Hopping over fare gates, walking away from inspectors, and even using well-trained dogs — it turns out there’s no shortage of ways TTC riders avoid paying fares.
A report released Thursday by Toronto Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler determined that 5.4 per cent of passengers don’t pay to ride, a phenomenon that cost the transit agency $61 million last year. That’s equivalent to about 10 per cent of the agency’s net operating budget.
While it’s likely some riders don’t pay because they simply can’t afford to, the auditor’s 89-page report detailed numerous ways in which transit agency policies and infrastructure appear to have increased the risk of fare evasion.
The transit agency says it’s accepted all 27 of her recommendations and is already working to reduce evasion. But it has a lot of work to do.
After reviewing security camera footage, she highlighted different ways riders circumvent the gates:
- “tailgating”: when one or more passengers closely follows a customer who’s paid through the gate.
- forcing the gate: the paddles of the gate can be pushed open “when enough pressure is applied.”
- fence-hopping: while the TTC used to have floor-to-ceiling gates at automatic entrances, those have been replaced by gates that “can be easily jumped over.”
- using objects: the gates are supposed to open when they detect a passenger leaving the station, but riders can enter by dangling a bag or umbrella in front of the sensor that activates the gate for a person to exit. The auditor even observed one rider using a dog, which slipped under the gate and opened it for its master.
Of all TTC vehicles, streetcars had the highest fare evasion rate, at 15.2 per cent. (The rate was 5.1 per cent on buses and 3.7 per cent on subways.)
A major factor for evasion being more prevalent on streetcars is likely the TTC’s “proof-of-payment” policy, which was introduced in 2015 and allows riders to board at the rear doors, far from where the driver sits. The policy was intended to speed up service on busy routes, but the auditor determined it relies on an “honour system” that many don’t follow.
The numbers were higher on the TTC’s new four-door streetcars, where 18.6 per cent didn’t pay, compared to 7.6 per cent on the older two-door vehicles.
The auditor speculated the new larger streetcars are more prone to evasion because their drivers are in a cab completely separated from passengers, and their four doors further allow evaders to enter undetected.
Child Presto cards
The auditor found there were “numerous serious control weaknesses” with the program for distributing Presto cards for kids, and recommended it be suspended until the issues can be rectified.
Children 12 and younger aren’t charged to ride the TTC, but they’re supposed to carry Presto cards to open gates at subway stations.
To enable them to ride for free, parents are supposed to buy a Presto card and have it specially programmed by going to a TTC office or Presto distributor and presenting their child’s I.D.
But the auditor general found her staff could purchase child Presto cards without presenting I.D. to the distributor (The distributor wasn’t named, but Shoppers Drug Mart has an exclusive deal to sell Presto cards).
The cards programmed with the child discount look identical to regular Presto cards, meaning an adult using one could ride the TTC for free. And because no agency keeps a registry of child cards, one adult could buy multiple cards using the same child’s I.D.
The auditor general found numerous online ads for people selling fraudulently obtained child Presto cards; when her office alerted the TTC, it said the ads weren’t illegal and it could only take action if it caught someone using them.
But even if a TTC fare inspector catches an adult using a child’s Presto card, they’re not allowed to confiscate it because the card is considered property of Metrolinx, the provincial agency that owns Presto.
Instead, the TTC has to ask Metrolinx to block the fraudulent card, which the auditor determined may not always happen.
Fare inspectors have little ability to compel fare evaders to pay or even to write them a ticket if they resist, the auditor concluded.
“When passengers co-operated by providing their identification and contact information, they received a ticket. When passengers just walked away or were aggressive, they did not receive a ticket,” her report found.
“This raises the question of whether TTC’s fare enforcement is fair and effective.”
In addition to the $61 million lost to fare evasion, the auditor noted $3.4 million was lost last year due to faulty Presto machines owned by Metrolinx, including fare card readers and vending machines.
The number is the TTC’s estimate. The agency told the auditor it stands to lose nearly $6 million this year if problems with Presto devices aren’t rectified.
The TTC has invoiced Metrolinx for Presto-related losses, but the auditor said it “needs to strengthen its actions with Metrolinx to minimize passenger revenue loss.”
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr