Updated February 15, 2020 at 10:00 am:
Additional information from the TTC has been added to clarify some issues raised here including:
- How the number of child card taps relates to the number of rides.
- Which “average fare” is the one used in loss calculations for fare evasion.
- The discrepancy between full year child card losses and associated citations as compared to the fare evasion study conducted late in 2019.
- The difference between evasion rates calculated from tap data on Presto machines as opposed to from in-person observations, and the time periods covered by each.
Changes are flagged in the body of this article for readers who have been here before.
The TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee met on February 11 to discuss three reports of which two dealt in detail with the problems of fare evasion and revenue loss.
Documents related to this are:
- Audit, Risk and Compliance: Fare Evasion Study (2019)
- Presentation : 2019 Fare Evasion Study
- The TTC’s Revenue Protection Strategy
- Presentation : The TTC’s Revenue Protection Strategy
Among many areas covered by these reports was the problem of misuse of Presto cards set up for free travel by children by riders who were anything but.
Although this was flagged as a problem when the reports were published in advance of the meeting, the scale and potential revenue loss only came out in the staff presentation to the committee. To complicate the debate, there were two separate and different estimates of the scale of this problem.
The range of fare evasion losses with Child Presto cards ranges widely depending on how one does the calculation. The root of the problem is that there were only 10 million Child Presto taps in 2019.
In one version, a the TTC concludes that 89 per cent of child card taps are not by children. However, the small total number of taps limits the size of the potential revenue loss to about $12 million, well below the total projected losses of $70 million.
In the other version, the TTC claims that one third of all fare evasion is due to Child Presto abuse, but there were not enough child taps in 2019 to account for this level. It is possible that the level of abuse has been growing strongly and was much larger in late 2019 (when the study yielding the “one third” figure took place) than for the year overall.
Updated February 15, 2020:
The TTC confirmed that there are two separate calculations for Child Presto losses that cover two time periods and methodologies.
- The estimate of $12.4 million loss was based on estimating the number of rides that do not fit with a typical usage pattern one would expect for children, and it is calculated from all-year card usage and the system average fare of $2.25.
- Statistics for provincial offenses in court showed that about 13% of cases related to Child Presto abuse. This was based on the full year 2019.
- The 33.7% overall evasion rate for Child Presto use is based on a study in the final months of 2019. This implies a strong growth in the fraudulent use of Child Presto cards.
Revenue Protection Strategy
As a starting point, here is a table showing the breakdown of adult and concession fare taps in 2019.Note that taps are not the same thing as trips (or “ridership” in the conventional way the TTC talks about its passengers). One trip can involve more than one vehicle, and there may, or may not be a tap on the second and subsequent vehicles or routes depending on how the transfer connection works.
Also, during 2019, the usage of Presto was building up as riders migrated to this fare medium. The tap count above does not represent a steady-state value for one year’s Presto usage because “legacy” media and cash were still in use through the year, albeit on a declining basis.The total number of taps above is 487 million of which various concession fares accounted for 119 million, or about one quarter. This is roughly the same as the proportion of adult and concession trips reported in a long-running table published by the TTC and reviewed in The Evolution of TTC Ridership and Fares 2005-2018 in March 2019 on this site.
In the table above, there were only 10 million child taps in 2019. The most the TTC could lose if all of these were fraudulent would be $3.25 per trip, not per tap, and the ratio is at least 2:1 overall. This means that only 5 million trips at $3.25 each or $16.25 million, tops, is on the table from this source. The TTC estimates that 11 per cent of child trips are legitimate, and this reduces the maximum loss to $14.46 million. Even that is high because some fraudulent use will be by students and other concession groups where the lost revenue is only $2.15. (These calculations assume that the lost revenue equals a Presto fare, not the TTC average fare which is diluted by trips paid for with passes.) The TTC places the loss at $12.4 million (see later slide) using different assumptions about the tap:ride ratio and the average loss per fraudulent trip.The number of child Presto cards is growing at a stronger rate than the concession population overall. If the high growth rate of child cards in circulation is due to fraudulent intent, then the annualized rate of Child Presto use at the beginning of 2020 is well above the average use for 2019.
