Transit fare evasion losses doubled over last decade
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.