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Archive for the ‘Fare evasion’ Category

Firenze

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We are leaving here tomorrow. It is a shame to have to say this, but I am actually glad to be going home. Our landlady in Florence told us that there was no point in staying for two weeks, there was not enough to keep us here. We have been in Venice last weekend largely as a result of this advice. We fell in love with Venice, and would have liked to have been able to stay longer. The expense alone was enough to deter that thought. If we could have got back to Vancouver from there … well anyway. Let me tell you about today, which is all about the sort of issues that get discussed on this blog all the time.

Last weekend, on Saturday, before our departure for Venice next morning, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet guide and decided to “get out of town”. Fiesole is a beautiful Tuscan hill village with stunning views and amazing archaeology. You can get there on a #7 bus, from Piazza San Marco within the 90 minute validity of a single ride. So tram ride ride from the apartment, walk across the Centro Storico, and up the hill we go, with a bus full of American art students. When we get to the village square – where the #7 turns round and goes back down the hill – there is a sign on the bus stop. Something obviously rushed out at the last minute on the office printer. No service on the #7 after 15:00 because of a road race – the 100km super marathon – a big deal – through Fiesole which means road closures and who knows when regular bus service can be restored. We saw the view – stunning – had lunch – ordinary but twice the price because of the view – and then caught the next bus back to town in case we got stuck and missed our train to Venice in the morning.

Today we tried again. Fiesole deserved a second chance, if only for its archaeology. Not just Etruscans and Romans but Lombards too. The bus stop for the #7 was beseiged. Local buses could not get near because of a flood of tour buses. In Livorno a massive cruise ship had landed, and tipped off its human cargo onto fleets of coaches full of punters sold on the idea of seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” for real. They get to see Florence in the morning and Pisa in the afternoon (or vice versa). The #7 bus stand is close to the Academy where this version (the real, authentic, actual statue as seen on tea towels and t shirts) could be seen. If you are waiting for a #7 local bus and many tour buses occupy the space where your expected municipal service is going to be, you get anxious. What if the local bus drives straight past, unable to pick you up because of this huge, throbbing airconditioned landwhale is unloading its cargo of bemused, earphoned tourgroupistes onto the one person wide sidewalk? It was chaos I tell you.

Eventually things sorted themselves out and the #7 arrived and we boarded within our permitted 90 minutes. It was a struggle for the bus from there but we just sat and observed how the usual dramas of urban life unfold. An MVA involving another bus, a BMW and a motorscooter, closing three of four lanes. A delivery van, double parked, while urgent packages are rejected for damage incurred while dealing with … a sudden intervention by several varieties of cops (carabineri, local plods, security company wannabes) misdirecting – an ambulance with the horrible wailing siren, unique to their kind, makes all thought impossible. Daily life in Florence.

Etruscan Altar

Roman altar

We got there. Roman ruins were seen. The difference to Etruscan ruins was noted. Lombard burials were studied in minute detail. The play of mottled sunlight on Tuscan hillsides was dutifully recorded. Lunch was eaten, beer was drunk, Fiesole was given its due. Time to return. The #7 is waiting in the square but somehow some other distraction means that it has – how sad – circled the roundabout and gone back down the hill, without us. We find a bench in the shade, where we can wait the quarter hour that must elapse before another #7 will appear. And as we sit observing the human life around us, we note the numbers of others who place themselves between us and the bus stop. There is no orderly queue. The bus has three doors, and all are fair game for entry. And the capture of the very few seats – let alone those that face forward and allow a view out of a window – requires strategy and cunning.

When the bus does arrive, two schoolgirls nip aboard and occupy the seats designated for those over 65 – to which I am entitled and feel that I have earned, being at the bus stop a full 15 minutes before they appeared. My partner deals with the smart cards (proximity reader not being proximate to the desired seats). They get the window seats and pretend not to understand my protests.

But all is well and we are seated, if not optimally at least satisfactorily, and eventually the girls get off and we can arrange ourselves … wait, what, some scruffy individual, wants to inspect my ticket?? No uniform, no apparent authority?

Florence tickets

It seems when the “smart card” was waved in front of the reader, no new ride authority was actually established. My partner’s card is fine, mine despite its three ride validity remaining is deemed “expired”. FIFTY EUROS cash to expunge the offence, once the details of the UK passport I carry with me to get free entry into National Monuments (but not, be it noted Fiesole Museums or archaeological sites) are copied onto a three part, no carbon required, form.  He even digs into his clothing and produces photo ID which shows that he is actually the Yoda of ATAF – so there is no point in arguing – and a new crisp €50 note saved for “a rainy day” is handed over. The alternative is not worth contemplating. The shame, the publicity, the headlines. Far better to sign on the dotted line on a form – being Italian – that I have no hope of understanding. Your card reader, ATAF, failed but I must pay the price, or face ignominy.

I note, from a distance, that once again the Compass card is under assault. That Cubic is once more fair game in the fare evasion/faregates/fare or foul fraud foofooraw. Meh! Life goes on. I will be back next week, refreshed. Able to sleep all night and function on Pacific Summer Time. This too will pass.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with , ,

We’re not the only ones

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The Guardian reports this morning “Glaswegians revolt over ticket changes for ‘Clockwork orange’ subway system”. Like the Translink issue, the problem is that the new stored value “smart card” (in Glasgow called “Bramble”, in Vancouver called “Compass”  and in the Guardian compared to London’s “Oyster”) is being introduced at the same time as a significant fare increase.

some passengers have been angered by the withdrawal of 10 and 20 journey tickets, which took place in June, arguing that the new system will leave them paying considerably more for their journeys.

This is precisely the same issue we have with Compass.  It really surprised me that the (paywalled thus not linked) Sun actually produced a pro-Translink editorial on the subject. Indeed, I think this must be a first for that organ. It reads like a Translink press release, except that is criticizes those who use other media to voice their opinions. Because they differ from the official line, and the Sun, and, of course, in some respects with each other, they must be wrong.

