Toronto’s auditor general is sounding the alarm on TTC fare evasion, saying a recent audit found that it cost the transit agency at least $61 million in 2018.
The report by Beverly Romeo-Beehler, which was released late Thursday afternoon, said the TTC also lost $3.4 million due to broken Metrolinx equipment. Romeo-Beehler said the extent of the loss could be high.
“The total estimated annual revenue loss of $64 million is probably understated, as we were not able to quantify the loss due to the malfunction of TTC’s subway fare gate equipment and the use of crash gates (open accessibility gates where TTC staff watch people entering and paying fares) at subway stations,” the report said.
As part of Romeo-Beehler’s report, auditor general staff went out with TTC fare inspectors on 315 streetcars operating on seven routes and 76 buses operating on 26 routes in addition to visiting 15 subway stations over the course of six weeks in November and December. Staff looked at 38 hours of TTC surveillance video at four automatic subway entrances to monitor for illegal entries as part of the information-gathering process.
According to the report, streetcars have the highest fare evasion rate (15.2 per cent). Fare evasion on buses happens 5.1 per cent of the time, while the fare evasion rate for subway travel is 3.7 per cent. Staff said reducing fare evasion by a per cent would mean $11 million in revenue for the TTC.
Romeo-Beehler said people not paying fares on streetcars is particularly problematic, with an average of one in 10 passengers not paying.
“This could be attributable to the proof-of-payment system on streetcars, where there is no interaction between passengers and streetcar operators, as well as the multiple-door design of TTC’s new streetcars,” the report said.
She also noted a “significant risk” when it comes to fraudulent use of Presto cards programmed for children 12 and under, who can ride the TTC for free.
“During our six weeks of audit observation work on all three modes of transit covering many different times of the day on TTC, we did not come across any children aged 12 and under who were using the child Presto cards,” Romeo-Beehler said.
“TTC fare inspectors identified 56 subway riders and 22 bus riders who were fraudulently using a child Presto card during our audit observation period.”
Romeo-Beehler said that reducing fare evasion might “alleviate the need to raise fares.”
“(The) TTC’s revenue rose between 2013 and 2017, likely due in part to fare increases. However, TTC’s yearly ridership numbers have declined since 2016,” she noted.
“But because TTC calculates ridership based on the number of passengers who pay instead of the number of passengers who ride, it’s possible that ridership only appears to be declining, while fare evasion is worsening.”
The report made 27 recommendations to the TTC aimed at tackling fare evasion — something, she noted, every transit agency deals with — such as calling for improved staff performance, training and data collection, revamping proof-of-payment policies, expanding fare inspections to buses and subway station entrances (currently, inspections just happen on streetcars), a review of automatic subway entrances, improved reliability of Metrolinx equipment and increased controls surrounding child Presto cards.
In response to the audit report, recently appointed TTC chair Jaye Robinson called fare evasion “a critical issue that has gone far too long” under the transit agency’s older fare collection system.
“As a regular transit user, I know how frustrating fare evasion is for the residents of Toronto who consistently pay to travel on the TTC. Fare evasion has a significant impact on the TTC’s operating revenue and transit service,” she wrote in a statement.
“Despite the difficult transition to this new system, Presto will provide us with an opportunity to track fare evasion more consistently and accurately than ever before. This valuable data will give us a better picture of ridership and allow us to identify system priorities.”
Robinson said the 2019 budget calls for 70 new “revenue protection positions” as well as new technology to combat fare evasion.
Metrolinx spokesperson Fannie Sunshine told Global News in a statement that the transportation agency is working with the TTC to “evaluate any claims.”
“We are also working with the TTC to look at ongoing improvements to service, which will include reporting of equipment outages and other process improvements,” she wrote.
“We look forward to working with them to close gaps in the contract where more clarity is needed to ensure clear service level commitments and protocol.”
The auditor general’s report will be reviewed by TTC officials on Tuesday.