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.
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