The Guardian concentrates on the withdrawal of fare discounts. There is not quite the huge penalty for cash use for some kinds of trips as here – but there are definitely incentives to use the smart card. The problem is that these incentives are not nearly as good as earlier incentives to use transit more frequently. Paying up front for a bunch of tickets helps the organization’s cash flow. Not everyone makes two trips every weekday, so passes are not a universal answer. Monthly discounts work well for commuters, not so well for people who have a more varied trip pattern. The point about Oyster was that did not matter as the system would ensure users got the best deal going no matter how many trips they made. The policy in London at the time of its introduction was to encourage people to use the transit system.

Translink made two fundamental errors. The first was to use the introduction of Compass to raise fares in general. At the same time it has been forced to cut service in many places, to meet overcrowding elsewhere. It has not been able to do enough for the most crowded routes and at the same time it has caused considerable inconvenience to users who were already putting up with slow and infrequent services. The second was to ignore the lack of provision in the new system to open gates with existing magnetic media during the changeover period, which was going to have to be years not months due to the need to replace bus fareboxes that could not issue Compass tickets for cash. Due to the omission of this facility in the specification of the system, and the lack of funds to replace not yet life expired bus fareboxes, one type of “seamless” journey (cash on the bus transfer to SkyTrain and SeaBus) would not be possible. It is possible to buy magnetic readers for fare gates – or for ticket vending machines. It may have seemed expensive at the time, but in the context of a hugely expensive and uneconomic (it cannot ever pay for itself) crackdown on fare evasion, balking at the last few million having lashed out $170m of public funds seems obtuse. And by the way, Compass itself will allow for new kinds of fare evasion.

I frankly doubt that the idea of making people pay twice for one direction of travel really was thought of as a good incentive to switch to Compass. It sounds to me like people covering their rear ends after discovering an omission. And – to correct the false information in the Sun’s editorial – it was not “leaked”.  The bus operators were concerned that the passengers who found out about the need to pay twice would take it out on them. The operator is, after all, the most visible and vulnerable face of the organization. I have always preferred the cock-up theory of history to the conspiracy theory. That does not mean there is not evil in the world, just that bad things happen more often due to mistakes than deliberate malevolence. For reasons that we need not discuss here, Translink has long been incapable of admitting error. Yet it is run by people and therefore mistakes are inevitable.

The most egregious error now is that the view that Translink is using fare policy to deter ridership is gaining credence. The transit police in particular have taken to tweeting (and other communications) in ways which have convinced many that bus transfers will not be accepted anywhere on the system.

It is too late now to roll back the fare increases slid through as part of the Compass system. It cannot now be made to look like something that every transit user will welcome. It is not about being convenient. It is simply a worse deal than transit users now get. And Translink should admit that. The discount for ten rides is not nearly as good as with ten tickets. Don’t pretend that we should be happy with that. Translink could move back the day when the gates close until something can be done for those with bus transfers. Or operators could simply inform cash payers that they will have to pay at the station (not on the bus) to get the gate to open. After all, unless a fare boundary has been crossed, there is no revenue loss. Compromise is a solution that dissatisfies all equally. Translink  cannot now expect to win everything it wants. The ease of transfer is essential. We always have had an integrated fare system and retaining that ought to have been a prime objective in adopting any new system.

This is not to damn Translink and all its activities. This is not part of a “hate on” against this or any institution. This is pointing out that a mistake has been made and must be corrected. Pretending otherwise is simply not good enough.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2013 at 9:05 am

Transit fare evasion losses doubled over last decade

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Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader drawing attention to a problem that is actually not that much worse than it always has been

This appears to be the key statistic that justifies the headline

“The recent provincial audit of TransLink found fare evasion across the entire system more than doubled from an estimated $6.6 million in losses in 2001 to $14.5 million last year, while ridership climbed 21 per cent in the same period.”

Though what appears to have prompted the story is the complaint of the bus driver’s Union that their members are tired of pushing the button that counts those who refuse to pay.

Jeff updated the story

after a Twitter follower rightly asked how much fares have risen over the same period.
(Answer $1.50 - $2.50 for one zone cash = +66 %.)

The recent provincial audit of TransLink found fare evasion across the entire system rose 120 per cent from an estimated $6.6 million in losses in 2001 to $14.5 million last year.

That’s less dramatic than it sounds – factor in a 21 per cent increase in ridership and a 65 per cent fare price increase since 2001 and losses should account for more than $13 million by now if the same proportion of riders cheat.

The story directs attention to the evasion that will not be stopped by the new faregates on SkyTrain. And there is also the suggestion  - rebutted by Gordon Price and Peter Ladner – that somehow loss of money due to fare evasion is a reason not give Translink any more from taxes.

Translink revenues in 2001 from all sources were $451m (source: Translink 2001 Revenue and Expenditure Report)

Transit revenues (mainly fares) were $78m but that was also the year of the strike – so 35% less than budgeted. So not really surprisingly, the amount lost to fare evasion in that year would also be well down – as no transit was running for four months!

Jeff pointed out in an email to me “the figures in the audit must adjust for the strike, otherwise the 10-yr ridership gain would be much higher than +21 % (294m to 355m cited in the audit.)”

What really needs to be compared is the rate of fare evasion. In 2001 it was around 8.1% of transit revenue. In 2011 transit revenue was $444.7m (source: 2011 Year End Financial and Performance report)  $433m coming from fares – so the rate of loss was 3.3% of fare revenue (3.2% of transit revenue).

Actually, there was some work done on fare evasion around that time, by KPMG and in a report in 2002 they estimated fare evasion at $6.7m or 3.9% – but conceded that the lack of data on buses meant that it could have been 4%, or $1.4m more. Indeed 4% is one of those easy to remember figures that is still in my head, and I am glad that I have now got the source for that.

