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:To 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.