Fare Evasion on the TTC

This week’s article for NOW Toronto: Fare evasion storm diverts attention from TTC’s real problems

There are two reports on the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee agenda for Tuesday, February 11 dealing with fare evasion and revenue controls:

These reports contain far more information, and cover more ground than I could fit into the NOW piece, and more details are likely to come out when TTC management presents their reports at the committee meeting.

I will update this article following the meeting.

17 thoughts on “Fare Evasion on the TTC

  1. Fare evasion, particularly incidental evasion, has to be at least partially a function of electronic media. Steve mentions this above, and written about it more extensively before.

    But to further illustrate, I’ll use a recent trip to Montreal with 4 youth. Montreal has changed its payment card system for visitors since my last use.

    In Montreal, as I’ve often found elsewhere, occasional use fares are supposedly available for youth aged 6-11 without photo ID, but not in practice. Modern card systems like OPUS and PRESTO are strictly per-capita, so there’s no family passes and little borrowing. Families and visitors are relatively less well served by the switch to electronic fares. Visiting families in many cities end up paying adult rates for all their youth. That’s got to drive up fare evasion.

    Despite having paid $40 for 4 day passes, over the course of 4 trips for 5 people, there were 10 instances of fare evasion, or 50% evasion. The first 4 was for the under-6, who rides free but has no means of passing through without turnstile hopping. Another 2 were because of a wonky card. Another 4 were the result of riders’ unfamiliarity leading to a mistake, which then couldn’t be fixed due to an automated fare evasion enforcement, which was easily fixable in the physical media era.

    This is of course an anecdote, and just one category of rider, and yet I’ve had similar experiences upon arrival at other cities too. One is left to imagine that evasion by irregular riders is large and there’s no way to accurately account for them, because distinguishing true evasion from the fictional is just a guessing game.


  2. From Steve’s article: “A study set to go to the TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee on Tuesday (February 11) pegs the annual cost of fare evasion at over $73.5 million.”

    Reading that study, I see that this “annual cost of fare evasion” is completely mythical, false and bogus. If we could somehow magically get a system that was impossible to evade, then this does not mean that we would now get another $73.5 million in revenue. For the simple reason that many people who don’t pay cannot afford to pay. An impossible to evade system would simply exclude them.

    This misleading number has significant real-life consequences. Almost everyone knows that it is impossible to get 100% compliance. But I can see someone attempting to sell a system that costs 90% of the $73.5 million on the basis that this system could eliminate 90% of the current evasion and would therefore “pay for itself.” No, it would not. Many of the current TTC evaders would still not pay because they cannot pay. They would be excluded from using the TTC.

    Steve: There is a parallel here with the Presto implementation which the TTC and Metrolinx agreed to on the grounds that it would cost no more than what the TTC already paid for fare collection. Metrolinx desperately needed TTC onboard with Presto, and the TTC was pressured to join under terms that would preserve their dignity. However, it is well known that Metrolinx wants more, and that the TTC has not reduced its fare collection costs as much as originally hoped because they have repurposed staff to other “station management” duties which now include minding the store at formerly automatic entrances that are now leaking fare revenue. It’s a real dog’s breakfast of a little change here, a little change there without thinking through how it all fits together.

    Exactly the same would happen with any new technology proposal, and I say this, sadly, from my own career in IT where management are easily swayed by flim-flam, and the higher one goes up the ladder, the easier it is to find gullible fools. Politicians are perched at the top.


  3. I suggest that at least part of the TTCs fare evasion problem is because they moved from a system where there was pretty strict enforcement by bus and streetcar operators (the enforcement of crazy transfer rules!) and at stations to a system where there was zero enforcement on streetcars (and many bus drivers seemed to allow rear-door boarding) and the PRESTO system which was so unreliable that one could always say “I tried to pay but the system was broken/busy/inaccessible due to crowds”).

    Customers got used to not being checked and I certainly know of many who used surface vehicles to get to a subway and then tapped there (where evasion was harder but machines also did not always work).