So the headline does seem to be misleading. Forget the use of 2001 as a base year, since clearly things were not “normal” then, and look at the long term trend and it seems to me that the best estimate we have of Translink is that the rate of fare evasion has been reduced – from around 4% to something closer to 3%, And that is before the new measures to improve collection on fines had been implemented. The faregates are expected to reduce fare evasion by $7.1m a year (source Business Case summary) so roughly half of what is now thought to be lost.

But after all, it must be remembered that all of this is based on estimates. The whole button pushing business (“refused to pay”) does not begin to measure fare evasion. How many people simply waved a pass at the bus operator – but were not actually entitled to use that pass? How many people decided to pay a concession fare when they should have paid full adult fare? How many had a ticket for a shorter journey than the one they actually made? After all, if you stop someone, inspect their ticket and ask them where they got on, you cannot really expect all of them to be completely honest. If we had really good data on travel around the region in general, then maybe we would have a better idea of that the revenues ought to be – but even then that usually relies on self completion surveys. Do the sort of people who are responsible for consistently defrauding the fare system answer such surveys – and would we believe them if they did?

This blog post has been corrected from what was originally posted.

By the way, I do want to place on record here my real appreciation of some very good work done by Translink on their website. The search function on the Document Library has been greatly improved, and this morning I was finding what I was looking for really quickly. This may have been implemented some time ago, and I missed it, for I have been avoiding going into the archives – but this story required it. Thank you.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

Faregate: More Information

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Faregates at King Edward

Faregates have now been installed at King Edward Station on the Canada Line
my photo on flickr

Faregates at King Edward

CORRECTED 16 August – my math was at fault

In the Vancouver Sun story from yesterday’s media event more information is forthcoming about fare evasion – and most of the points I made in yesterday’s blog post are conceded.

TransLink’s $171-million program to install faregates at SkyTrain stations and the SeaBus in Metro Vancouver isn’t expected to reduce policing costs

So then all the expected savings have to come from collecting more fare revenue. One way you can tell when somebody’s lying is that they do not answer the question directly but point to some other true statement that makes them look better. So when you look at Translink’s performance recently on fare gates, you have to take into account how often the new smart card gets brought into the discussion. Smart cards could have been introduced at any time, once the new machine readable tickets were introduced. It is just matter of plug in modules for ticket vending machines (TVMs) on buses and stations, and they were designed that way. Similarly the payback calculations treat contributions from provincial and federal governments  as cost reductions – which from a narrow, institutional perspective (commonly accepted standards of bookkeeping) might be acceptable but for public sector accounting is simply a fudge.

The province provided $40 million and the federal government contributed $30 million from the Building Canada Fund. TransLink will fund the additional $100 million.

So we ought to be looking at the payback on $170m not $100m. But we also need to discount the effect of the introduction of the long overdue new regulations that put fine collection revenue into Translink (not the province) but also give them powers to collect those fines. When it comes to people saying how much fare evasion has been reduced the period between now and the new gates going live will be the critical one to assess the effectiveness of these measures. Note that the possession of a driver’s licence is important to make these rules work. What happens when someone has no license is less clear. So far as I am aware, we are still in this country not required by law to carry an identification document with a valid mailing address. This seems to me to be a critical weakness of the collection of fine revenue.

Transit police Chief Neil Dubord said some 60,000 violation tickets were issued last year, and similar numbers are expected for 2012. In 2011, TransLink lost $14.5 million in revenue, which is a combination of people not paying or paying only a partial fare and travelling into extra zones.

Of that figure, $7.7 million in fare evasion occurred on rapid transit, with $6.2 million on buses. So far in 2012, TransLink has lost $6 million in revenue.

These figures are very different from those that Frank Luba was quoting yesterday from earlier Translink reports.

TransLink did audits in 2004 and 2008 that showed annual losses to fare evasion on the rapid transit system were between $5 million and $9 million. But another TransLink report from 2005 showed that yearly operations and installation costs for the system amortized over 20 years would be $30 million annually.

Now $14.5m is a lot more than $5m but then fares have gone up a lot since 2004. Fare revenues last year were $356.6m (Translink 2011 Annual Report) so the evasion rate is still around 4%. Actually, the evasion rate is probably higher than that, simply because this only counts those who were caught, and accepts what they said about their journey as truthful. There will be some people travelling on tickets they were not entitled to (concessions and passes) and others making longer journeys but only buying a single zone. If there was much better data on travel that did not depend on ticket purchase data then there might be a better understanding on the extent of evasion, but we have for many years preferred to cut the cost of data collection to the point where I begin to doubt the validity of a lot of what is said about travel here.

There is nothing said about the additional operating costs of moving to a gated rather than an open system. This extends far beyond policing costs, but also requires some insight into how the staffing needs to change to cope with the new system. I would not expect Translink to be forthcoming on these kinds of details (but see that 2005 data Luba quoted) and anyway the use of Compass already makes the situation confusing enough. Let us assume that they are lucky enough to cut evasion in half in the first year of operation and let us further credit all of that to the gates – forget the extra revenue from fines. So now Translink has $7m a year to pay down the $100m it is spending – and again we assume that policing and operating costs are a wash. Which is pretty much what Doug Kelsey was saying yesterday.

Kelsey said TransLink is optimistic the system will “pay for itself,” with savings of $7.1 million every year, starting in 2014.

CORRECTION But the faregates only impact SkyTrain. So if they cut fare evasion there in half, there is only $3.8m in “new” revenue, since evasion on SkyTrain is said to cost $7.7m a year now.

I do not see how this “pays for itself”. I also see no estimate of how much it is going to cost to rebuild Main Street and Metrotown stations to allow for the gates to be installed – all of which I think needs to be charged to the Faregates account since it would not be necessary (however desirable) if the project had not proceeded. I suspect too that the gaping hole on the revenue protection fence that will exist until these two stations are gate fitted, which will also significantly lower the expected savings.

