Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘Fare evasion’ Category

Transport smartcard hacked – again

with one comment

It was the “again” that caught my attention. This is DutchNews reporting on trials of a new smart card that is supposed to replace existing tickets for all trains trams and buses across the country. The Dutch have had “strippenkarte” for long while which brings the sort of fare integration that Canadian cities only dream of. Twenty years ago Ontario tried to get a card that worked for GO and the TTC – and it is still not as easy to use as the Dutch system of paper tickets.

GO TTC Twin Pass

Smart cards have been talked about here for a long time, but our system is just too small to be able to afford the upfront investment, and nothing commercially available off the shelf could cope with our three zones, but only one off peak structure. Indeed, much discussion was having cards that would be read in and out to allow for fare by distance, which in a region this big actually makes a lot of sense if (and that’s a very big if indeed) the cost of short trips could be cut. And if stored value were used, the system can also be extended to other small purchases, reducing the need to carry coins and small bills.

But what this story shows is how the database of trip making is vulnerable. I suspect as well that as soon as electronic fare cards come into widespread use someone will devise a way to hack into the system to get free rides – or even money out.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with

“Turnstiles are needed to turn transit into a better environment for travel”

with 5 comments

A typically ignorant opinion from Derek Moscato of the Province

Ever since Kevin Falcon announced his desire to install turnstiles at SkyTrain stations across the Lower Mainland, the B.C. transportation minister has been on the receiving end of a predictably hot-headed response from some vocal adversaries.

The response has not been been “hot headed” at all. If anything, Falcon jumped onto a cause with very little hard information – but lots of “opinion” and “perceptions” that he thought would make him popular.

There is no evidence to support the contention that current losses due to fare evasion on SkyTrain are high enough to produce a positive rate of return on spending. And given that there are plenty of other transit projects that will have positive rates of return, they shoudl be done ahead of this ill conceived notion.

We now have armed police on SkyTrain conducting regular fare checks. This was done to increase passengers sense of security. Even though most of the incidents that papers like the Province like to associate with SkyTrain actually occur outside the system and beyond these officers’ jurisdiction, and very few have anything to do with fare evasion.

Systems with turnstiles still experience both fare evasion and threats (and worse) to passengers.  The Toronto subway has turnstiles but that did not keep out the person who decided to push a complete stranger under a moving train. The Paris metro has turnstiles, and the pickpockets still work the crowds: if you go to Paris, make sure you have secret pockets or a money belt for your valuables. You are also at risk from pick pockets on the London Undergound – also now gated throughout – which did not stop the bombers on 7/7.

Commuters who use SkyTrain at night, particularly women, the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, would feel better using the service, knowing that lawbreakers aren’t free to enter the stations at will.

Possibly, but they will be deluded. Because lawbreakers are also economically rational, and buying a ticket in order to carry out their activities will seem to them to be small price to pay. But we will have thrown away millions on buying ourselves a false sense of security, and increased operating cost of a gated system will be borne by the taxpayers for years to come.

Hot heads, Mr Moscato, do not tend to use spreadsheets. I suggest you go ask Translink if they will let you play with theirs. Put in any assumptions you like about levels of evasion and see if you can get any positive rate of return. I never could, but then I am only a transportation economist with forty years experience.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2008 at 7:38 am

Posted in Fare evasion

Shorter news items

with 5 comments

More on the SkyTrain gate nonsense – but this time quoting people who have at least read the previous GVTA reports on the issue. Of course it doesn’t help that Kevin Falcon knows that Translink’s figures on fare evasion are wrong. He doesn’t have any better information of course

Combined with the costs of installing the new gates, amortized over 20 years, the 2005 report put the total annual cost of fare gates at $32.2 million.

In contrast, it estimated gates would reduce fare evasion by only $2.9 million.

Based on extensive spot checks, TransLink estimates about 4.9 per cent of SkyTrain revenues are lost through fare evasion.

Falcon and Brodie said they think the rate is much higher.

“There’s no way in an open system you’re going to be losing that little,” Falcon said.

