A Sudden Surge of Fare Evasion?

To everyone’s great surprise, the TTC recently discovered that fare evasion is a rising problem on the transit system, according to reports in the Globe and the Star.  Is Toronto becoming a city of transit cheaters, or is something more subtle at work here?

Over many years, when the subject of fare evasion came up at Commission meetings, the standard line from management was that Toronto has a very low evasion rate compared to other cities.  Indeed, a 2007 report on the “Business Case” for Smartcards talks about Toronto’s low fare evasion rate and the role new fare technologies might play.  Counterfeit media are considered to be more of a problem than evasion, and the TTC worries that Smartcards for concession fares may be abused at automatic entrances.

The low evasion rate was routinely cited as a reason that the TTC did not aggressively pursue fare inspections because the cost was greater than the potential revenue gain.

Times have changed.  Finding “waste” is the flavour of the day.  Moreover, as the stories linked here make clear, this debate is in the larger context of the TTC’s Special Constable force.  In 2010, the City Budget Committee and Council directed the TTC to reduce this force, and the Toronto Police Service has taken over their function for Criminal Code and other aspects of policing.  This issue came up again in the 2011 Budget, and a City report gives the background information.

It is quite clear that TTC fare inspectors do not require the full powers formerly accorded to Special Constables, but TTC management is exploiting the current financial situation and calls for crackdowns on freeloaders as a wedge to reopen the question of having their own, dedicated force.

Strangely, we find that fare evasion, long considered a non-issue in Toronto, is suddenly a problem.  Have the numbers really changed, or is the jump from past results simply the effect of better enforcement?

Recently, I was riding the Queen car and was asked to show my pass.  This is the first time in over a decade that this has happened.  All door loading is regularly used on Queen, and the occasional freeloader will hop on for a short trip — after all, with almost no inspection, the odds of getting caught riding for five minutes is quite small.

According to the Star’s article, transfer fraud has jumped.  TTC transfer enforcement was simplified some years back by the inclusion of a prominent day number on all transfers, and different colours for each day.  However, a parallel evolution was for operators to avoid confrontation with passengers over fares.  Indeed, even with polite riders, when 30 people all board in a crowd, checking all of their fares is not easy.

For those who do pay fares, we know that over half of all adult trips are done using a Metropass, and there tend to be more passes used on frequent downtown routes because the population of heavy transit users is greatest there.  This begs the question of what the evasion rate is among those passengers who don’t have a pass, those for whom there is an incentive to cheat.

The Queen car’s 50,000 daily riders represent annual revenue of about $30-million, but over half of this will be from passes and various forms of discount media.  If the TTC is really losing $1.2m annually from transfer fraud, this is a large proportion of the riders using transfers.  Catching them should be like the proverbial fish in a barrel, but two fare inspectors working the entire line won’t bring in a big haul.

The move to any new fare system with any kind of self-service validation (e.g. Presto) requires that the system be enforced, and even the TTC acknowledges that it should start more aggressive fare inspection on the streetcar routes, at least, as a prelude to the introduction of the new fleet where all-door loading will be standard.

Oddly enough, the TTC still wants to keep its Special Constables (or whatever they are to be called) deployed on the subway system, with a few left to handle the Queen car on weekdays.  That’s not a scheme designed to catch fare cheats, but simply a continuation of the way the Special Constables have been used since their inception.  If the TTC really wants to improve their haul of fares, then Special Constables should actually spend more time on this activity.

Otherwise, it’s hard to believe that “fare evasion” is anything more than the latest excuse to perpetuate the TTC’s own security service.

27 thoughts on “A Sudden Surge of Fare Evasion?

  1. I find that more often than not when I board the at Broadview Station, the collector is on “break” and as such, I see people just walking through the turnstile without paying.

    Steve: Yes, that is a common situation at Broadview, my home station, although I wouldn’t say it applies “more often than not”.