The decision to install faregates was made by Kevin Falcon when he was Minister of Transport. It made no sense then and it makes no better sense now but we are stuck with it. It is also too late now to turn back the clock and unmake it, and the BC Liberals are now so low in the polls that one more scandal can add nothing to the balance. Next year they are gone, and then – hopefully – some more sensible transit (and related) policy making will be seen. Not that that was a feature of previous NDP governments, but we must have hope, mustn’t we?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with

Thoughts about Paris

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I returned to Vancouver last Thursday: the jet lag has now relented, and my brain seems less fogged. We were there for nearly the whole month of May, which was probably not the best choice, since France has no less than four public holidays in May.

While we were there we did not drive at all. There was really no need for that. We bought a Navigo Decouverte card, and loaded it with a month’s unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2 – roughly the same as the 20 arrondissements of the city out to the peripherique. Now I am going to surprise my readers by telling you that our system is actually somewhat better than theirs in one respect. If you have a zone 1 ticket or pass here, and need to make an odd trip out to Surrey, you can buy an “addfare”. There is no such equivalent there. So for a trip out to La Defense (the major office centre, with lots of challenging architecture and lots of public art) which is in zone 3, we had to buy a whole new ticket. It was actually cheaper to buy an all day unlimited Mobilis ticket (€8.55) than a round trip ticket (€10) and we made the most of it by riding all three of the tram lines – most of which are outside the City.

La Defense dominates the skyline

La Defense dominates the skyline over the Bois de Boulogne

The Navigo pass is a smart card with a photo – but you have to write your name on it too. They are very keen on that, though quite how it improves security I cannot say. We made a point of not carrying anything with us like passport or a driving licence which we did not actually need, simply because of the risk of loss to pickpockets. They are a plague of the system – and have been for many years. We saw a successful arrest of small gang, but the general view is one of cynicism that the legal process does little to deter what is a very profitable activity. Pickpockets can easily afford a ticket. Fare checks were apparent – we saw several in the time we were there both on buses and the metro, and each time there were people being given penalty notices.  I also learned, from reading a notice in a bus shelter, that there is a free transfer from bus to bus or bus to tram provided that you did not pay a cash fare to the operator, but cancelled a pre-purchased ticket on board. There is no transfer to or from the metro. I suppose this encourages use of Navigo for people who need to get a bus to access the metro. It is a proximity card, which means its use is quicker than the magnetic stripe Mobilis – or any current Translink media (other than the “flash pass”) although I saw a lot of people getting frustrated when the faregate refused to open when an entire purse was dumped on a reader.

Navigo is also useful to facilitate use of Velib. There is a daily membership charge, and while the first half an hour of the rental is still “free” after that the Euros start clicking up, so you do have to allow the system access to your credit card. I think it is bit odd that you cannot charge the day membership to Navigo as it is not much different to a metro or bus ride, but of course Velib is a City thing and fares are a regional issue (STIF – the Ile de France agency). So far, and so familiar.

No bikes

No bikes

Those holidays – and a spell of warm weather also revealed the shortcomings of Velib – quite apart from the tendency of users to wreck bikes which remain available for rent even though unrideable. More than once planned trips had to change due to the complete absence of bikes – or the complete inability of the system to take back bikes we were finished with, but could not find an open post to lock them back into. I must also report in all fairness that many Parisians do wear bike helmets – though few of them seemed to be Velib users.

Followers of my flickr stream will also be familiar now with the progress being made to extend T3, the tramway that runs along the Boulevards des Marechaux. These are the broad streets that are named after generals that were built over former city defences on the south and east sides of the city. There is, in fact, a disused railway line that they could have used, but they preferred on street running using an exclusive right of way on the median, which is often grassed.

Grassed track in boulevard median

T3 under construction: grassed track in boulevard median

There has been a lot of progress in providing bike lanes and bus lanes. I like the bike lanes that run counterflow on one way streets, and also those that are protected from moving traffic by the line of parked cars. I am less happy with the painted bike lanes on sidewalks at major intersections – though there is no argument that these are much safer than fighting motor vehicles on rond points, where priority is simply to those who risk most. We were witness to a number of altercations between bus drivers and white vans at such locations. Bus lanes do not provide a universal panacea to congestion. My partner developed a strong preference for the bus over the metro (you see more of the city that way) but even her loyalty was challenged by some remarkably extended travel times in what looked to me like grid lock – even though Paris streets are not in a grid! We walked a lot too – and found that Paris is, in many senses, quite a small place. The Bois de Boulogne to the Trocadero is about 20 minutes, even at the flaneur’s pace I adopt.

Exterior new train Line 5

Exterior new train Line 5

Interior Line 5

Interior Line 5

Paris has lots of transit, and is building more. Metro extension is being planned for Line 14 and Line 1 is being converted to driverless operation. Some of the oldest rolling stock is also being replaced with trains that have interconnections between cars (like the Canada Line) which ought to do more to relieve overcrowding. People still seem to prefer to stand near the doors rather than between the seats, which makes them more vulnerable to pickpockets and leads to extended dwell times at stations as people try to get on and off. Much more emphasis seems to be placed on improving commuting to and within the suburbs – with trams, tram trains (line 4) RER and the Transilien services. We made a few excursions on SNCF, and were very impressed by speed, punctuality and reliability of these services. Of course, in this part of the world passenger rail is almost completely neglected by comparison.

