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Reducing rail fare evasion

The November patronage statistics highlight that the dip in rail use continues. Like September and October, when the Rugby World Cup last year made comparisons a bit silly, in November there’s a reasonable explanation for the dip: the transition to use of the AT Hop card means that trips are no longer counted at the time of purchase (for 10 ride tickets) but instead at the time the trip is actually made. According to Auckland Transport this change accounts for most, but not all, of the decline in patronage compared to November 2011.

Another reason for the decline is likely to be an increase in rail fare evasion. Throughout this whole year there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that rail evasion has become absolutely rife. I know that I took a trip from New Lynn to Henderson a few months back and never saw a single staff member enter our carriage the whole time.

Introduction of the AT Hop card has improved matters in some respects, but also made things worse in other ways. For trips to or from Britomart and Newmarket, the installation of ticket gates is likely to have all but eliminated fare evasion – however elsewhere on the network the ability of people to skip either tagging on or tagging off at the posts seems pretty high. Especially as even if you’re caught, the worst thing that can happen is getting turfed off the train.

I think there are two kinds of fare evaders:

  • Those who are determined to evade their fares and probably wouldn’t ride the train if they had to pay.
  • Those who are happy to pay for their fare but don’t exactly go out of their way to do so and therefore often end up avoiding paying even if it wasn’t fully intended.

I’d say the second group are by far the most common.

Overseas cities have come up with some pretty clever tactics to minimise the likelihood of fare evasion. Firstly, there is the threat of fairly hefty fines for those caught without the correct fare – something I understand Auckland Transport is working with the Ministry of Transport to change a few laws so a similar system can be introduced here. The second is a bit more subtle but creates a sub-conscious mindset of needing to do the right thing by paying your fare – perhaps best illustrated by the establishment of clear “fare paid zones”. Here’s an example from Vancouver:vancouver-fare-paid-zoneTo walk past this point without having paid your fare requires a pretty active and deliberate decision to be made. In London there are similar set-ups, but with the tag posts right at this point and often supported by CCTV to check that people really are tagging on or off with their Oyster Cards.

Any system will generally have some level of fare evasion and that’s probably OK because it costs more to go after that last 1-2% of riders compared to the fare revenue actually lost. However it seems that Auckland’s rail system suffers from fare evasion levels far far higher than this, which is not only impacting on the revenue raised (which is predominantly lost money for Auckland Transport rather than Veolia) but also meaning that our patronage statistics might in reality be a lot better than they’re looking.

A few simple changes to station entrances like what’s been done in Vancouver, plus hurrying up law changes required to enable fare evaders to be fined, seem like pretty simple ways to significantly reduce fare evasion and potentially boost patronage numbers quite substantially. Auckland Transport had better get on with it, because the way things are looking hey aren’t going to get near their Statement of Intent patronage targets.

29 comments to Reducing rail fare evasion

  • Owen Thompson

    The rumour I have heard is that the remaining guards are not busting themselves to collect fares as a form of industrial action. Factors like one guard for four carriages clearly breaks Health & Safety legislation. Power to the Union.

    • MrV

      You’ve got to be joking, why does a train need any staff? In many countries they drive themselves, people get on and off by themselves. Have a few people at the station providing information/services etc.
      Why the need for 1 guard per 4 carriages? You’re living in the 1950′s.

  • JeffT

    The Vancouver example seems a good idea. I agree there need to be a few methods/systems in place to be effective. A penalty system needs to be there but will cause a lot more aggro for staff so shouldn’t be the most commonly used system, the last resort.
    I think AT need to find the money for more gates as well so that fare evasion is controlled through barriers rather than just staff/people which can cause friction.
    I’ve made comment on the Campaign forum that AT’s current strategy is to check everybody’s tickets/hop cards and is leaving me wondering why we changed from paper tickets. Perhaps more random sampling could be done (and I don’t mean profiling!). Not only are we producing our cards, we’re also tagging on/off. Like most people, I’ve paid, I just want to get on with my trip.
    Reading AT’s November board meeting minutes I think this new strategy came from concern by Mike Lee about fare evasion.
    I just think they need to find the money and complete the system, put in gates.

  • Good post and interesting comparisons to other systems. As in Melbourne (and to a similar extent, Sydney, Brisbane and other Australian suburban rail systems), attempts to reduce fare evasion on Auckland’s rail network are hampered by the physical design of the legacy stations. The stations are largely designed for a revenue protection model based on manual collection of tickets by someone on the platform and are hard to retrofit for a smartcard system with or without gates. Vancouver is interesting because the Skytrain stations were designed for ultimately being fitted with fare gates, although initially commissioned with a proof-of-payment system. The recent introduction of smartcard ticketing in Vancouver has seen fare gates fitted to a number of stations. And of course, London’s system had the passenger numbers to always require more intensive revenue protection models, including the early adoption of fare gates.

    HW

  • JeffT

    And yet a great deal of redevelopment has occurred to many stations over the last few years. Was not a gated system contemplated or designed for?

    • JeffT

      My apolgies for own reply post! I remembered that not all stations can be gated apart from layout and that is that they would also have to be manned/staffed in case of issues.

      • Gated stations shouldn’t be unstaffed and if AT do it right, they’ll only need one staff member on the gate line for the wide gate + provide assistance at most times of the day. The big dollars may need to be spent redesigning stations to allow gating. Hard to justify unless the station itself is being rebuilt or built new (i.e. Britomart, New Lynn, Newmarket). I trust the latter two have been designed for retrofitting fare gates?