  2. They want to keep their own special constables alive.

    How do they keep track of riders?

    I know Mississauga Transit and GO Transit (at least buses) their drivers push a button every time a rider comes.

    Steve: This only works if everyone boards through the front door. There are automatic systems to do this (although they won’t distinguish which rider is using which fare), and the TTC had plans to install counters on part of its fleet. I believe that this has survived the budget cuts.

    I have a metropass, I show it to the driver, I show it to the collector booth person, and so forth. I haven’t swiped my metropass in a long LONG time.

    I also don’t think the drivers check every metropass during rush hour, maybe just for the colour? but then there is the weekly passes with their own colours.

    How do they calculate riders?

    I don’t swipe my metropass on any machine as I just show it to the driver/booth person. Since I don’t use transfers then there is no way to know that.

    Let’s say you and I meet at Broadview station then go to Bloor-Yonge then south to Queen to go to a ttc meeting, are we counted are two riders or four? (two from Broadview-Queen, or four – Broadview to BY then BY to Queen separately?).

    Steve: On the subway, transfers are not counted, and so we would be two rides.

    In average I am doing 8 separate daily trips. Am I counted as 8 riders?

    Steve: Actually, the counts at the route level are “boardings” — how many people used that route — and there will always be more boardings than trips because of transfers. On average, a trip consists of about two boardings. Many, obviously, are one boarding per trip (one seat rides), while others will be three or more (bus to RT to subway, or bus to subway to streetcar).

    When the TTC reports “riders”, it uses a formula to convert revenue, broken down by type of media, to rides. A token is obviously one ride, but cash is trickier because of the mix of adults and children. Passes are scaled based on a factor derived from diaries kept by selected riders. One pass is counted as something like 54 (the number is somewhere in that range) because that’s the number of “rides” an average pass holder takes in a month. There is room for error on this because small changes in the assumed ratio of rides to types of revenue or fare can translate to millions of rides, one way or another.

    Finally, to really complicate things, there are trips you might make differently if you were using tokens. For example, that Broadview-BY-Queen trip you mentioned can easily include a stopover at Starbucks or Tim’s or the Cup (your preference) when you’re not worried about the validity of your transfer. From a trip diary, the TTC might count the trip with a stopover as two rides, but in fact if they stopped selling passes, your behaviour would change and they would only get one fare (“legally” or otherwise). Before the Metropass existed, I was a master at getting the most out of one fare more or less legitimately. After all, a prohibition on “stopovers” doesn’t mean much when Wherismystreetcar tells me the next car won’t be here for 20 minutes.


  3. I forgot to add the following above:

    I see a “train delayed due to smoke on track level” on twitter.

    Now is it that there is more of them or am I just aware of them due to twitter? 5 years ago I wouldn’t be aware about smoke on track level issue.

    Could fare evasion be just that we are more aware of them or an actual increase?

    Steve: Yes, you are more aware of them because of Twitter, but also the rules from Queen’s Park have changed. Because of previous fires on the subway, the TTC must now investigate every report of smoke, and they cannot run service until it is verified that there is no problem. In the “old days”, the trains kept running and there was no need to tell the public what was happening.

    With fare evasion, the fact that all-door loading is becoming common on many routes gives more opportunity. I see operators on King do this regularly because they can’t get anyone else on through the front doors, and have seen this done on some other routes I don’t use as often. However, I think that the big change is that the TTC knows they have created a problem by loading through all doors with little enforcement, and are using this to “justify” reinstating the Special Constables, even though almost all of them would not do surface route fare checks.


  4. I think TTC should stay focused on improving service for all of the paying riders. It sounds like another, it’s “the passengers that are the problem” type of smoke screen again. Besides, what is the REAL value lost of somebody not paying for poor service?

    Steve: This is related to the problem that if the service is poor, it gets fewer riders than it would if it were good, and the low “demand” brings more service cuts.


