Ridership is growing on TransLink buses

Bus fare evasion more than doubles

TransLink lost $5.3 million in revenue last year, up from $2.4 million in 2008

The amount of money lost to fare evasion on the bus system has more than doubled in the last three years, according to TransLink estimates.

Riders who boarded buses without paying the proper amount cost the system an estimated $5.3 million in 2010, up from $3.1 million in 2009 and $2.4 million in 2008.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie confirmed the numbers, provided to CKNW under a Freedom of Information request.

It’s difficult to say why bus fare cheating increased that much, he said, but noted ridership has been steadily growing and fares went up in the spring of 2010.

A large number of new riders began using the transit system during the year of the 2010 Olympics.

Hardie said many of them may have made errors that auditors also record as fare evasion – such as mistakenly buying a one-zone ticket but riding for two or three.

“In 2010 we were dealing with so many new people on the system,” he said. “A lot of people may have been detected as misusing when they just didn’t know.”

The fare evasion rate for buses for 2010 was 3.2 per cent, according to the estimates.

Hardie said fare evasion covers not just riders who outright refuse to pay but those who “stretch” a ticket to more zones than allowed as well as those who may actually have monthly passes but forgot them at home.

TransLink’s new radio system on buses includes a button drivers can press to record a passenger boarding without the right fare.

That was supposed to help TransLink track routes and even times where fare evaders are prevalent and then step up enforcement.

But Hardie said the system hasn’t yet met expectations, adding the data is “quite unreliable.”

Bus drivers are told not to try to enforce payment, because disputes with cheaters sometimes end in driver assaults.

Hardie said the estimate of $5.3 million last year – made by auditors checking a sample of several thousand bus riders and extrapolating – was still less than one per cent of the revenue brought in by bus fares.

TransLink’s new Compass smart card payment system should help reduce some fare evasion when it is launched in 2013.

Abuse of the zone system should end, Hardie said, because the tag-on, tag-off system will charge smart card holders based on the actual distance they travel.

University students who sell unwanted U-Passes are unlikely to continue doing that, he added, because the U-Pass will become a smart card chip embedded in their student card.

Ticket flippers who resell used tickets people give them will also be out of luck once most paper tickets vanish.

Hardie did not have up-to-date estimates of fare evasion on SkyTrain, but past audits have pegged the rate at about six per cent.

Along with smart cards, TransLink is installing fare gates to end the open access to SkyTrain stations.

The changes aren’t expected to thwart all cheaters.

“There’s an element out there who will still try to find a way around it,” Hardie said,

“No system anywhere we know of has the full answer to fare evasion.”