        • JeffT

          They’ve been spending a fortune on stations in recent years. Ellerslie, for example, before the changes, had a ramp at either end. Would that not have been a suitable design already for gating?

        • S

          Newmarket has gates. I think that the concept of only gating the busiest stations is a good one, but I would like to see more stations gated.

  • Gating all stations would likely be prohibitively expensive and not provide enough gain to justify doing so. On a network like ours, gating at least the major destination stations is probably the best option and the biggest two of these by far have been done already. AT have said Manukau is getting gates next year and they may assess New Lynn depending on how much evasion their random inspections turn up.

    Another thing to point out is that over the next few years we will have the EMUs roll out and one of the requirements for them is to have automated passenger counters. What that means is that at every stage along the network, AT will know how many people are on each train. Matching that data up with the HOP data (cards and purchased tickets) will highlight when and where the evasion is occurring the most and the roving staff can be sent to address the problem until it improves. That would be far cheaper than gating each station.

    What I find annoying is that onboard staff aren’t doing anything to make people use hop or the machines. I caught a train for the first time in a while the other day (off peak) and in my carriage at least 6 people got on and paid for a ticket with cash and at least one point the TM held up the train while issuing tickets. Yet the train manager didn’t say a word to them about HOP or the machines. He could have at least said “you need to use the machines or buy a HOP card from now on”.

    Lastly on the subject of fines, surely while we wait for the MoT to sort itself out over it we could do it in a roundabout way. Why not just have TM’s still issue tickets as normal but only give them one they can sell and make it a $20 single ticket. So if you don’t have a ticket or haven’t swiped a HOP card then you can still buy a ticket on board but it will cost you.

  • At the moment the worst that can happen is you get asked to hop off the train (and you can get on the next one if you want).

  • John Smith

    Surely an appropriate compromise is – gates at the main stations (probably only a small proportion of the total) which are beginning or end of 90 percent of trips; free access (with conscience jogging signage like that pictured in Vancouver) elsewhere. This leaves it easy to evade fares when travelling from one ungated station to another, but you count on the fact that these trips are relatively few.

  • Chris R

    Rail bus travel this weekend appears to be free.

  • bbc

    What evidence is there that fare evasion is high? All I ever hear is heresay from people on this forum but am yet to see any proof that it’s the case.

    • Rob Mayo

      Yes, what are the exact fare evasion losses in $ terms? How much money is AT losing? Do they know? Does anyone know??

      • S

        Given that Britomart is by far the busiest station on the network, and that it is gated, fare evasion can’t be that high.

        • 41 stations – 3 with barriers I think.

          I would say that evasion at the other 38 could easily outweigh the controlled compliance at those 3. Even with a few more patrolled at peak times (Grafton, New Lynn seem to be) there is a lot of scope for evasion by people commuting between lesser centres. We easily forget that this is increasingly a network serving a wider distribution of movement, not just a CBD-centric model.

        • Luke C

          Britomart has only been gated for a month. Will be interesting to see what the November and December patronage reports look like. If there is a jump compared to the trend then there would of definitely been some fare evasion in the past. Of course the point of fare evasion is that is difficult to measure. Could be interesting asking AT about the results from the random fare checks done at Britomart occasionally in the past. Or how many people in first week or two got off at Britomart without a ticket.

        • Richard D

          Britomart may well be the businest station, but going by the numbers shown here http://transportblog.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Southen-Line-Stations.jpg there are a huge number of jorneys that do nor start or end with Britomart (or even Britomart / Newmarket)

    • Mr Anderson

      Have heard rumours that fare evasion is in the high single digits (percentage wise), though can’t confirm as it seems to be something AT is incredibly reluctant to release.

  • LK

    The UK has set system of Penalty Fares, which can result in some fairly hefty fines if they can tell from evidence you are a consistent fare evader.
    see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penalty_fare . There are also separate Revenue Protection Inspectors who do nothing but check for valid fares.

    In London, if you are caught evading, it’s a £80 ($150 roughly) fine, or £40 if you pay within 21 days. A year ago it was half that.
    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/14436.aspx

    You will definitely the legislation for it to be effective, and then a team to enforce

  • Vancouver’s “paid fare zones” also extend to buses, ( As Drivers are not being responsible for any on board ticketing or fare validation, – They only drive-)

    Vancouver only recently closed a big loop-hole in their fare system, if you had no ID on you transit police were not able to issue/arrange to be sent to you a penalty fare…….

    Hopefully AT have learnt from the multiple systems around the world, how to do fare policing,
    Because if will become a huge political embarrassment if they leave loop holes in it,

  • PS1

    +1 Improvements to rail please, enough with the motorways.

  • Canadian...

    You know Vancouver skytrain is in the process of installing gates eh? Drivers are responsible for fare collection on Translink, but are asked not to enforce the rules strictly due to arguments and potential assault from the passenger. I should also note that Vancouver is the first Canadian city to have armed Transit Police/Fare enforcement – they carry taser and guns.

  • Rational Plan

    Simple, extend gating to manned stations. Then look at those are partially manned and see if extending the manned hours would help with gating, or have gates be part time. Gating has expanded massively throughout the commuter system surrounding London. It’s not unusual for the gates to be locked open in the Evening. It’s now rare for any significant suburban centre to be ungated. If the most popular destinations are covered then there will be little evasion

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