  5. Is the TTC being cheated when someone makes a quick stopover at an intersection and transfers on to a connecting route? Is the TTC being cheated when someone makes a quick stopover midblock and thus needs to pay an extra fare to travel the same distance as usual?

    Is the TTC being cheated by a downtowner who uses their Metropass for 50 rides, but 10 of those rides are for very short trips on electric streetcars? Is the TTC being cheated when another person uses 40 tokens per month to travel from Rouge Hill GO to Long Branch GO?

    I do not condone fare evasion, but I’d say the TTC does just as good a job cheating its passengers with its arcane transfer rules and creative accounting as some of its passengers do.


  6. Steve, one of the categories listed in the Star article is “Metropass used by two unrelated people”, which is said to account for over one million lost fares. What on earth is this referring to? As far as I can tell, the Metropass is fully transferable and while it’s prohibited to use a single Metropass for simultaneous trips by two different people, there is no by-law against sharing your Metropass with an “unrelated person”. What gives?

    Steve: That must refer to “pass back” where rider “A” gets on and hands their pass out the window to rider “B”. If so, why don’t they just call it that. If not, these stats may be (ahem) out of date and refer to a period when the pass was not transferable.

    I look forward to seeing the details of this report to see how they were able to calculate the number of lost fares accurate to seven figures. They cannot possibly have done a 100% sample, and so this is a projection based on selected observations. Were the times and locations studied representative of the system as a whole?


  7. I suppose that if this is really all about politics and justifying the TTC’s own Special Constable service.

    And really if you think about it the ‘request’ from the Toronto Police Services Board that the Toronto Police Service take over responsibility for policing on the TTC did knock TTC for a loop.

    You are right that TTC is making a strange claim – in that they need more security personnel & authority to check fare evasion, but then put the personnel down in the subway.

    I’ve heard that (apparently) a lot of fare evaders are simply ‘walk-ins’ who bypass the collector and sneak in through the bus/streetcar platform. If that is the case, perhaps TTC is hoping to catch more people in the tunnels.

    But as you pointed out most fare evasion is on surface routes, especially short trips on crowded streetcars, transfer and metropass ‘pass-back’ and ‘extra-long’ stopovers.

    And I believe you because I probably have done one or more of those things (mostly the extra-long stopovers, of course) at one time or another (mostly as a teenager).

    Realistically though – can’t TTC and TPS get together and figure out how to provide safety & security on the TTC without an enforcement officers’ turf war*?

    Never mind that it would make for an interesting storyline on Flashpoint**

    Regards, Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

    *A turf war of sorts – I guess right now it is TPS & TTC management battling in their own boardrooms & conference rooms – but how long before it gets onto the TTC itself?

    **Imagine, the team being thought of as “The Feds”, jumping in and taking over from the TTC “the locals” – who of course expect them to screw everything up – but everyone gets out safely in the end.


  8. I’m puzzled by this debate. As a frequent short-haul Queen Street rider for several years, I have never encountered an inspector. So how can any reasonable estimate of fare evasion frequency be made when there is so little hard data? Are there actually enough inspections made to have a sufficient sample, and over several years to detect a trend?

    I would guess that the probability of getting caught should be somewhat greater than the ratio of fare to fine, at least for a trip of average length, and in the end an inspection system would prove its success when it became non-profitable … there’s probably an interesting three-way equilibrium between fare/fine ratio, the number of inspectors and the evasion rate in order to maximize the return to the TTC 🙂 However, I would consider that maximizing the number of riders, even with some small loss of income, might be a greater public good than just maximizing the income…


  9. Although I question to motives and timing for this new direction, I agree that fare evasion is on the rise. I take the 506 streetcar on Carlton/College every day. In the past, some drivers allowed all-door boarding in the depths of the winter and when it was raining heavily. Something changed in late 2009/early 2010 and that was operators were no longer confronting passengers over fares. When spring 2010 came, few operators stopped allowing all-door boarding. When winter came again, the situation just deteriorated. The handful of remaining operators who would shout at offending passengers to get off and re-board via the front door gave up. Most operators won’t even look passengers in the eyes as we board now. They sit behind their plexiglass shield and look defeated. More people board via the back doors now than the front. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rush hour or late in the evening, there’s no reason for anybody to pay a fare on the 506 now.