    There should have been FAR more fare inspectors out on Day 1 (even if they only gave warnings for the first x months). Now the TTC needs to get lots of fare inspectors out on the street (or into the vehicles) so that people see them and think they may be inspected and it really might be better to send them out alone (not in packs of 2 or 3) so that they are more visible – even if they do not actually check anyone! (For a month or so.)

    Steve: Yes, the painfully slow transition to self-service fare collection coupled with a low chance of being caught established the behaviour, and this was compounded by the TTC’s stubborn adherence to a “see no evil” policy that might have undermined their claims that evasion was too small a problem to be worth worrying about. If they had, it would have blown a hole in the financial “justification” for the Presto move as a no-net-cost change.


  4. You are presently giving the impression that all Toronto based politicians are fools. I don’t think that you believe that. At some point, perhaps you could mention a few people who deserve your support.

    Steve: Even with those who really know their stuff like Gord Perks and Shelley Carroll, just to name two Councillors, there is a big problem that they do not have the time or the depth of expertise to dive into complex proposals. Instead they are at the mercy of whatever staff tell them, or maybe advice from someone outside like me (on transit) or other “amateurs”. If something is sold to the Mayor as a “solution”, it’s almost unstoppable. Can you say “SmartTrack”?

    Councillors are loathe to take on technical discussions (see also issues of line management and service quality at the TTC) and create a situation where staff show them up, or worse, stop trying to do their jobs. It’s a real catch-22 compounded, of course, by political rivalries that rarely have anything to do with technical excellence.


  5. I have to keep this post anonymous for some reasons. On Saturday I was at Dundas heading south. I tapped in and payed my fare because of Dundas having two separate gatelines I realized I was on the wrong side so I went passed the gates to the right side but when I went to tap my card was declined. I have auto load on my card. I had payed my fare but I was getting declined at every gate so I had no choice but to tailgate because I saw my train coming and had already payed my fare.

    Is it fare evasion. I don’t think it is because I already paid on the wrong side and my card was getting declined on the other side. Or could this be a flaw of the 2 hour transfer that the TTC has?

    Steve: At subway stations, a Presto card (and Metropasses before them) could not be used twice within a 15 minute time period to prevent people from using the same card for multiple entries. That’s what prevented you from getting back in. Dundas is also the only station where you cannot change from one platform to the alternate direction without leaving the paid area. It’s an unusual situation, but perfectly legitimate.


  6. Interesting take about the misuse of discount (senior / children’s) fares. Here in Victoria BC our bus system (we have no rail) totally eliminated any discount except monthly passes – everyone pays the same. They don’t have transfers, either – it’s $2.50 per boarding or $5 for a day pass. The change was sold as reducing disputes and assaults on drivers, and was supposedly cost-neutral.

    I understand that all Presto cards look the same, which seems stupid to me. We go to Vancouver often enough that we have Compass cards (the same goofy Cubic system as Presto). My adult card is blue, whereas my wife’s senior discount card is bright orange. An attendant can tell at a glance who is tapping a discount card and ask for proof of eligibility if it seem warranted.

    Steve: Metrolinx claims it cannot handle multicoloured cards because of “inventory problems”.


  7. Put 2 fare inspectors on the buses or streetcars. Spread them out.

    Steve: The challenge is that when vehicles are busy, especially buses, it is almost impossible to move through the vehicle to check fares.


  8. Did you talk to the person at the ticket booth? Next time do it. Better to be safe then getting a ticket.

    Steve: Except that it won’t be long before there isn’t someone reliably in the ticket booth to talk to about problems like this. The “station manager” might be around somewhere if you can find them.


  9. I’ve ridden many transit systems around the world, and I must say I am not a fan of the self-paying, trust-based, fare inspector policed approach.

    The whole idea of a fare inspector is just less friendly and welcoming than a conductor or ticket salesperson. The former is there to check on you, police you, see if you made a mistake or are cheating, and to fine you – the latter is there to offer you a service. The conductor/salesperson is there to serve every rider, starting from the assumption that each rider is honest and wishes to pay their fare, whereas the fare inspector is there to catch evaders, starting from the assumption that each rider they check is a potential criminal. This is a completely different outlook and mindset for a job description.