Two of the stations where a lot of abuse has been seen are Dundas and York University both of which have a large number of student riders.The TTC estimates that only eleven per cent of child card taps are for legitimate rides based on usage patterns. Moreover, the number of taps per card is considerably higher for cards with usage that is considered to be abnormal (38.9) versus those that are “normal” (13.8). That said, 14 taps does not cover many days’ worth of round trips even assuming that children use only one vehicle between their homes and schools, and even allowing for strikes and PA days within the survey period. It is possible that some children have Presto cards but use them only occasionally rather than for daily school trips. Also, of course, any transfer connections within paid areas of subway stations do not show up in the tap counts.
Updated February 15, 2020:
The TTC has confirmed that the tap count used for calculating losses from Child Presto cards, 6.2 million, were for “first taps”, i.e. those that began a trip as opposed to the 10m count shown in the table above. To put it another way, the tap counts in the table include boardings where no additional fare is charged, whereas a lower number would apply to the number of fares evaded.
That said, considering transfers and the two-hour rule, the ratio of total taps to first taps appears low, especially if the majority of “child” taps are for adult/student riders who would be making longer, more complex trips. This is borne out by the higher average tap count for abnormal usage, nearly three time that of “normal” child travel.Looking at the full year 2019, the TTC estimates a potential loss of $12.4 million.
The 10 million taps of child cards in 2019 were converted to 6.2 million rides. This implies that the tap:ride ratio the TTC is using is 1.6. This factor is not the same as the ratio of boardings (vehicles used) to trips because some transfer boardings occur in paid areas and do not generate a second tap. There is also the factor that with the two-hour fare, one trip can consist of more boadings today than in the era before this fare was introduced.
Updated February 15, 2020: As noted above, the 6.2 million “Child” rides were derived from the actual “first tap” count rather than using a conversion factor from taps to trips as discussed earlier in the article.
If 89% of the taps are fraudulent, and the radio of adults and seniors/students within that group is the same as for the system as a whole, then the lost revenue per trip is equal to the average fare.
In this chart, the TTC uses $2.25 for this value although elsewhere they argue that it should actually be $2.35.
Updated February 15, 2020: The $2.35 value for lost revenue will be considered as a future refinement in the methodology to take into account the average value of fares that would be collected from paying passengers, not from those who would be entitled to ride free.
Fare Evasion Study
The fare evasion study presentation includes breakdowns of the type of evasion and the differences between surface modes and the subway. Note that the survey period is in November-December 2019, by contrast with the figures in the Revenue Protection Strategy which are from January 2020. Also, the calculations of lost revenue for 2019 were based on the full year’s tapping data.
The City’s Auditor General reported that fare evasion losses in 2018 were on the order of $60 million, and this has grown in TTC’s estimates for 2019 to $73.5 million through the combination of one year’s fare increase and an adjustment in the average fare.The TTC uses its average fare as the basis for the loss, although the actual loss will vary depending on the type of rider.
|Rider Type||Correct Fare||Fare Charged||Loss/Ride|
|Adult Using Senior/Student Card||$3.10||$2.15||$0.95|
|Adult Using Child Card||$3.10||$0.00||$3.10|
|Senior/Student Using Child Card||$2.15||$0.00||$2.15|
The average fare is calculated as total revenue divided by total rides. This is cited as $2.25 by the City’s Auditor General, but the TTC argues that this should be $2.35 because free rides by children were included in riding count.
Updated February 15, 2020: As noted earlier, the TTC considers the $2.35 figure to be a proposal for future use based on changing the way that they calculate the average fare for riders who should be paying, not for all riders.
On a system-wide basis, the use of Child Presto cards was found to account for one third of all fare evasion. There is a big problem with this number based on the weighted average of evasion (5.4%) and the actual number of child card taps.
The total number of trips on the TTC in 2019 was 525.5 million, and 5.4% of this is 28.4 million. However, there were only 10 million child card taps in the year. It is impossible to reach the level of fraud implies by the chart below given the number of taps. The only explanation for this would be that there has been an explosion in the fraudulent use of child cards late in the year when the Fare Evasion Study was conducted.
Updated February 15, 2020: As noted earlier, the difference in the two sets of numbers arises because of the different time periods covered and the higher rate of Child Presto card abuse observed in the latter part of the year.On streetcars, the overwhelming majority of evasion is by riders who simply do not have a valid fare, and the Child Presto cards do not come in the discussion. The reason for this is fairly obvious: nobody is checking fares on entry, and so there is no need to tap anything. If a rider were using a child card just to give the impression of having paid, they would still be subject to discovery on inspection.
The evasion rate is highest on the new cars because they have more doors. This implies that with the retirement of the legacy fleet, the streetcar evasion numbers will go up in 2020. The bus evasion rate is also higher than the system average because buses on the busy streetcar routes, notably on 505 Dundas, commonly use all door boarding because of the heavy loads they are carrying.On the bus network, Child Presto cards account for just over one third of fraud, with a further 11.6% due to adults using concession fare cards. Because there is no difference in the physical card or in the reader’s display/sound when any concession card is tapped, a rider can tap on and the driver has no way of knowing that they are using a “free” child’s fare rather than a discounted student/senior fare. This problem is at the heart of the TTC’s desire to have a distinct card and reader display.
Almost half of the fare evasion on buses is due to having no valid fare. A substantial amount of this is likely to be students claiming to be under 12 years old, with additional problems caused by all-door loading on busy routes.
One TTC response to this problem is to suggest that a move to all-door loading on buses would not proceed. This will have an immediate effect on service and capacity because buses on busy routes already load by all doors simply to accommodate passengers. TTC management appears to be unaware that this occurs nor of the further strain a ban on the practice would place on overcrowded routes.In the subway, the Child Presto cards are a big problem at main entrances, although evasion there is at a comparatively low rate of 1.9% overall. At the secondary entrances, the big problem is tailgating. The TTC plans to address this with better video monitors as well as placement of staff at those entrances when they are not otherwise occupied. This runs contrary to the “station transformation” scheme in which staff would be free to wander stations to provide assistance to all riders. With the evasion rate at 5.4 per cent, there were 28.6 million trips in 2019 where a rider did not pay, or did not pay the full fare they owed. If one third of these are due to Child Presto abuse, that translates to 9.5 million trips, the equivalent of at least 15 million taps, and possibly more. However, there were only 10 million taps by child cards and some of those are considered to be legitimate.
As mentioned earlier, the discrepancy could be due to the difference in full year data (the 10 million taps) versus an increasing rate of Child Presto fraud by the time of the November-December Fare Evasion Study.
Fixing the Problem
There are several recommendations in the Fare Evasion Study [pp 7-8] about what might be done. Some of these are generic regarding changing the fare paying culture and understanding why people cheat in the first place. I would argue that cheating is opportunistic, and to the degree which it is simple to pull of with minimal penalty, the more likely it is to happen.
In that vein, the important thing is for the TTC to fix problems that are largely of their own making such as ensuring that there are no gaping physical holes in station access, and that there is a visible presence to deter fare evaders at entrances. This works contrary to the staffing model the TTC is pursuing to move away from resident staff at entrances, but I am not sure how this can be avoided.
The lack of a distinct look and reader behaviour with Child Presto cards is a combination for both the TTC and Metrolinx to work on as an urgent fix. If in fact one third of evasion is now tied to these cards, and the annual dollar value is over $20 million, this is not something to be fixed when they get around to it.
The report proposes:
Continue to work with Metrolinx to secure a modified fare product that aids in distinguishing between adult and child card usage.
This does not have the urgency this matter requires. Metrolinx is contractually required to provide a distinct visual identity for each class of fare card, but has begged off doing so on the grounds of “inventory problems”. Sorry, guys, it’s in the contract. What is missing is a requirement for the card readers to produce a distinct sound and coloured display when a child fare card is tapped so that anyone looking for riders who should be challenged will be able to pick them out easily, including both bus operators and roving fare inspectors.
Reduce customers’ intentional avoidance and the predictability of fare inspections through the increased use of plain clothes inspections.
This is a dangerous proposal if it is not backed up by uniformed staff because there is a real possibility that non-TTC riders will masquerade as fare inspectors and hassle riders.
Re-assess the existing fare structure to potentially:
- Offer one equitable flat-rate monthly pass for all customer groups;
- Implement a more simplified zone fare policy required for passengers travelling north of Steeles Avenue to pay for York Region Transit fares. In the interim, management should review the ability to request York Region Transit to support fare inspection activities on routes serviced by TTC vehicles;
- Simplify the proof-of-age eligibility requirement for the youth concession; and
- Re-introduce the child fare. In the interim, institute an annual child card concession renewal requirement to help reduce fraudulent use of PRESTO child cards.