    This really bothers me because I’ve paid for my metropass, because it hurts the transit system, and because it’s a self-perpetuating cycle that is going to be hard to break.

    In a related matter, operators also seem to have given up this winter in directing passengers to exit via the rear doors. Since passengers are boarding at both doors, operators no longer seem to care which door they exit from, too.

    I think the key issue is that operators seem defeated and fare cheaters know it. TTC management and the union need to work together to fix this problem.


  10. As a long time bus driver for the TTC, I must agree with Micheal. The vast majority of drivers have given up which is unfortunate as it creates problems for those of us who still try to collect the fare.

    When an operator is assaulted it is because he tried to do his or her job correctly. The attitude from management is that they know that they have a problem but don’t want us to put ourselves in danger over a fare. My divisional superintendent told us that if someone comes on and refuses to pay ask them to pay. If they refuse then tell them to have a seat and continue in service. Our safety is more important than 3 dollars.

    If we see someone walking into a station, we are not to confront them, that is security’s job. This attitude started back at least 30 years ago. I personally once called in a fare dispute because a women shortchanged the fare box and was asked by the supervisor “How many people do you have on the bus?” I replied a full bus. He then said, ” Is it really worth inconveniencing all those people over 50 cents?” Many drivers have similar stories and have given up because of a lack of support from management.

    Some have been assaulted and told “Isn’t your life worth more than a fare? Don’t worry about it.” As a result, we feel that here we are, trying to do our jobs and this is what we get.

    Many also feel that the TTC has never been serious about collecting the fare. Mississauga transit has had counting fareboxes for 20+ years as does every other transit system around the GTA. Why don’t we have them? Good question. I don’t have the answer.


  11. I use tokens or tickets most of the time and, OK, I admit it, I have sometime taken time to have a coffee while en route and occasionally have taken the ‘scenic route’ rather than the most direct. I really do not understand why the TTC does not move to time-based transfers – not only would they allow this kind of thing but would surely remove a huge source of conflict between operators and passengers where one of the most common problems seem to be passengers who, thinking they have missed a bus or streetcar, have (illegally) started to walk and then see one coming.

    There has been an experiment with timed transfers on St Clair – have any ‘results’ been reported? (Of course, many other transit authorities use timed transfers but, being the TTC, their experiences would not count for much here!)


  12. As a New Yorker, the amount of fare evasion I witness in Toronto has always blown my mind. People halfheartedly covering transfers, depositing random amounts of change in fare boxes, people altering day passes daily… and these are just the people I know personally. Many kids who grew up in Toronto have a bizarre sense of entitlement and do not feel any sense of duty to pay their fare.

    In New York, none of these things are possible, and the only ways to skip the fare are by physically jumping the turnstile (not even possible at many stations), doubling up, or entering through an emergency exit. None of these are possible on buses – there are no POP routes.

    The TTC must be blind not to see that fare evasion is extremely common and socially accepted.


  13. This is truly bizarre – fare evasion going from an amount to which the TTC has been perpetually indifferent to $22M within a year?

    If this evasion tally is reliable, wouldn’t the magnitude of the figure require the TTC to install Genfare counting/validating fareboxes ASAP? And doesn’t this confirm the business case for Presto/smart card technology and suggest implementation must be accelerated? Apparently not as the TTC only speaks to enforcement resources.

    I recall several years ago the provincial auditor examined GO Transit’s fare enforcement efforts and declared them inadequate to protect revenue. As a result GO stepped up their enforcement efforts and its now commonplace for fares to be checked.

    Oh, woe TTC! [Sigh]

    Steve: For years, it suited the TTC to have a “low” evasion rate because this underpinned the idea of keeping their existing system and level of security. Oddly enough, even with Smartcards or any other new technology, unless they are checked regularly, the technology won’t make much difference beyond giving more options for how to charge those who do pay.


  14. Mississauga transit has had counting fareboxes for 20+ years as does every other transit system around the GTA. Why don’t we have them? Good question. I don’t have the answer.

    There’s actually a pretty simple answer to this: Nobody wants to pay for new fare equipment/systems. For the surface system, the TTC’s fare system is far older than 20 years, long predating the equipment that Mississauga Transit and other 905 systems employ. The beauty part about the TTC’s equipment is that it never breaks down. The wretched part about the TTC’s equipment is that it never breaks down. The equipment it has has been so reliable (gravity can be counted on 100% of the time, 9.81m/s) that there’s no incentive to upgrade, although that’s changed over the last couple of years or so.


  15. Karl Junkin says:

    “There’s actually a pretty simple answer to this: Nobody wants to pay for new fare equipment/systems. For the surface system, the TTC’s fare system is far older than 20 years, long predating the equipment that Mississauga Transit and other 905 systems employ. The beauty part about the TTC’s equipment is that it never breaks down. The wretched part about the TTC’s equipment is that it never breaks down. The equipment it has has been so reliable (gravity can be counted on 100% of the time, 9.81m/s) that there’s no incentive to upgrade, although that’s changed over the last couple of years or so.”

    You have never experienced fare box madness until you have tried to get a US fare box, most were made by the same company, to try and read an old wrinkled US $1 bill. I saw many stops in New Orleans take 10 seconds to read each bill that was fed into them because the bills were so old. This is crazy when it takes 2 lights to load 8 passengers. The US could solve the problem by eliminating the $1 bill and replacing it with a coin, which they already have. The only good thing about these boxes was that they would give you a “change card” that you could use the next time you boarded or they would give a 1 day, 3 day or 1 week pass also. Every pass had to be fed into the box so it was strictly single file loading.

    Chicago had proximity pass readers that would bleep when the pass went buy them to tell the driver you had a valid pass so they could do 2 line boarding. It was impossible to buy a pass or get change from the station agent though; they were only there to watch you put in your fare. You had to buy your pass or get change at a drug store or convenience store.

    The TTC has to switch to a true POP system where you have to keep a valid ticket or pass on you at all ties like GO transit does. They must not get those US fare boxes. They are archaic in their slowness.


  16. @Karl, I once got a free ride on the Steeles East bus because someone tried to put a $5 bill in and it got jammed…


  17. As an operator I feel beating the TTC for a fare has become an Olympic sport. It’s amazing how many people do it now from trying to enter via the rear doors, to old transfers, passes, fake passes, drop a dime instead of a token, or the all I have is a $20 bill can I get a ride. Like “a TTC operator” above says as operators/drivers/collectors there has not been support on collecting fares from management for years. You have a fare dispute, a supervisor shows up takes patron off your vehicle and puts them on the next for free. Or they question do you really want to hold up all the other patrons for this.

    But the paying patrons themselves don’t help this problem, there are regulars fare cheats who try to get on for free. We know them and we stop to enforce the fare on the cheat and someone from the back of the vehicle comes up to the front pays the fare and say can we get going now. Yes we can, but that cheat just got another free and knows as long as they hold up a vehicle a honest fare paying patrons will pay to keep from being delayed. So they will keep cheating the system and more importantly the other honest fare paying patrons.

    Now as for transfers operators/drivers stopped taking them because of people carrying them in their mouth. Taking wet transfers with who knows what on it, isn’t fun.

    The fare cheating problem is out of control, it needs to be addressed NOW.