Nowhere gets it right all the time, and there is no monopoly on truth. No one transit system answers every need. But the balance between cars and other modes is different there than here, and is closer to what is needed now, and will be even more important in future. Paris does need to get tougher on cars, I think. They have some experiments with street closures. For instance around the canal St Martin at weekends. But that is still exceptional. For much of the day traffic in Paris is slow moving: parked cars and deliveries are a huge unresolved issue. After hours, parking still seems to be a free for all. While car drivers do seem to respect the need to leave garage entrances clear, pedestrian crossings and street corners are seen as perfect opportunities to park, once the traffic wardens have ended their shift.  There is also an extraordinary ability to get into spaces that no Canadian would even attempt.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

How London Deals with Fare Evasion

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This morning I came across a news story on how Transport for London is to increase its penalty fares. The journal I was reading (Railway Herald) publishes as a locked pdf – which means it cannot be quoted by cut and paste, but I quickly found out that all they had done was copy a TFL Press Release including its headline – so I think I will do the same but at least I have acknowledged where it came from.

Pressure builds on fare dodgers

21 February 2012

Penalty charges have risen to £80 on all parts of the capital’s transport network as Transport for London (TfL) continues its battle against fare evasion.

The increase – from £50 to £80 – covers London Underground, London Overground, buses, Docklands Light Railway and tram services.

Passengers who fail to pay for their tickets will receive a penalty charge which, if left unpaid, could lead to a criminal record and a fine of up to £1,000.

Those who pay within 21 days will see their fine reduced to £40.

Despite a fall in the rate of fare evasion in recent years, the cost to TfL last year was an estimated £63m.

In addition to the penalty deterrent, TfL also employs more than 500 revenue protection inspectors on its network to combat fare dodgers.

West Kensington tube station gateline - cropped

London fare gates image from SkyscraperPage Forum

As I am sure you all know, London’s Underground has been gated for many years now with gates not too dissimilar to the ones now going in on our SkyTrain stations.

I did some quick sums using data from the TfL Annual Report. I reckon TfL’s fare revenue at around £3bn (that’s our North American billions not the UK’s) so the rate of evasion is about 2% – even with all those gates, and 500 inspectors and a comprehensive enforcement strategy.  (A pound is worth about $1.56 Canadian at the time of writing)

The point of this post is simply to re-iterate that the “investment” now being made on our system will not eliminate fare evasion. If we do as well as London – and that would mean we would need penalty fares, the revenue of which comes back to the system, not the coffers of the government, and continued on train and bus fare inspections – we might halve the current evasion rate. I suspect that this actually requires a considerable increase in enforcement resources, which makes the return on capital even worse than anticipated.

The way things are going for the BC Liberals at present, I doubt that they will still be in government by the time this turkey comes home to roost. And anyway it will be Translink that gets the blame I expect – though it ought to be directed at Kevin Falcon.

Yesterday I was interviewed by the Montreal Gazette. Apparently Montreal is seriously considering using the Translink model to reform its current governance of transit. I told the reporter that I thought they ought to look at a metropolitan region that has actually been reasonably successful at providing a good transportation system. London or Paris seem to me to be far better at it than Vancouver. And we weren’t talking about fare dodgers. But at least we seem a bit better than Toronto right now.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Tuesday Round-up

with 4 comments

The transit technology choice debate keeps on going. The Economist blog has a summary “Trolleying out the same old arguments” which pits Walker against Nordahl via a link to a Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt. So it’s not just the comments section of this blog that gets all of a froth about these things. Even so, there are things that made me stop and wonder about who does the editing at the Economist

Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.

No they’re not. Lots of rails have been left in place where there is no train service or even hope of one. It is often regarded as just too expensive to dig them up. If you are a stranger in town and see some rails, I would advise not to expect a train to come down them without doing some research first. Even if the tracks are shiny – that may just be the friction of all those car tires going over them. CP still maintain the level crossings along the Arbutus Line since it has not been legally abandoned – although no-one in their right mind would expect an interurban to be rolling along this

Arbutus CP right of way 2

OK that’s a bit silly, but all of the Seattle waterfront streetcar tracks were in place last time I was there (they may have gone now in the wake of taking down their viaducts) but there is no hope of service returning

Former Waterfront Streetcar Track

The TTC debate about LRT versus subway won’t go away soon either. Mayor Ford’s declaration the war on the car had ended could not have been clearer. His decision about getting rid of a plan for lots of LRT on street tracks in favour of much less coverage by a subway or two was all about not getting in the way of people who want to drive. But it does not make much sense – as the Calgary Manager of transit planning puts it

“With some money, you can build a little bit of subway and make a few people very happy,” Mr. McKendrick said. “Or [with the same amount of money] you can build a whole lot of light rail and make a lot of people happy.”

Moreover

the woman Mr. Ford appointed to head the Toronto Transit Commission has added her voice …. Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

The article ends with a quote from Jarrett Walker – of course.

Translink is promising more transit – but as usual in ways that make me wince.

It refers to large numbers of service hours for buses – without stating service hours per what unit of time. “An additional 40,000 service hours in April” sounds like a lot – until you ask yourself is that hours per year? Or hours this year from April to year end – and when is that anyway? Of course there is no mention of what that means as a percentage of what we currently have.

The Base Plan (page 22) states that  4,928,000 hours per year will be delivered by the bus service each year from 2012 to 2021.

So if the 40,000 is an annual figure that is an additional 0.8% – which is not much really, is it?

“by year’s end, 180,000 new service hours will be in place” or 3.6%. To make that figure look respectable I chose to just look at bus service. Use the total annual service hours of 6,918,000 it’s only 2.6% which is better than no increase at all but hardly startling given the present levels of overcrowding.

There’s a lot of blether about Faregates and how they are going to be more efficient and convenient for customers. Nothing about how the present system does not require most passengers with valid media to interact with anything now – and how easy it is to get in and out of stations and on to busy buses. And how systems with gates still manage to lose money to fare evaders, and how much the system is costing when there are many greater needs. Well, you can’t expect Translink to bite the hand that feeds it (even if so inadequately and inanely).

