Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The "fare evasion" narrative on the TTC is a total fraud. Here's why.

Every year the same line is trotted out by the TTC and various civic politicians in Toronto with the damage done monetarily always increasing from 20 to 40 to now allegedly over $60 million a year. Fare evasion, they say, is a serious problem and then they tsk-tsk about the "cheaters" and the need for more enforcement and get to shift the narrative of blame about the TTC's woes from themselves and decades of mismanagement, incompetence and underfunding to those mean and nasty freeloaders, i.e. TTC riders themselves.

Never mind that the newest claim of "loss", approximately $61 million, is but a tiny percentage of the system's operating budget of just over $2 billion let alone of the many billions it needs but is not getting. It sounds impressive and politicians can pound tables and promise to stop the rot with more policing despite the risks this poses to riders and the marginalized and without, of course, mentioning that more "enforcement" does not come for free.

But the bigger point -- and the one that gets lost because of how deeply we are indoctrinated into capitalist and neo-liberal narratives -- is that these projections of alleged loss (it is at best a supposedly educated guess) are predicated on the notions that these are fares that would be collected if only there were better enforcement and that these "lost" fares therefore have a direct impact on operating costs. Both of these notions are basically false.

I have already looked at this more extensively in two pieces linked to below, but it is worth revisiting this again due to all the brouhaha now.

The first assumption is that if the TTC was able to make it completely impossible to evade fares, which would likely cost significantly more than $61 million, then all those who had been evading fares would use the system and pay to do so. This is clearly not true.

Many people evade fares either because they cannot afford to pay or they are taking trips on the system (short hopping on and off trips, for example) that they would not take if they had to pay. In other words, in the perfect neo-liberal fantasy world where buckets of money were poured into making the TTC 100% fare evasion proof the vast majority of the "lost fares" would remain lost as these riders would simply not use the system. Given the costs associated with making sure they did not the net impact of heavily policing the fare evasion would actually cost the TTC much more in real terms than they would recoup as they would be stopping people from not paying fares they were never going to pay in the first place.

This is tied to the second point that the only other way lost fares are actually theoretically a cost given that the fares are highly unlikely to be recouped in a way that would not be offset by higher enforcement costs, is if the numbers of fare evaders were significant enough to force the system to add new buses, streetcars or subways to the already existing routes and schedules. Seeing that even the latest high end estimate claims that approximately 5% of riders are not paying at any given time this is clearly not the case. The TTC obviously does not have to increase vehicles on routes for a handful of extra people per ride.

Since it is not the case, and this is the point that the politicians and planners rambling on about this either don't get or don't want you to get, that means that the allegedly lost fares have no impact whatsoever because the buses, streetcars and subways are running anyway. The costs are not going to change if an extra 3 non-fare paying riders are on a bus with 50 people or not. These costs are already there. The only costs that will increase are on the enforcement side.

Even if you believe the conveniently always advancing estimates of evasion, they don't impact the operating costs on the routes at all.

However, one thing is clear, increasing enforcement will mean more harassment of and hassles for riders. A few years ago Edward Keenan wrote about one aspect of the problem with fare crackdowns in The Toronto Star:
This isn’t because it isn’t annoying that some people cheat the system. It’s because some people will always cheat the system, and the cost and hassle of making it difficult for them is not worth it — especially since most enforcement measures make the system a hassle for all riders. And what you want to focus on, if you want more riders, more honest, fare-paying riders, is making the system as hassle-free as possible.  
With the unfolding Presto fiasco and aggressive enforcement by highly paid rent-a-cops it is important to keep this in mind. Don't let the TTC administrators and various politicians use the hugely overblown fare evasion non-issue as a smokescreen to cover their monumental and generational failures to properly fund and expand the system.

Further Readings:

The TTC 'fare evasion' fraud and Toronto's fiscal chickens coming home to roost

TTC fare fallacies -- Neoliberal delusions in transit costing

For more transit resources see our Free Transit Resource Page


  1. Are you kidding... I believe the amount is even higher. Just ask an operator what he sees every day. I myself see it all the time. Presto not working, gates left open, areas that used to be completely secure by walled glass at automated entrances now have gates or railings that people can just go over and there's the rear loading vehicles. So many times I've seen people just walk into the station. No payment. Plus the fair inspectors aren't give enough power to do anything. It's stealing. Presto is the province's baby. Thanks and now they want to take the subway, sell off land rights to developers. Look what the PC government did with the 407. Robbery. No accountability. They gave that HWY away after some estimate $100 billions in land rights were paid for and construction done on it just to balance Mike Harris's budget. Who pays for it, the tax payer. The same thing is happening at the LCBO. People just walk in load up and walk out. I guess people think it's ok to steal. Why not Doug Ford is trying to do it with the subway that Torontians paid for!

    1. Losing $60 million to fare evasion annually works out to 50,579 fare evasions every day. Based on the TTC's stated overall ridership of 1.48 million daily they are claiming 1 in 32 people riding its system at all times is a fare evader. That is some stone-cold bullshit.

    2. Yeah there is no way for them to actually accurately calculate the exact amount of fair evaders. That task itself would be so labour intensive. This number is literally made up.

  2. If there are 11,000 unionized TTC workers that's roughly $5,500 per member in lost wages. Of course the TTC has many other expenses to pay for but that's just to give you some perspective. The TTC is the most government underfunded Transit system in North America and the most efficient given the circumstances

  3. Ask yourself why is ridership down but the TTC is busting at the seams with overcrowding. There's definitely a problem. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out

  4. > Presto not working

    Presto now working is not fare evasion, it's the fare system not working.

    > Ask yourself why is ridership down but the TTC is busting at the seams with overcrowding.

    Yep, the system is massively underfunded, the most underfunded for a major city system in North America.

    > Plus the fair inspectors aren't give enough power to do anything.

    They're cops. How much more power to you want to give them? Kill fare evaders on sight? Just beat them up?

    > 407... Who pays for it, the tax payer.

    Well, actually, that one is paid for by the 407 users themselves. As a transit user I don't pay for the 407 anymore. funny that!


  5. "Many people evade fares either because they cannot afford to pay or they are taking trips on the system (short hopping on and off trips, for example) that they would not take if they had to pay."

    Also me.
    And I don't feel bad about doing so, nor do I feel bad about hopping on and off for short trips even when I can afford it because of the number of times I have faced inconveniences due to inconsistent service.
    This month a 30 minute journey took nearly 90 minutes. A TTC driver refused to drive - he announced via intercom that another rider on the bus was too critical about TTC service and it had hurt his feelings so much that he needed to calm down before it would be safe enough for him to drive again.
    Give me a break.
    I was 45 minutes late for work due to the fiasco.
    Fuck the three dollars it's gonna cost me every now and then to hop on and off when I can get away with it (especially short rides) when I have to deal with shit like that.

  6. The LCBO is a completely separate concern, it's a crown corporation that operates independently of the government, it generates it's own income and none of it comes from taxes.
    It does generate taxes and that's what goes to paying for our healthcare.