The concept of an “equitable” flat-fare pass is amusing considering that students and seniors now pay a premium in their fare multiple compared to adults with a pass worth about 57 trips compared to 48.5 for adults. There are far more adult riders than seniors, and the result would be a big jump in senior/student prices to pay for a small reduction in adult prices. This would still not eliminate the problem of evasion, only get rid of one class of pass. It would not eliminate pay-as-you-go fares for each class of riders.
The issue of cross-border fares has always been with us, and the underlying problem is that nobody wants to pay the increased subsidy needed to give a lower cost combined fare for regional travel. This is available to GO Transit riders as a co-fare (an option that will soon disappear for GO+TTC trips), but not for 905+TTC trips.
The problem with the youth concession, like the others, is that Presto behaves the same way regardless of which concession fare is on the card: youth, post-secondary student, senior or fair-pass user. The cards all look the same and the readers give the same yellow display with a two-tone “bleep bleep”. A fare inspector or bus driver could more easily know who should be a target for inspection if the cards and displays gave some hint of the type of concession fare.
Reintroduction of the child fare will trigger a widespread need for more children to have Presto cards for day-to-day travel as they would no longer be able to just walk onto vehicles. This does not, of itself, fix the problem of card abuse that depends on the fact that all concession cards look alike. There is also the small matter than free children’s rides are both a mayoral and GO Transit policy.
Basic Presto problems such as the card balance being out of sync with a users account, accidental lockouts from the pass-back protection feature, and the lack of a display that would warn riders that they are about to run dry on funds all need to be addressed so that aggrieved TTC users do not feel that the loss of revenue is all their fault. “Blame the rider” is no way to engender better future behaviour, and it weakens good will among riders who always try to pay their fares.
There are always mobs of customers waiting for the 75 southbound Sherbourne bus @ Sherbourne subway and for years there has been some rear door boarding. Recently it seems to be standard practice. I have never seen an inspector on any bus (and if there were any they really could not move through a crowded bus to inspect) and there are undoubtedly many ‘illegal” (or un-tapped) travellers – though as most probably arrived at Sherbourne & Bloor by subway they are, presumably, within the 2-hour limit.
All excellent points made by Steve. The situation is so glaringly unintuitive from every angle that the TTC couldn’t have found a better way to screa…SQUIRREL!..than with the situation of “fare evasion” it has created through its own ineptness. Or was is even actually intentional?
The finger is being pointed at everyone but themselves. It’s not like they weren’t warned about every point they now claim as had been made in forums and blogs a year or more ago.
On top of which, “fare evasion” or not, the fare-box return on all Cdn transit systems is down:
It’s entirely possible that this ‘crisis’ is completely manufactured out of hysteria…very easy in these days of “Lock Her Up!”
One only has to read the Globe and the reader comments to realize how one usually neutral journalist can stir up a hornet’s nest while almost every other centrist media journalist is trying to calm the waters with objective analysis.
The TTC: The Bitter Way.
I have a couple of thoughts about this issue. Firstly the whole equitable pass idea will likely make fare evasion worse, not better in my opinion. A while back I remember reading that the TTC was thinking of implementing a post-secondary single ride discounted fare. I think that is a good idea since the monthly pass isn’t worth it for students who attend class 3-4 days per week. If they had to pay even more for a pass, that would only make the issue worse. I’ve heard many parents talk about different schemes of how they get their aged 13-19 children to set the fare type on the card to youth just so they can give it to an older sibling in university/college. It happens more often than people think. I’ve seen fare inspectors at St. George and Queen stations listening for the sound on the Presto gates then checking card types. I’ve never seen them at Dundas despite using the station hundreds of times in the past couple years and they should make their prescience known more. The idea about requiring child cards be renewed annually may help slightly, but I’m 99% sure if you could sell a child PRESTO card that allows free rides for an entire year on eBay, there will be plenty of takers.
As you touched on, this also disrupts the TTC’s plan for having entrances unstaffed. Furthermore, I think this issue just puts a dagger in the possibility of the TTC ever offering Senior/Student/Child single ride tickets, as they will also be misused. And as usual, this means riders pay the price since items like the group day pass have been discontinued due to the TTC’s desire to have all entrances unstaffed which doesn’t seem like it’s happening anytime soon.
Overall I think the issue lies in Metrolinx’s hands as the PRESTO software seems to have been created by 6th graders. Considering the level of difficulty the TTC faces just trying to get a different sound/light added when a child card is tapped is just a total disgrace. Unrelated to this post, the commute on Line 1 this morning (Feb 13) was it’s own disgrace, but I’m curious to hear the reason for the derailment if/when it is released.
My kids uses the child pass and although I’m not 100% on this as I don’t really pay attention, I think it does light up a different colour. Concession fare colour?
Steve: Yes. A standard colour and sound is used for any concession fare.
A few unrelated comments:
I have recently encountered two situations where I couldn’t pay my fare. I got on the bus and used the “green” card in my wallet and there was no “beep”. That was because it was my health card. I looked through all my cards and the presto Card seemed to have gone missing. The kind driver said, just sit down and I did. Within the two hour window I went to the Dundas Subway Station and bought a new Presto Card. I paid on the bus for my return journey and the TTC got all its revenue.
Another day I was returning home within the two hours after paying on my outward journey. The Presto machine was broken at the front of the bus. It was the same kind driver. I am a bit handicapped and overweight. There was a big crowd around the Presto machine. I didn’t bother tapping and the driver said nothing.
On both instances I felt very guilty, even though I did pay the fare on the other leg of the journey. I wondered if I could convince a TTC fare inspector even though I knew I was innocent of fare evasion.
Other than at the exit of the Harbourfront and Spadina Cars at Union in the exit corridor, I have never seen a fare inspector in Toronto. In my last 18 day visit to London I was inspected 4 times. Toronto needs more fare inspectors, though to amplify one of Steve’s comments, the severe overcrowding on the TTC makes fare inspection difficult. London has proper transit and overcrowding is much less severe.
People who get children’s Presto Cards when they are not children are criminals. They should be caught and treated as such. Presto needs to step up and provide sound and colour differentiated cards. It bothers me that a significant number of these criminals are otherwise lovely people who have justified this stealing as OK under their moral code. It is not. The Star has suggested that a lot of the people stealing TTC fares are doing so out of necessity. The fact that so many of the thefts occur at The Eaton Centre and York University suggest that this is not true. However, our City Council may consider concessionary fares for the truly needy on an application basis.
How does cross border fares affect fare evasion? I’m curious as to why it’s listed as a solution. Do people tend to only pay for 1 system and not the other because they feel they have paid enough?
Why is everyone so negative about all of this. Our goal was to get more kids riding the TTC. We have succeeded in that goal, and as a side effect we’ve also had a negligible increase in other riders (albeit they are paying). We’ve also learnt that there is heavy demand at some stations (York and Dundas) amongst the general population for free transit…seems like if we made those stations free we might be able to increase ridership as well…
This idea that transit needs to be North Korea is not going to win any new riders. If you want to increase service, let’s use the big levers of taxes…not 3.25$ wrestled from the hands of a tased and pepper sprayed 13 year old…
Steve: I am not sure to whom you refer, but the incident a week ago on the Queen car did not, I believe, involve a 13 years old. That does not change the question of appropriate use of force, but we have to be careful of citing specific incidents as the general case.
And I’m going to be Devil’s Advocate and ask: ‘Why?’ I’m quoting George, but he’s merely stating what has become *almost* universally accepted.
I can understand the need for *some* school children to have to use transit, and at no charge. But all of them?
Something is very wrong with this having become a social dictum. Most kids *need the exercise* of walking or cycling to school.
I ask Steve and the forum: Is the TTC choking under a political directive from City Hall that causes far more problems than it solves?
Steve: It should be remembered that at the point free rides for children were announced by Mayor Tory, nobody was thinking about the fare collection issues because Presto and the conversion of subway stations to a new staffing model were still years away. The decision was political in that Tory was under pressure to “do something” about transit and poverty, and free rides for kids was a quick and relatively inexpensive policy. There are arguments to be made across the tariff about who should get what sort of fare discount, and how this should be delivered. Until the advent of a farecard system, having fare differences by economic class as opposed to some easily identified trait such as age was impossible. Conversely, the use of farecards brings its own problems because the technology cannot “see” distinctions between riders that are obvious to a human fare collector.
