A Transit Police officer weighs whether to give two men caught on SkyTrain without a valid fare tickets or warnings in this 2006 photo. Officers arrest at least 500 suspects wanted on outstanding warrants each year by running names of fare evaders against police databases.

Province plugs loophole that handcuffed transit cops

Officers would have lost ability to catch wanted criminals because they couldn't demand ID from fare evaders

A promised tough crackdown on TransLink fare evaders got off to a shaky start last week when some Transit Police officers refused to issue tickets because they hadn’t been empowered to demand identification from violators.

The problem was an oversight in the legislation passed this spring that gave TransLink new ticket enforcement powers.

The provincial government quickly moved to plug the loophole through a cabinet order Friday and all officers were expected to be issuing tickets as intended by Monday afternoon.

Spokesperson Anne Drennan said most officers did continue to ticket fare evaders – provided they voluntarily identified themselves – but a minority weren’t comfortable with the process and were put on other duties, such as high-visibility fare checks at entrances to fare-paid zones.

“It wasn’t a work-to-rule situation at all,” Drennan said. “They felt strongly about it. But they were out there working and doing everything they could through a different approach.”

In the past, fare evaders who refused to identify themselves when caught could be arrested for obstruction, but the new rules initially failed to include the power to demand ID.Transit Police make arrest of man wanted on outstanding warrant in a downtown Vancouvder SkyTrain station.

To Transit Police, the issue was much bigger than just busting fare cheaters.

Officers catch about 500 accused criminals each year who are wanted by other jurisdictions on arrest warrants – everything from breach of probation to armed robbery – by conducting fare checks and then running violators’ names through police databases.

But without an ability to demand names and arrest those who don’t comply, a huge hole opened in what had been a useful anti-crime net.

“It impaired our ability to do that almost completely,” Drennan said.

Without the quick revision of the regulation, officers would have had to merely escort violators off TransLink property, knowing that some might be dangerous criminals they would normally bring to justice.

The rule change required Transit Police officers use new procedures in demanding fare evaders identify themselves and training is being conducted at the start of each new shift.

Fare evasion fines still start at $173 but they will now climb to $213 after six months and $273 if unpaid after a year.

ICBC will now refuse to issue or renew licences or insurance for violators who don’t pay and TransLink will also have other options, such as sending unpaid fines to a collection agency.

In past years, most fare evaders never paid their tickets because there was no enforcement mechanism with teeth.