I could not resist the story from New York (in Atlantic Cities) about one very inventive homeless person has managed to secure himself an income by utilizing the unused value of discarded transit passes. The Metrocard is sold in round dollar figures, not rides, and while people can top them up they are more likely to discard them with some value left on them and buy a new one. (Which reminds me, I have one somewhere I should dig out.) That adds $52 a year to MTA revenues – and someone has found a way to get his hands on a little of that. It’s an offence, of course.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

What will fare by distance mean?

with 30 comments

This is a post that I have considering for a while. It is not tied to any specific event – or even release of information – because on this topic there’s not a great deal. Translink is going to install faregates – because the previous Minister of Transportation instructed them to, and the current one is providing some funding towards that. I have discussed this here many times.   You can also read Translink’s justifications – both of those date back to 2009 (not that it appears on either page, you have to look in the address bar of your browser).

To summarize, gates are coming and then smart cards are coming later – which will allow a review of the current three zone system in use now Monday to Friday before 1830. That review is expected to allow for fare by distance – and the smart card will allow for “value loading” so that instead of you buying system access for a specified period of time – 90 minutes for cash or pre-purchased tickets, 1 day or 1 calendar month for passes – the system will deduct the cost of each trip as you make it. Many systems around the world have such stored value cards and I have used them in London, New York and Paris. In London I paid the equivalent of three one day passes in 2009, and found that after five days in London – and a return visit a year later – I still had enough value on the card to use the Underground for the trips I needed to make. The London Oyster card works out the lowest price for the trips you make on it. New York’s Metrocard (also produced by Cubic the current suppliers to Translink) was less flexible but almost as convenient. Translink has yet to chose a supplier for the new faregates, but it is probable they will also supply the cards as most systems are proprietary.

The exact terms of the new system are, of course, yet to be determined. But we can assess easily some of the impacts users will see. Firstly, for fare by distance to work the card has to interact with a reader as you enter and leave the system. Currently, fares are only checked on the way in – and on transfer. Even then, to speed things up, most frequent users have cards that are not read electronically, since the “dip” reader used takes far too long.  It is likely that Translink will chose a proximity reader – which means cards get read if you are close enough, without any need to swipe, touch or dip a card.  That will allow for a system that keeps delays to a minimum which is a significant benefit of arrangements such as all door boarding on B-lines. Similarly, gates should be open by default, and only close if there is no valid media present when someone passes through. This is a safety feature that allows for rapid evacuations – but those can also be achieved at supervised gates if there is an override control. Obviously, if passengers can open gates “in emergency” they will under other circumstances. This already an issue in New York where exit gates are frequently opened by people not holding keys legitimately, or using override controls designed for those with a special needs. The system there has seen drastic reductions in staffing, but many subway stations have multiple unmanned entrances/exits. If you cannot manage the turnstile or gate the system enables another door to be opened – but with an alarm. And that alarm is mostly ignored. In London, the stations are manned and the system is designed with a barrier line between the platforms and the street. If the gate rejects your media for whatever reason, you have to go to a specially provided window at the ticket office. Paris does not have that system – even at stations like Charles de Gaulle airport – which means passengers have to be quite creative (and physically fit) to get through with their luggage.

But I am less concerned here about the cards and gates than the loss of the three zone system during the day – one zone evenings and weekend we have now. The three zone system was designed when the majority of use was for commuting to downtown Vancouver. It is based on concentric rings around the City of Vancouver (plus UBC). That means City of Vancouver residents have a one zone trip for most purposes and many destinations and get dinged on the way to the airport, ferries and for trips to the ‘burbs. Everyone else gets a one zone trip for many domestic and leisure trips but may or may not have to pay more to commute.  The zone system was designed when the region was different – and transit subject to a larger degree of local political control. Since then, much employment has left the City of Vancouver for other places: much industrial and port land has been converted to other uses. While most municipalities have a variety of centres, very few have to the sort of centralized employment locations that transit can serve easily.  People like Kevin Falcon can even claim, with some justification, that the regional plan to concentrate economic activities in regional town centres has failed. Outside of Vancouver’s downtown most of the region has developed around the car and works like every other North American suburb. Jobs are now widely dispersed, and the Origin-Destination trip pattern is many to many, not many to few.

Two significant trends have emerged in recent years. The first stems from  policy decisions in further education: two universities built far away from everything else but with totally inadequate student accommodation.  The students get UPasses and overcrowded buses. And the universities are both developing residential land uses on their property as a way to replace public funding, not provide students places to live. The second reflects municipal decisions to try to attract non-residential development – since it provides a net tax gain – in competition with each other, and other cities. That means the developers build on green fields close to freeway interchanges (or equivalent). And that is as true in Burnaby as it is in Langley. So both post-secondary and employment commuting presents significant challenges to the transit system. But together are also the main source of ridership.

The concentric rings – and the radial pattern of rapid transit – did both help to optimize revenue collection, based on the old paper ticket/coin collection system. But anomalies are noticeable. A short trip across a zone boundary costs passengers a lot but very long trips possible through Zone 3 are cheap. Prior to electronic ticket machines, “long transfers” were one of the biggest sources of revenue loss. People expected to be able to complete a trip within the time allowed on a transfer (even though the tariff was no longer written that way) and operators usually obliged.

Oner of the appeals of the “fare by distance” system is that it will seem to better reflect the value users place on trips. Note that I am not talking about cost. The cost of carrying a passenger actually varies by a modest amount as distance increases. There is a large increment of cost – an “entry cost” if you like – with each passenger. But since people and equipment are employed in any event – and will travel the whole system most of the time – the fixed cost of system operations is a high proportion of total cost. That is why the first subways in North America, built by private enterprise, had a flat fare system. It kept fare collection costs low and gave longer distance passengers an incentive to use the system. Now that electronics are so cheap, and technology much more widely available, other systems look attractive. But it is also worth thinking abut how they impact users who have other alternatives available to them.  What deters people from using transit now is not the fare but the inconvenience and time to make a trip. For example, a two zone ride from Vancouver to Richmond now costs $3.75. If the origins and destinations are not in the centres near the Canada Line stations, there are two transfers. Journey time around an hour, but drive time 20 minutes or so depending on traffic. (A one zone trip from UBC to Boundary Road is actually longer but cheaper.) Some commenters here have questioned my personal mode choices, but the reality is that if time is an important concern, transit use when there is a car available and  parking is free is quixotic. Even when there is a parking charge, when the car carries more than one person, out of pocket expenses for a trip by car are usually lower than transit, even on weekends and in the evening. And of course car use is generally much more convenient: no waiting or transfers!