In Googling to get some background on this query, I find that Toronto is indeed an “outlier” on this. From a fascinating CBC Ottawa article:
The topic of ‘unaccompanied kids’ is further discussed on Global News.
Steve: Whether it is an outlier or not is irrelevant. Toronto is an outlier in having a much better level of transit service, providing a tolerable transit option to a higher proportion of its population. Should we be goverened by what works in a rural part of the GTHA or in a heavily car-oriented suburb? This is a red herring. Indeed the embrace of free children’s rides by GO Transit, itself a political decision, shows that the TTC is no longer alone on this. The change was also made on the premise that kids riding free would encourage trips by their parents. It is as much a marketing tool as anything for GO.
Ironically the only time recently my 12-year old has been at Dundas station, was one of the recent strike days. Anecdotally a lot of local 12-year olds headed to the Eaton Centre. Though certainly not before 9 AM … perhaps explaining why student rides were higher than ever on non-school days.
Though anecdotally, they are so used to hopping on and off streetcars, that none remembered to bring their Presto cards with them … so had to wait at subway station until someone could let them through …
With the ever-increasing abuse, it’s hard to argue that kids under 13 need Presto cards at all – even with the new subway entrances.
The TTC is “reviewing the feasibility” of pulling all child Presto cards from circulation amid millions of dollars in losses due to their illegal use, CEO Rick Leary says.
In a confidential memo to the TTC board that was obtained by NEWSTALK 1010, Leary said that the TTC is losing about $12 million a year to fare evasion by those using the cards illegally and is now considering “eliminating them all together.”
The Leary comment of course needs more details, but I can see the gist of his reasoning. In an ‘everybody rides free’ context, the ‘playing field would be evened’. Or in the context of ‘children who actually need to use transit’ (for disability, excessive distance, etc) then a reduced fare Presto would be apt. As to who is responsible for even the reduced fare would be the topic of another discussion, but the carte blanche approach of ‘kids go free’ just lends itself to abuse, in a multitude of ways, unless the same applies to everyone.
Most kids I see riding don’t need to. They get on and off again after a few blocks. Much of the problem is in the system lending itself, begging in some respects, to be abused.
That being said, the TTC is obviously in hysteria mode, and so is the lynch mob supporting the army of thugs to enforce paying for a service that often isn’t what’s promised for the fare charged.
I’m sure this topic has more legs…pun fully intended.
Duly-appointed, qualified, and supervised peace officers are not an “army of thugs”.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing to criticize about the way fare enforcement officers operate or the policies surrounding that activity, but this language is grossly inappropriate and unhelpful. As a fare-paying rider, I expect measures to be taken to ensure that everybody pays for the service, not just us chumps who follow the rules.
That’s not what was written.
Here’s what was, with the context missed:
The “lynch mob” is the overwhelming number of reader responses in the Globe especially, but in all media *supporting* the TTC’s berating, threatening, and demeaning campaign.
You’ll note that almost all journos, with the exception of of Gee at the Globe, also think the campaign is not only way over the top, but purposely so to distract the real context surrounding lower farebox returns.
I make my point again: ‘hysteria’ is purposely being drummed up as it is with any reactionary response to “make them pay”. It’s classic…unfortunately. It’s ‘all their fault’.
‘Now just do as you’re told, or we’ll make sure you do…’
As an added note, I’ve watched closely on the streetcars and buses as school lets out around 3 PM, and from watching hundreds of kids getting on and off, subjectively I see maybe 10% tapping a Presto card. Some clutch transfers…??? On the latter point, boarding the Ossington NB at College, the driver looked at me as a bunch of them got on, not even looking at him, and he rolled his eyes. The drivers know it’s a joke. And many just go a couple of blocks.
I don’t know how they do it at the subway…but of course, it would be far too politically incorrect to call out the kids…
I think O’Leary has it right (and the views from him have been reported in a number of mediums now), the ‘Children’s Presto Card’ is being abused from both ends.
Steve: The abuse of boarding a bus or streetcar as if you are a “child” is a direct result of the “children run free” policy introduced by John Tory as a quick fix to be seen as “doing something” to help transit riders. Getting rid of Presto cards for children will only reduce abuse by those who actually tap something.