchased ticket on board. There is no transfer to or from the metro. I suppose this encourages use of Navigo for people who need to get a bus to access the metro. It is a proximity card, which means its use is quicker than the magnetic stripe Mobilis – or any current Translink media (other than the “flash pass”) although I saw a lot of people getting frustrated when the faregate refused to open when an entire purse was dumped on a reader.

Navigo is also useful to facilitate use of Velib. There is a daily membership charge, and while the first half an hour of the rental is still “free” after that the Euros start clicking up, so you do have to allow the system access to your credit card. I think it is bit odd that you cannot charge the day membership to Navigo as it is not much different to a metro or bus ride, but of course Velib is a City thing and fares are a regional issue (STIF – the Ile de France agency). So far, and so familiar.

No bikes

No bikes

Those holidays – and a spell of warm weather also revealed the shortcomings of Velib – quite apart from the tendency of users to wreck bikes which remain available for rent even though unrideable. More than once planned trips had to change due to the complete absence of bikes – or the complete inability of the system to take back bikes we were finished with, but could not find an open post to lock them back into. I must also report in all fairness that many Parisians do wear bike helmets – though few of them seemed to be Velib users.

Followers of my flickr stream will also be familiar now with the progress being made to extend T3, the tramway that runs along the Boulevards des Marechaux. These are the broad streets that are named after generals that were built over former city defences on the south and east sides of the city. There is, in fact, a disused railway line that they could have used, but they preferred on street running using an exclusive right of way on the median, which is often grassed.

Grassed track in boulevard median

T3 under construction: grassed track in boulevard median

There has been a lot of progress in providing bike lanes and bus lanes. I like the bike lanes that run counterflow on one way streets, and also those that are protected from moving traffic by the line of parked cars. I am less happy with the painted bike lanes on sidewalks at major intersections – though there is no argument that these are much safer than fighting motor vehicles on rond points, where priority is simply to those who risk most. We were witness to a number of altercations between bus drivers and white vans at such locations. Bus lanes do not provide a universal panacea to congestion. My partner developed a strong preference for the bus over the metro (you see more of the city that way) but even her loyalty was challenged by some remarkably extended travel times in what looked to me like grid lock – even though Paris streets are not in a grid! We walked a lot too – and found that Paris is, in many senses, quite a small place. The Bois de Boulogne to the Trocadero is about 20 minutes, even at the flaneur’s pace I adopt.

Exterior new train Line 5

Exterior new train Line 5

Interior Line 5

Interior Line 5

Paris has lots of transit, and is building more. Metro extension is being planned for Line 14 and Line 1 is being converted to driverless operation. Some of the oldest rolling stock is also being replaced with trains that have interconnections between cars (like the Canada Line) which ought to do more to relieve overcrowding. People still seem to prefer to stand near the doors rather than between the seats, which makes them more vulnerable to pickpockets and leads to extended dwell times at stations as people try to get on and off. Much more emphasis seems to be placed on improving commuting to and within the suburbs – with trams, tram trains (line 4) RER and the Transilien services. We made a few excursions on SNCF, and were very impressed by speed, punctuality and reliability of these services. Of course, in this part of the world passenger rail is almost completely neglected by comparison.

Nowhere gets it right all the time, and there is no monopoly on truth. No one transit system answers every need. But the balance between cars and other modes is different there than here, and is closer to what is needed now, and will be even more important in future. Paris does need to get tougher on cars, I think. They have some experiments with street closures. For instance around the canal St Martin at weekends. But that is still exceptional. For much of the day traffic in Paris is slow moving: parked cars and deliveries are a huge unresolved issue. After hours, parking still seems to be a free for all. While car drivers do seem to respect the need to leave garage entrances clear, pedestrian crossings and street corners are seen as perfect opportunities to park, once the traffic wardens have ended their shift.  There is also an extraordinary ability to get into spaces that no Canadian would even attempt.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

How London Deals with Fare Evasion

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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

Tuesday Round-up

with 4 comments

The transit technology choice debate keeps on going. The Economist blog has a summary “Trolleying out the same old arguments” which pits Walker against Nordahl via a link to a Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt. So it’s not just the comments section of this blog that gets all of a froth about these things. Even so, there are things that made me stop and wonder about who does the editing at the Economist

Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.

No they’re not. Lots of rails have been left in place where there is no train service or even hope of one. It is often regarded as just too expensive to dig them up. If you are a stranger in town and see some rails, I would advise not to expect a train to come down them without doing some research first. Even if the tracks are shiny – that may just be the friction of all those car tires going over them. CP still maintain the level crossings along the Arbutus Line since it has not been legally abandoned – although no-one in their right mind would expect an interurban to be rolling along this

Arbutus CP right of way 2

OK that’s a bit silly, but all of the Seattle waterfront streetcar tracks were in place last time I was there (they may have gone now in the wake of taking down their viaducts) but there is no hope of service returning

Former Waterfront Streetcar Track

The TTC debate about LRT versus subway won’t go away soon either. Mayor Ford’s declaration the war on the car had ended could not have been clearer. His decision about getting rid of a plan for lots of LRT on street tracks in favour of much less coverage by a subway or two was all about not getting in the way of people who want to drive. But it does not make much sense – as the Calgary Manager of transit planning puts it

“With some money, you can build a little bit of subway and make a few people very happy,” Mr. McKendrick said. “Or [with the same amount of money] you can build a whole lot of light rail and make a lot of people happy.”


the woman Mr. Ford appointed to head the Toronto Transit Commission has added her voice …. Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

The article ends with a quote from Jarrett Walker – of course.

Translink is promising more transit – but as usual in ways that make me wince.

It refers to large numbers of service hours for buses – without stating service hours per what unit of time. “An additional 40,000 service hours in April” sounds like a lot – until you ask yourself is that hours per year? Or hours this year from April to year end – and when is that anyway? Of course there is no mention of what that means as a percentage of what we currently have.

The Base Plan (page 22) states that  4,928,000 hours per year will be delivered by the bus service each year from 2012 to 2021.

So if the 40,000 is an annual figure that is an additional 0.8% – which is not much really, is it?

“by year’s end, 180,000 new service hours will be in place” or 3.6%. To make that figure look respectable I chose to just look at bus service. Use the total annual service hours of 6,918,000 it’s only 2.6% which is better than no increase at all but hardly startling given the present levels of overcrowding.

There’s a lot of blether about Faregates and how they are going to be more efficient and convenient for customers. Nothing about how the present system does not require most passengers with valid media to interact with anything now – and how easy it is to get in and out of stations and on to busy buses. And how systems with gates still manage to lose money to fare evaders, and how much the system is costing when there are many greater needs. Well, you can’t expect Translink to bite the hand that feeds it (even if so inadequately and inanely).

I could not resist the story from New York (in Atlantic Cities) about one very inventive homeless person has managed to secure himself an income by utilizing the unused value of discarded transit passes. The Metrocard is sold in round dollar figures, not rides, and while people can top them up they are more likely to discard them with some value left on them and buy a new one. (Which reminds me, I have one somewhere I should dig out.) That adds $52 a year to MTA revenues – and someone has found a way to get his hands on a little of that. It’s an offence, of course.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm