Metro Vancouver's transit system loses more than $6 million a year from people who don't pay fares, according to new report by an independent auditor.
But the good news is the number of fare evaders is falling, and already much lower than the public believes, according to the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The study found about 2.5 per cent of transit users in 2007 avoid paying their fares, down from 3.9 per cent in 2002. The highest rate of evasion was on the SkyTrain, at 5.4 per cent.
The study did not take into account the number of people who might be reusing tickets obtained from other riders or illegal ticket resellers outside transit stations, or the illegal sale of cut-rate tickets.
Fare evasion 2007:
SkyTrain - 5.4 per cent.
SeaBus - 4.2 per cent.
Bus - 1.6 per cent.
West Coast Express - 1.1 per cent.
System-wide average - 2.5 per cent.
The study also found those who do not pay are very unlikely to get caught, with less than one in 100 fare evaders getting a ticket. And only eight per cent of those who do get a ticket will ever pay the fine, the study found.
TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said that may be true, but it was important to note that fewer people were actually evading the system.
"You have to get back to the fact that the rate of evasion is very, very low," Snider told CBC News on Wednesday morning.
The report noted the common public perception is that transit police are focused on other crimes, and not fare evasion. As well, past media reports have stated fare evasion is widespread, which can affect people's rationalization to pay.
A separate survey done for TransLink found that the public's perception of the level of fare evasion was 23 out of every 100 transit customers, almost 10 times greater than the rate found in the most recent study.
Lack of enforcement options flagged
PricewaterhouseCoopers staff accompanied TransLink's fare inspection officers on the September 2007 fare audit of the SkyTrain, SeaBus, bus and West Coast Express to conduct the recent study.
They found fare evasion was made easy by the absence of turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations, and there were too few options for enforcement.
The only options available for punishing a fare evader were forcing the person to buy a fare, giving them a violation ticket, or removing them from the property, none of which were a significant deterrent, according to the study.
The auditor recommended TransLink hold discussions with the provincial government on ways to increase the payment of violation tickets, suggesting the use of other provincially mandated privileges, such as renewing a driver's licence, to collect unpaid fines.
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has previously stated he wants TransLink to introduce smart cards and build turnstiles for the SkyTrain system, arguing it will make the system safer and will deter fare evaders.
TransLink has long argued that a turnstile system would cost more than the increased revenue it might generate.
TranLink generated approximately $300 million in total revenue from fares in 2006 and had about 165 million rides in 2007.