Many trips in this region do not have a rail option, and bus operations do cost more as people travel longer distances. But again, it is not system cost so much as passenger perceptions of value that matter when setting fare policy.  And those perceptions of value also have a component of memory in them: when you change any system there are winners and losers, and you need to be careful that you do not offend too many current riders. That is because it costs eight times as much to win a new passenger as retaining an existing one (or so the marketing gurus at Translink kept telling me).

If you now live in Zone 3 and make long trips within that zone, fare by distance is bad news. I suspect too that it could hit longer distance travellers within Zone 1 – especially those making the long trek out to UBC. Those who gain will be people who cross current fare boundaries on short trips. For instance, those who need to cross the Burrard Inlet but don’t go far on the other side. Expect much cheering from the North Shore. Trouble is, that is not a part of the region that is going to get many more people and therefore not much more transit either. Where transit is needed most – where it is currently carrying a very low share of the transportation market, and is very unattractive compared to driving – transit will undoubtedly cost even more to use. That is Langley and Surrey. And that is where the next million people to arrive in this region over the next twenty years will, by and large, be expected to live.  Those are also the people, by the way, who get hit hardest by tolled bridges  - Golden Ears now, Port Mann and Patullo at about the same time fare by distance hits.  So Translink is going to need to be insulated against political unpopularity even more than it is now.

There is also the question of what happens to short trips on transit within one zone. Fare by distance might make those cheaper, but that only gets you more people who now walk or use bikes for those short trips. That really does not help anything. People who walk in cities are important, for all kinds of reasons, but the one that gets noticed is that they are more likely to spend money as they travel. (People who get in a car in the garage at home and drive into the basement garage of where they work are not likely to dip into their wallet during that trip.)  A transit ride is an interrupted walk. I have long opposed the idea of free transit in downtown Vancouver for just that reason, and I expect that if fare by distance gives a break on short trips within one zone then it will also be counter productive, at least in terms of livability.

For that is the real question that seems to get ignored. As we have moved steadily away from multiple objective policy evaluations to simple, private sector driven “bottom line” impact analysis, many of the broader objectives get lost. Since Translink is increasingly viewed as being analogous to the Airport or the Port authorities, so many of the worthy social and environmental objectives of transit provision  are getting lost. Fare by distance is unlikely to measured in terms of long term growth of market share – or effect on greenhouse gas emissions (which is nearly the same thing) as it is by the cash flow it can generate. Short term, people have a hard time adjusting some of their travel patterns. But as we have seen, travel patterns do change, and are sensitive to price – and more sensitive to price in the longer term. (The technical term for this is longer term price elasticity and the place to go for more about that – and indeed all transport economics is Todd Littman’s site.)

If we had “joined up thinking” – or what we once called integrated transportation and land use planning – then fare by distance actually makes a lot of sense, as it would encourage people to make shorter trips – and, combined with road user charges and carbon tax, fewer mechanized trips. But the one glaring loss we have suffered in recent years is that of public subsidy of housing. (The Tyee has a thought up a way of dealing that.) Oddly enough, last night I was reading a poster, put up by the City of Vancouver in 200o, on a utility pole on Main Street in Riley Park, that lauded the sense of community and making do on little engendered by the Little Mountain housing project – which of course was recently pulled down and will not get replaced until a private sector developer is sure of making a great deal of money. Housing is steadily becoming unaffordable for new entrants to the market – or those on who we depend for all of the provision of our services. Health, child and senior care being areas mostly clearly hit already – and going to get very much worse quickly, but all the others too. Resorting to secondary suites (many of them still illegal) being about the only response currently available. The one thing I heard most often when I was doing public consultations at Translink was that people felt forced to live far from where they work – or unable to afford to live close to places well served by transit. This is not a concern of governments at any level now. Affordable housing gets lip service but no action. Rental vacancy rates are too small to measure, and house price increases large and rapid.

Transit has, in popular imagination at least, become steadily more expensive as incomes have remained nominally static – or declined in purchasing power. You can play games with charts but basically, since cash fares have been increasing in 25c lumps at widely spaced intervals, transit users feel they got hammered every time. Is perception important? Try this quote from Tom Prendergast

“The public firmly believes that fare evasion on SkyTrain is higher than has been measured in past audits.  The belief that the system is losing revenue due to fare evasion is very often cited as a reason not to support additional revenue measures needed to sustain and expand the transportation system.”

So the gates (and by impication smart cards and fare by distance) are not being introduced because there is a lot of money being lost on fare evasion but because Translink wants less opposition to “additional revenue measures” i.e. tax increases. And, of course, fare by distance will be approved only if it gets a higher take from transit users than the current system: they are not doing it because they want to get more use – they can’t cope with that anyway. They want more revenue.

As for fare evasion, it won’t be eliminated by any of those systems. It will be different, that’s all. Ticketless travel is already low. What is harder to detect – with any system – is the extent to which the passenger is entitled to use the fare media in their possession. Some people get concessions and deals. But just as blue parking badges get passed around, so do concession tickets and all sorts of passes. Indeed, if you have a monthly pass for your commute you are now entitled to lend it to your family members for their use at evenings and weekends: take the kids with you for free off peak. That’s revenue loss too, but calculated into the system. Oyster cards have been hacked. Passengers did get hold of duplicate keys that got them free rides on the New York subway.

