Craigslist clamps down on transit U-Pass reselling

TransLink says illegal trade in student passes costs $15m a year

Most post-secondary students will have U-Passes by next fall

Craigslist is finally helping stamp out the illegal trade in U-Passes that TransLink says costs it millions of dollars in lost fare revenue each year.

The free classifieds website began deleting ads for the post-secondary student transit passes – which aren’t transferrable and can’t be resold – Thursday morning after Transit Police sent a letter requesting action.

“Most of the ads on Craigslist disappeared quite suddenly,” TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said, adding TransLink had tried for months to get the site to comply.

“It’s a good result.”

An estimated $15 million worth of U-Passes are reported lost or stolen each year and are replaced, but many of the originals show up for sale later on or find their way into the hands of other users.

There are also students who register for college or university, get their pass and then drop out but don’t return it.

A U-Pass is equivalent to a $151 three-zone monthly pass so an SFU student who acquires one for $26 and doesn’t need it can flip it at a hefty profit.

“We’re picking them up on a somewhat regular basis being misused in the system,” Hardie said.

There are currently 80,000 students with U-Passes in Metro Vancouver.

But several more institutions are signing on effective next September at a new standard rate of $30 a month, adding another 60,000 pass holders.

“This time next year we don’t want to be talking about a $20- or $25-million problem,” Hardie said.

It’s hoped institutions and student societies will help police U-Pass use by students over the short term,  he said.

Transit Police also sometimes conduct “buy and bust” stings to nab U-Pass resellers.

Officers approach those selling U-Passes, seize the pass and ticket the seller.

Someone who buys and uses a resold U-Pass can also get a $173 ticket if caught.

Ultimately, TransLink’s move to smart cards is expected to largely eliminate the problem once the new fare payment system arrives in a couple of years.

The same chip in the Compass card will be embedded in student cards from each institution.

Students who can’t give up their student cards that they need on campus wouldn’t therefore be able to sell them as they can now with a separate U-Pass.

As with the coming smart cards, the student cards with Compass technology built in will also have to be scanned as students board the transit system.

“TransLink will have the ability to electronically turn off a card that’s lost, stolen or belongs to a student that has dropped out of school,” Hardie said. “We believe it will be a far more durable solution.”

TransLink hasn’t yet finalized contracts with all the institutions expected to join the U-Pass system by September, but Hardie said that’s expected to happen by late June.

Hardie said TransLink has not considered cancelling the U-Pass program over the pass reselling problem.