He said transit operators in Europe told him their fare-evasion rates are as high as 30 per cent, but neither Falcon or Brodie was able to identify any flaws with the way TransLink compiled its figures.

I would just love to know which operator told him that – and how they arrived at that figure. That’s the trouble with “sources” like that – no one can check them out. If there is an incentive to minimize the losses to evasion, then surely they are the same for all transit operators.

There is also more on the bizarre notion that fare gates reduce crime generally – which is also entirely unsupported by experience. Probably different types of crime. But SkyTrain has both video surveillance and, now, real police officers. With guns. Of course, no one mentions that when you increase the number of police in an area, the amount of reported crime increases.

B.C. bus crash renews calls for highway upgrades

Of course the calls come from bus company and local pols – they have wanted twinning of the TransCanada for a long time. It is, of course, much too early to determine the cause of the crash, but last night on CBC a local mountie was saying that accidents he has attended are usually determined to be due to driving errors – too fast for the conditions, too close to the vehicle in front,  and driver distraction were all mentioned. Twinning the TransCanada will not make it safer, any more than upgrading the Sea to Sky will make that road any less dangerous. The drivers will continue to speed and tailgate and play with their GPS systems and DVDs while they do so. And the severity of the consequent collisions – and the amount of traffic involved – will be greater, so the casualty rate will probably not change very much.

Areas along Fraser sinking at startling rate, study warns

When you dyke a mud bank, it starts to sink. That is because the water that you drain out no longer supports the surface and it compacts. The dyke means no additional alluvial material is added. And if you put buildings on it – especially really heavy structures – it sinks faster. What is amazing to me is that this is now being reported as though it is news. YVR has known about this for years. When I first came here my colleagues on the engineering side of the firm were concerned about the differential rate of subsidence between the airport terminal building and the new apron they were constructing in front of it – especially as the new terminal was to be serviced by aviation fuel in pipes rather than big tanker trucks.   Yes, they had done the preloading. But even so the apron and the floor of the new building were not matching up.

We have also known about sea levels rising. And the strange sense of complacency at the City of Richmond that refuses to admit that its dykes might not be enough in the event of a major event. Like a tidal surge, or an earthquake. Which both seem to me to be increasingly likely – though for different reasons.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2007 at 12:06 pm

Fare gates coming to SkyTrain stations

with 11 comments

Vancouver Sun

System will reduce fare cheating, improve security, transportation minister says

Which demonstrates once again that Kevin Falcon does not know what he is talking about and is incapable of doing simple math.

For a policy reversal this is quite remarkable, as the cost benefit analysis of gates on the SkyTrain was one of the most frequently requested and updated spreadsheets that I used to have on my computer at work. Of course, everybody else knew much better – after all they had been to visit London or Paris and they had seen the gates there, so it must be a system that works.


Actually both London and Paris still have problems with crime on their systems – and both lose money to fare evasion. In fact, prominent posters in the Underground warn “get a ticket, not a criminal record”. Of course, if Kevin Falcon noticed them when he was there, he is not saying.

[Translink Chair, Mayor Malcolm] Brodie agreed, saying fare gates or turnstiles — used in major cities like London, Paris and Hong Kong — would help deter crime and reduce fare evasion, while making the trains safer for commuters.

No, they won’t. Both Paris and London have long had a real problem with pickpockets operating on crowded trains. With all the pushing and shoving going on, it is very easy to take advantage of passengers. In fact the really good dips work in teams with advanced distraction techniques. It is remarkable that whenever one of these rings are apprehended, they always seem to come from some exotic faraway place – like Lima , Peru. And, of course, to get on to the train, and to reduce the risk of confrontation with officialdom, they always had tickets. I expect that the people who left bombs on the trains in London and Madrid had tickets too.

In fact the perception of the extent of crime on SkyTrain is due in large measure to our wonderful media, who always talk about any crime in the vicinity in terms of its distance from the SkyTrain station – even though there may be no apparent link to the use of the system at all. And of course, stations mean crowds. So if you want to sell people drugs your motivation to be close to a SkyTrain station is the same as someone trying to sell umbrellas when it is raining. So far as I recall, it is pretty rare to see someone struggling with a large screen tv on the SkyTrain. I do not see it as the mode of choice for housebreakers. In fact the ones that I know about from first hand experience prefer older Dodge Caravans.

The issue of the older Expo line stations is going to be very much harder than just providing staff (though in Vancouver’s overheated labour market that isn’t going to be easy either). The stations were not designed to have gates, and the Fire Marshall needs to be convinced that stations can be evacuated quickly in the event of an emergency. During my time at TransLink we tended to think that meant rebuilding the stations. I don’t know if that has changed. Perhaps Ken Hardie will pop up with an explanation here.

But as an economist, I could never be convinced that the rate of return on investment and increased operating costs would be positive – let alone adequate to justify this sort of expenditure. And for a system which is desperately short of capital to buy new buses and more SkyTrain cars, the priority cannot be to try and reduce fare evasion from one small percentage to a slightly lower percentage for the short time until the dodgers come up with new, refined techniques for evading payment. Because they will. And once you get into this game, it is a spiral of increasing cost chasing ever smaller returns.

Once again, if you have visited London or Paris you will have seen people cheerfully vaulting over the gates. Or managing to get through once somebody else has opened them. Or a number of other devious methods I will not detail: the British Transport Police used to try to get them to plead guilty. Because there was always the risk that in the public gallery of the courts there would be people taking notes. In fact, two groups who statistically have a much higher propensity to evade fares are journalists (who were also high on the list of parking meter jammers) and, I am sorry to say, the sort of people who have inside knowledge of fare systems. One of whom started off as my boss, but ended up working for me in a much more junior capacity as a result of his plea bargain.

And the reason that you do not see many people using the ticket machines at SkyTrain stations (and the SeaBus) is that they already have a proof of payment on their person: they either have a pass of some kind, or they paid on the bus and got a transfer.

What is surprising is the timing of this announcement. I would have thought that this was just the sort of amazing innovation that the new tame appointed Board would come out with. Or is Kevin worried that they might, as astute business persons, be able to understand a spreadsheet?

Written by Stephen Rees

November 9, 2007 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Fare evasion

17 Reasons (or More) to Stop Charging People to Ride the Bus

leave a comment »

Views ::

This is the first of a series. I am therefore not going to comment on it until I have heard the whole argument. However, you may like to keep up with the series as it develops. Certainly The Tyee should be on your bookmarks/favourites list

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2007 at 8:14 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Fare evasion

with 5 comments

Photo by Richard Eriksson

There was a piece last night on the CBC six o’clock tv news on the extension of the fare paid zone to buses on Monday. It does not seem to be on their web page so I am going to have to rely on memory.

(But, usefully, there are a few facts and figures from CKNW who ran a similar story)

The reporter, of course, started off with the usual line that SkyTrain loses millions of dollars every year to fare evasion. There was no attempt to put this into context. If you talk about fare evasion in terms of percentage loss (the way all retailers look at “shrinkage”) and compare that with the cost of increased enforcement, then you have to think about it as a business decision, not a simple “right or wrong” story. Or rather “we wuz robbed” – because of course it is the people who pay the fares and the taxes who pick up the tab for the free riders.

The library has the same magnetic tag alarm system that many shops use. And in both cases, the alarm goes off all the time and nothing happens. I have even had to take back a DVD that had been rendered completely unplayable by the library gluing metal tapes to the playing surface (it was a 2 sided DVD so you could still watch the “special features” just not the movie). Most people in the retail business recognize that they need to keep shrinkage down if they can but they do not want to upset their customers needlessly. And that is what happens when security overrides common sense. As it currently does in airline travel.

The new system on the buses is supposed to reduce the risk of drivers being assaulted. Disputes over the fare being one of the commonest triggers for an assault. And the drivers did not like the idea of reducing assaults by the use of cameras, even though that technology has eliminated assaults on taxi drivers who ran much higher risks.