  18. Timed transfers is something the TTC really needs to move to. Add actual fare inspectors like YRT’s Viva system and I bet they find they generate a revenue level with fines that more than pays for wages.


  19. I was on a streetcar where an Operator politely and professionally tried to enforce fare payment when the thug in question attacked him and broke his nose and his glasses. This was in the days of “Special Constables” and the Operator did call for assistance before he was attacked. It was not forthcoming.

    After the attack, the TTC called the real police and they were there in seconds. However, by this time it was too late to stop the Operator from suffering.

    The real police seemed to do a superior job, or at least were staffed up to a level where they could provide instant response. I also understand why many Operators are willing to spend too much time collecting fares from the less than honest passengers.

    Steve: I presume you mean to say that operators are “not willing” to spend too much time on fare evaders.


  20. What needs to be done is to segregate the passengers. Separate the buses and the subways and voila effective fare inspection. When I was in Budapest, Hungary a couple years ago they did the exact same thing.

    The way things are laid out there is that you pay a new fare every time you board a new vehicle and transfer between subway lines. What the fare inspectors do is stand at the top and bottom of escalators in subway stations checking passes and tickets to see if they have been validated. If a valid fare is not presented then a fine is levied and payable on site usually 300 dollars. Exceptions are granted for tourists but you get the idea.

    They rarely check fares on surface vehicles however. I have been there 8 times in 8 different years and only got checked for a proper fare once on a surface vehicle.

    They use all door loading on all vehicles at all stops in Budapest with tickets (they do not take cash or tokens) being purchased in advance and punched on the bus thereby validating the fare. On the subway you punch your ticket at a machine before you enter the subway. It seems to work out just fine. It keeps people on their toes thinking they will be stopped and checked.

    The buses by the way do not enter the subway stations they load and offload outside the station. Transfers are non-existant there as well so the risk of people using an expired transfer as a metropass is non-existant as well.

    Also, they randomize the inspections there are never at the same station every day and never at the same end of the escalator all the time. For example one day I could be entering the Moszkva Ter subway station (busiest in the system) and get checked when I go in the subway and the next day I could get checked coming out at Oktogon. You see where I am going with this.

    It is quite effective there and the rate of fare evasion is minimal.


  21. I’ve seen guys jump over the turnstyles at both Dufferin and Union Stations. A TTC employee at Dundas station told me “it happens all the time.”


  22. I suggest turning most booth attendants into inspectors … replace them with automated ticket machines as in Austria… cancellation devices on all buses and subway entrances… go to 100% POP. If it’s good enough for GO and VIVA, and all of Vienna, surely it’s good enough for the TTC.

    As for the ticket machines, when just about every gas pump in the city accepts every card, what is the great hold-up? Why not just buy the same machines Vienna has? Or even VIVA …


  23. @StefanM: Do you suggest allowing something that is not a proprietary purpose-built made-in-Ontario reinvention-of-the-wheel fare system?


  24. I think he’s suggesting a standard credit/debit card reader to purchase fare which is in place… well, everywhere.

    Steve: I believe that the suggestion was very much in jest. Nothing is possible in transit in this province unless it is invented here, preferably at great cost to the government. This is called an “industrial policy” because, someday, we may invent something that doesn’t already exist, and for which there is actually a market, and then we will all be billionaires.


  25. So how does this jibe with the TTC removing the ability to lock the manned turnstile to stop the fare evaders at the entrance to subways?


  26. Someone set up a camera at Scarborough Town Centre where the 38 picks up passengers. I guarantee 100+ people a day walk through there a day that do not pay. Very rarely do I see anyone do anything about it.


  27. Instead of cutting 41 essential bus routes they could enforce these issues better. And I don’t believe them on reallocation because they’d probably pick service increases out of a hat and they clearly don’t know anything about the system and that is just downright sad.

    The only other thing I could say is that more people should call 416-393-3030 and maybe then they will do something cause this city is heading backwards with this administration’s war on transit.


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