    With complicated fare systems, there is always the possibility of making a mistake, and you are responsible for not making it. On my first day in Zurich on my first tram ride, instead of buying a single-zone hourly ticket (as I should have), due to my poor command of German, I bought myself (at the automated fare machine) a zone upgrade (allows for hourly travel in 2 zones if you already have a valid ticket – e.g. daily, monthly – for one of the zones). The two cost the same, so the system did not lose any revenue, but technically I was riding without a valid ticket. I was lucky not to meet a ticket inspector that day.

    This is why liked how on the TTC I could not get on the bus without paying first and could not get to a subway platform without paying. This felt like a normal transaction, as in a store or something, pay – use, without having to worry whether I had paid for the right thing or whether I am doing exactly what I paid for or breaking the rules in some fashion. With the unreliable Presto system I am left wondering whether a green tap was really registered (since you don’t get immediate feedback in terms of a balance or travel history you can easily check) and half-envision having to argue with a fare inspector down the line whether I had actually paid for the ride or not.


  10. My memory is hazy, but I remember reading somewhere that generally a transit agency doesn’t save money using the pay/honor system once one factors in the cost of enforcement/(and collection of fines). I guess somewhere like parts of Germany where society tends to be more “rules respecting” such that no one will jay walk through an empty intersection at 3am it might be different. Also I wonder how this compares to other GTA transit systems with the honor system (like VIVA) and go trains where if you are familiar enough with a route one could in theory figure out when it is safe to ride “for free”.


  11. It all makes you wonder… is the endless soap opera of politicians wanting their hands stamped on everything here the real reason why we couldn’t just ask TfL to consult with us on cloning the Oyster system here, at least from an infrastructure perspective (as in the software, devices, etc.)?

    Look at the last time an “entity” (corporation, etc.) decided to go with something new rather than tested and proven: Target. Oh how quickly they exited Canada, mainly over inventory issues … not even product selection. They decided to go with a new untested inventory control system in Canada rather than use the same system their USA operations used. It led to empty shelves quite often and disgruntled customers who’d walk out the door almost as fast as they had walked in.

    Ironically, we already see the next episode of this “new / untested blunder” developing… with Metrolinx and the Ontario Line – and their demands of using standalone technology incompatible with the rest of the TTC system!


  12. Anonymous | February 10, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    I have to keep this post anonymous for some reasons. On Saturday I was at Dundas heading south. I tapped in and payed my fare because of Dundas having two separate gatelines I realized I was on the wrong side so I went passed the gates to the right side but when I went to tap my card was declined. I have auto load on my card. I had payed my fare but I was getting declined at every gate so I had no choice but to tailgate because I saw my train coming and had already payed my fare.

    Is it fare evasion. I don’t think it is because I already paid on the wrong side and my card was getting declined on the other side. Or could this be a flaw of the 2 hour transfer that the TTC has?

    Just ride to College, and double back from there. Also technically illegal, but less likely to attract attention than tailgating.

    Steve: How is it technically illegal? There’s a good chance a fare was deducted at Dundas but Anonymous didn’t realize this happened.

    I ran into a similar situation at a quiet suburban train station in Japan (Sawanochō, in southern Osaka) with separate entrances for each platform, but with the trains only coming about every 15 minutes (this was around 10 AM on a weekday), and not knowing if I’d be able to change platforms at the next station. And it’s fare by distance, so you have to tap out, too, but the gate wouldn’t let me out, I guess because I’d just tapped in at the same station. The station attendant’s booth was on the other side, so I had to call him on the intercom, then he had to walk around (outside, in the rain) to tap with his staff card to let me out, then let me in on the other side. Luckily, I found that railway staff generally had fairly reasonable English, with some of the bigger stations even having separate ticket counters for tourists, with staff who speak good English, and sometimes Chinese or Korean.

    Trickier was the time I tried to tap off the bus from Kōfu to Fujikawaguchiko, and my balance ended up being a few hundred yen short. (The fare was ¥1470, which is around $18, so just letting me off without paying wasn’t really an option, and you can’t go negative). The driver probably hadn’t spoken English since he was in school, and I only speak fairly basic Japanese (a lot of “sumimasen, wakarimasen”, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”, on my part). Eventually, I managed to work out that he was saying that I could reload my card right there on the bus. (The machine took ¥100 and ¥500 coins, or ¥1000 notes, but nothing larger, nor did it take credit cards.)

