TransLink still losing millions to fare evaders but it’s not tracking numbers

Three years after spending $200 million to install fare gates at its SkyTrain and Canada Line stations, TransLink hasn’t collected any data to show they are cutting down on fare evasion. Meanwhile, the number of tickets related to fare gate offences has barely slowed.

TransLink acknowledges it continues to lose revenue to fare evaders but hasn’t measured evasion since 2014, said spokeswoman Jillian Drews. She said TransLink is studying ways to track fare evasion including “manual counting using CCTV, broadening the use of automatic people counters and programming fare gates to count the number of times fare gate panels are forced.”

“There are a lot of smart people working on it,” said Drews, but they haven’t been able to estimate the number of fare dodgers because “they don’t tap in and out.”

“It’s ridiculous that they have put so much of our money into this and yet they don’t bother to check and actually monitor how well these gates are working,” said Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“There is strong evidence our fare gates deter fare evaders,” said Drews, pointing out that annual fare revenue rose by $30 million for the first nine months the fare gates were operational on the SkyTrain and Canada lines from April to December 2016. The Evergreen extension to the Millennium Line opened in December 2016, which makes revenue comparisons difficult in the ensuing years.

Tampering with fare gates — including following a paying passenger through the gates without tapping a Compass card — has become such a problem that Transit Police have been given new powers to ticket that specific offence.

The tickets cover a wide range of offences but the “majority of these incidents are associated to officers’ active observations and enforcement … of the misuse of fare gates,” according to a report presented to the TransLink board in December by Transit Police.

Those violation tickets have climbed 23 per cent under the Provincial Transit Conduct Law banning fare gate misuse, while violations under the law banning other behaviour on or near TransLink property, including misusing an emergency exit, selling or trading proof of purchase, or obstructing or lying to a police officer are up 39 per cent. Each violation carries a fine of $173 for those ticketed.

Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said it was hoped once people saw they would be ticketed for gate crashing, the number of offences would drop.

But instead they went up: There were about 6,600 of the new violation tickets issued in 2016. That jumped to 14,000 in 2017 and 16,400 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the number of fines issued by Transit Police for fare evasion specifically has dropped the past two years. There were 23,400 fines for fare evasion in 2016, 19,000 in 2017 and 14,500 in 2018.

Drews said TransLink did 850,000 security checks last year for fares on buses and at bus loops.

In Toronto last week, the city’s auditor general released her audit on fare evasion on the Toronto Transit Commission and found it accounted for 5.4 per cent of total revenue, more than twice what the TTC estimated. She said TTC lost $60 million in revenue and that was “probably understated.” The TTC audit found fare evasion to be highest — 15 per cent — on streetcars, where there is unsupervised all-door boarding.

The TTC board chair called the evasion levels “critical” and “frustrating” and the mayor said he, too, was frustrated and mused about publicly shaming offenders.

The TTC accepted the auditor general’s 27 recommendations, including hiring 45 more fare inspectors, issuing more tickets (fines range between $235 and $435) and developing a public education campaign.

Warren Mirko, a communications consultant and regular user of public transit, said there may have been a drop at first, but “I see more and more people (illegally) going through the fare gates every day,” including students with knapsacks, people who appear homeless and even well-dressed people.

“When you see other people doing it and you see that nobody’s watching, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Stephen Rees, a former TransLink planner who has blogged extensively on fare evasion, said there will always be evaders.

“(The new gates) were supposed to eliminate it, but you just get a different kind because they get better at it,” he said.

But he said it’s not cost-effective to spend more to prevent it than it costs in losses, and if you increase the number of fare inspectors, it could intimidate and drive away paying users.

Rees said there are ways to track fare evasion, including viewing CCTV footage as the Toronto audit did, but he added, “What gets measured, gets improved. So by not measuring, you’re not required to improve it.”

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