And fare evaders are people like you and me. The people who make you feel unsafe on transit may well have tickets – but still nurture crime in their hearts. There’s no way of telling. Paul Bernardo preyed on transit users in Scarborough for years, but looked clean cut and well dressed while he did it. You might feel safer if there is a gate and a barrier, but you won’t be. And, if you are frequent transit user, you will be poorer.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

The Faregate Fraud

with 16 comments

Translink has just put out a news release touting the next phase of its combined Smartcard and Faregate program. Jeff Nagel called me about it – wanting a comment – and while I am waiting for him to call me back for a comment, I decided to put my thoughts on it in writing. It will be interesting to se how much of what i say makes it to the paper.

First off, Smart cards that passengers can preload are a very good idea. I used the Oyster card when I was in London last year, and was impressed with its ease of use. Though I did not appreciate having to wait in a very long line up at Victoria Station to buy one from the ticket office. I would have thought that this was the sort of transaction that could easily be done by a machine. I wanted two cards each loaded with enough value for three days unlimited travel in zone one only. The only real glitch – since recently fixed by a new agreement with the privatised national railway operators – was that it could not be used to take the most direct route back from Greenwich to Waterloo (we had gone out by river bus, and also used the card on that, but it just got us a discount not a ride).

Translink say that they are going to leave the present three zone (Monday to Friday until 1800) system in place. But also note that “new technology will have the flexibility to allow for new fare options and a greater variety of price incentives to reward customer loyalty and attract new people to transit”. Well you could do that now with the present system. You would just have to use the present cards’ mag stripe and have more people swipe than the present reliance on cards that are flashed at an operator – who usually pays no attention. Actually fare incentives simply get transit users to make more rides – and do very little to get people out of their cars. People who drive really are unconcerned about fares. So if spending this amount of money is thought to improve mode share – and those words never appear in Translink press releases – think again. But of course mode share increase should be the aim.

The claim is made that the cards will provide data – but the current system does that already. The data is largely ignored, simply because no-one has worked out a model to convert the swipes into rides. This is not too hard to develop if you have a good trip diary survey. Sadly Translink has never invested enough in asking basic questions about trip making: the sample we have at 0.4% is an order of magnitude less than that used by Toronto, for example.  Besides it has always been the practice at Translink to make up the ridership stats: much more fun and less work.

The real sticking point for me is the claim that gates make riders feel safer. They may do that, but riders will in fact be less safe. That is becuase once the gates go in there will much less need to have police patrolling the system and asking to look at tickets. This currently does not find many fare cheats but is valuable because it finds people with outstanding warrants and other offences. That won’t happen once the gates are there. (This issue is covered in earlier posts to this blog that you can find easily).

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Millions of dollars in transit fines go unpaid

with 6 comments

It never ceases to amaze me what passes for “news”. This story, which appears in today’s Province, merely confirms what fare evaders have known for years. And everyone who has worked for Translink or its predecessors in the area of fare evasion. If you are caught without proper authority to travel within the fare paid zone, and you are issued with a fixed penalty notice, nothing happens subsequently if you do not pay the penalty. Translink can take no further action since the collection of unpaid fines is not their business. The fine revenue goes to the province of BC. Not that there is very much.

This year, transit cops checked 374,000 people and handed out 11,500 tickets for fare evasion. …

The Insurance Corp. of B.C., which keeps track of ticket collections, was only able to provide The Province details through the end of June: 9,909 tickets handed out and 1,423 paid. There were 142 tickets partially paid and 6,829 unpaid — leaving $1.181 million in outstanding fines.

In 2008, 14,400 tickets were handed out and 11,300 went unpaid, for an unpaid-fine total of $1.95 million.

The scofflaws were even worse in 2007, when 24,200 tickets were issued and just 2,400 offenders paid up.

By the way, that’s a 3% fare evasion detection rate. Also well below the ludicrous claims made by local and provincial politicians. The installation of gates is the only thing that has ever seriously been discussed here. And will, of course, do absolutely nothing to reduce fare evasion or improve net revenue.

The penalty, by the way, is $173. So there is not a great deal of incentive to follow up each individual ticket. There are other ways of handling the problem. One would be to replace the provincial fixed penalty by a “penalty fare” levied as part of the transit tariff.  This would be less than the “fine” ($40 might be about right) but would be collected immediately, or the passenger escorted off the premises and told not to return without the ability to pay.

Secondly, attention should be directed at the “frequent flyers”. Most people are law abiding, and even if caught once or twice, will usually pay if they think there is a chance of being checked. But some regard fare evasion as a kind of sport. This has also been a problem with parking fines in the past. What is needed is some sort of system to identify those who regularly abuse the system. This is the old 80/20 rule in action. 80% of the offences will be committed by 20% of the offenders. The Province piece even uses the term “scofflaws” – which indicates to me they were talking to someone who knows his stuff, but they ignored the important bit. If you can target the “scofflaws” you do not charge them with fare evasion but fraud. This is a criminal code offence and is based on a record of regular, persistent behaviour designed to evade fare payment. The penalties for fraud can be significant. This approach has been used in London since the 1980′s. A $173 ticket can be ignored: a criminal case with a really significant penalty and a criminal record is something else.

This situation, left in the hands of ICBC, will continue indefinitely. The fare “scofflaws” are not the same people who prey upon transit passengers and pose a danger to the safety of their persons or property. They are also not the people currently being lifted by the transit cops for outstanding warrants and other offences. To have effective policing of the system, we have to be able to distinguish between real and imagined threats. Unfortunately, we are governed by politicians whose main qualification is party loyalty and adherence to the party line not experience in any field, or the ability to review evidence and reach sensible conclusions. The sorry story of Kash Heed being only the most recent example.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

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