    Oh, and one interesting thing about the Japanese fare gates: most of them are normally open, and close if you don’t tap, or your tap is declined.


  13. Here is something that surprised me, might surprise the rest of you… Do you remember when Presto was introduced? Metrolinx online registration contained dire warnings that, if the user didn’t register their card, and then lost it, they would not be able to recover the funds on that card.

    I have a friend who is one of those red smock guys. He is always broke. He told me finds unregistered cards, all the time. My original Presto card, barely three years old, was starting to fail to register, unpredictably. I resented having to pay $6 to replace it. So, when he offered to let me have an unregistered card for its face value of $50 – figuring it would save me the $6 replacement fee.

    I used the card for a couple of months, topped it up half a dozen times, only to have it suddenly quit working.

    What did customer service tell me? Apparently the card was purchased with a credit card, or a bank debit card, and the purchaser sicced their bank on Metrolinx, and got a refund, in spite of those warnings it wasn’t possible to get a refund on an unregistered card.

    The customer service rep was really rude, told me that citizens should not use lost cards they found, even if they are unregistered, and implied my use of one made me a thief.

    Steve: Dare I say anything about your friend who is working for the TTC, if indirectly via the agency that provides the “red smock guys”, and the first fault lies with him not turning in the card as lost property. That said, your tale implies that at least for credit card purchases, Metrolinx can figure out who a card belongs to even if it is not registered, unless they were simply doing this as a matter of good will.


  14. Steve: How is it technically illegal? There’s a good chance a fare was deducted at Dundas but Anonymous didn’t realize this happened.

    Ah, yeah, I’m still used to the old rules, like “no backtracking”. Under the new rules, that would be perfectly legit.


  15. Has the City ever looked at abandoning fare collection on the TTC? Obviously, as more than half the budget for the TTC is from fares, replacement of the revenue by a special transit levy would have to be imposed city wide, and the province and federal levels would have to kick in a share too.

    By making public transit free to ride, you lose the overhead costs of collection, enforcement and maintenance of the fare system. Love to know how much they would save.

    There are other cities that offer partial or completely free systems. Why shouldn’t Toronto be one too?

    Steve: Replacing the fare revenue stream would cost $1.2 billion and that’s not including the cost added by demand from the low fares. Why should the province and feds kick in more when this type of funding is not available in other cities? If TO wants to run buses etc free, that should not trigger any funding beyond what we get now for ops (part of the Ontario gas tax).

    Fare collection is alleged to cost about 5.5% of revenue, or roughly $66 million for 2020, but that does not include the cost of infrastructure maintenance, and may not cover the rising cost of supervision and enforcement although that is supposed to be self-funding through increased recovery of evaded fares.

    That list you linked is extremely misleading for your purposes because there are far more cities where there is some free service, but by no means the entire system. There are several major US cities there where I can assure you the fare collection system is still very much in place such as Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami. Calgary is in that list because it provides free transit on the downtown mall, but that’s as much a convenience for local circulation and avoiding the hassle of fare collection and inspection in a limited area.

    Advocacy requires accuracy.


  16. Presto was never going to cost the same or less than the old ticket/token fare collection system. Electronic fare collection is always higher cost, but customers expect their transit system to have it. Open payments, the next generation electronic fare collection, would have cost the TTC less than Presto and been easier to implement, but that ship sailed when the Fords got elected mayor and renounced open payments as a Miller/Giambrone socialist plot. Nevertheless, TTC wanted proper performance guarantees from Presto that no other transit agency, inexplicably, had bothered with (see Ottawa when Presto was first rolled out there). With TTC’s adoption of Presto assured, Metrolinx resisted, and since the then-in-power Fords also regarded performance guarantees as a socialist, obstructionist plot, many of the required guarantees never saw the light of day. We are left with a fare collection system, originally designed for small-to-medium transit systems, that has to be gerrymandered to deal with the large volume of transactions and transfers on the TTC, with little or no recourse for poor performance.


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