VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – As TransLink wrestles with finding ways to fund everything from major projects to some of its most basic services, fare evasion is still costing the transit authority millions of dollars every year.
The union representing bus drivers says the “unpaid fare” button on bus fare boxes was hit 2.5 million times in 2011 as cheats hopped on for a free ride.
TransLink says anywhere from four to six per cent of riders system-wide are not paying fares, representing millions in lost revenue; but the transit authority suggests the situation is improving. It estimates $14.5 million in lost fare revenue last year.
“Looking at 2010 and 2011, fare evasion basically stayed the same,’ says Derek Zabel with TransLink. “But there are a number of initiatives we are trying to reduce fare evasion on the entire transit system, including buses.”
Those include bringing in fare gates at SkyTrain stations and cracking down on fare cheats under new legislation that gives TransLink more power to penalize them.
“Bill 51 gives us the teeth in the legislation,” explains Zabel. “If people don’t pay their transit fare, they can be fined, and that fine will escalate the longer it takes them to pay it. They may lose their [driver's] licences, as well. It also gives transit security the power and authority to write tickets.”
Zabel says the “unpaid button” drivers push is a very valuable tool to track fare evasion. “We actually drill it down to specific routes, times, and even bus stop locations so Transit Police and security can deploy their resources more effectively.”
All of those initiatives may be working; TransLink is reporting a significant drop in fines issued, despite a big jump in enforcement.
“In September, 2011 we checked 164,000 people across the system and we issued 5,000 tickets. During the same time period in 2012, we checked 230,000 people and issued only 2,900 tickets. That’s a 45 per cent reduction, so I think the message is getting out there. You need to pay your fare,” notes Zabel.
Cutting down on lost revenue from fare evasion is more important than ever for the company. Yesterday, Translink’s Mayors’ Council voted down a proposal to increase property taxes to fund TransLink projects and gave the transit authority until February to come up with a different funding model that can’t include service cuts.