At this point they trotted out spokesperson Ken Hardie, who did his best, but succeeded in explaining how not only to avoid paying the fare but also how to avoid paying the penalty as well. (Since he used to work for the Vancouver Police you would have thought he would know better.) The problem is that there is no way for the Translink Police to determine if the name and address they are being given when they hand out a ticket is genuine. So when the fine is unpaid it gets handed to a collection agency which usually gives up pretty quickly. Even when the fine is paid (which is very rare), Translink doesn’t get the money, the province does. So there really is not much incentive for them to push harder. And there are a growing number of people (Ken termed them “frequent flyers”) who have worked that out and never pay a fare or a fine.

This is not a new problem. It has been experienced elsewhere, and it is pointless looking at transit systems in Europe that use proof of payment since their legal system is quite different. Code Napoleon reverses the burden of proof and requires all citizens to carry an official identification document.

So let’s look at what happens at systems that use the British legal structure like we do. In London, no one ever paid parking tickets, because the court system was overburdened. Parking rule enforcement collapsed. Wheel clamping was introduced to make the penalty of delay bite hard and immediately on the offender. And it worked. Fare evasion on the London Underground ballooned as the automatic barriers which read the tickets were only installed in the Central Area as an economy measure. Introducing lower fares and zone fares helped a bit, but until barriers could be installed at all stations, there was a gaping hole. And even then, people worked out that all they needed was a ticket that opened the gates they would pass through, not one that necessarily allowed them to travel the entire route. We called it “dumbell fraud”. But it was the use of that second word that inspired the most effective response to the “frequent flyers”. Instead of issuing a penalty ticket, the regulars would be asked to accompany the officer to the police station. An investigation would then start to establish a pattern of activity. At which point the offender would not be issued a ticket but would be charged with a very serious offence – fraud. Because there would now be evidence that this individual rode free or at reduced fares on regular basis. And over the time of these repeated offences, a large sum had been diverted away from the transport system.

Many of the people caught in London turned out to be respectable citizens, with good jobs, often in financial institutions. One of them was even one of my bosses, who when he learned how easy it was to defraud the system, could not resist trying it himself. And the slogan that we came up with for this new enforcement program was “get a ticket, not a criminal record”. Because people who work in positions of trust have a lot more to lose than a few pounds – or dollars.

I would like to say that the program was as effective as wheel clamping, but that is not the case. It still requires regular enforcement and reminders: a few high profile cases every so often, which are given publicity, something that we had formerly been reluctant to do, since the people in the public gallery love to find out new ways to beat the system. Therefore deals for guilty pleas were quite common as it reduced the amount of evidence that had to be given out in public.

The parking problem and fare evasion problem have one feature in common. They extended the range of criminal activity from a smallish minority to a larger segment of the population. The extent to which we are honest is not absolute. Most people comply with the rules and regulations, most of the time, because we see the necessity of them. When these rules are openly flouted, and we see no penalty attaching to the offenders, our assessment of the risk of getting caught changes. And when there is a risk of getting caught but paying no penalty at all, then the percentage of people willing to try to get away with something starts to rise. The job of law enforcement is to keep that line where it is or push it back a bit. What has happened is that instead of a small percentage of generally criminal individuals ripping off the system, more people are now seeing that they can get away with not paying. And they spread that message.

As has the CBC, with this story. Thanks a lot.

Translink of course knows all about what I have written. And they will say that London is different and that wouldn’t work here. But the idea of continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome is a useful working definition of madness.

Oh, one other thing I meant to mention. The CBC also dug out Rom Stromberg. He used to work for Transit, and told them what would happen if they went for proof payment on SkyTrain. But of course, as usual, they were trying to save money on the stations, and if they had had barriers, they would have had to have much bigger entrances and exits to allow for emergency evacuations. While the barriers are not cheap, it was the cost of these additional exits that killed the idea of barriers. Plus the fact that they would need to be manned all the time at every station in case they stopped working or someone with a pram or a wheelchair needed to be let through. Like I said, fare enforcement is not about morality, it is about economics. And the people who do not pay their fares are behaving with perfect economic rationality.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2007 at 3:28 pm