TransLink says it is losing $15 to $20 million a year to lost, stolen and illegally resold U-Passes, and that's making the popular program unsustainable unless solutions are found to the widespread fraud.
But despite a headline in a local newspaper suggesting otherwise, there is no threat to cancel the popular program, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie told CBC News on Thursday morning.
Instead TransLink wants to work with colleges and universities that use the passes to help cut down on the misuse, said Hardie.
"We really would like help from the students and the schools to put pressure on those people that are doing this, and especially from Craigslist and some of the other online buy-and-sell sites," said Hardie.
Craiglist responds to request for crackdown
Transit police have also written Craigslist for its help cracking down on the illegal sale of the passes online, but so far they have gotten no response from the website, he said early Thursday morning.
"They should have a little bit more authority to help us stop this. Our issue with them is they have been largely unresponsive when we have been raising this issue over the past while," he said.
But a few hours later Hardie issued a statement saying Craiglist appeared to have suddenly responded to TransLinks requests.
"After giving Craigslist a hard time today on the issue of U-Pass fraud, we have noticed with no small amount of satisfaction that, in just the last couple of hours, the number of ads on their Vancouver site has dropped from 29 to eight."
"We still have not heard from them directly, but it appears they have responded positively to our appeal for their help," he said.
Program about to expand
TransLink is currently in talks to expand the U-Pass program to more campuses, but the lost revenue means people are riding transit for free, while TransLink has less money to spend on other services, says Hardie.
"There are some real costs here that could be transferred into more services or better services and that's not a trade-off we want to make," he said.
About 80,000 students attending several colleges and universities around Metro Vancouver pay about $30 per month for the passes, which give them unlimited travel across all zones of the transit system. A similar full price pass would cost $151 per month.
The passes are currently in use at the University of B.C., Emily Carr University, Simon Fraser University, Capilano University, Langara College and Vancouver Community College.
But many students don't use transit or drop out of classes. So they turn to the web to sell their U-Pass.
Hardie says even though the passes include a picture of the student, that doesn't stop others from using them.
"They describe themselves in their Craigslist ad, and obviously someone who looks kind of like that will buy the pass," he said.
Changes proposed to cut fraud
Hardie says he'll propose some changes to the way the passes are issued at a meeting on Thursday with the schools and student associations involved.
Those proposals include incorporating the passes directly into swipe-able student cards.
That would make it possible for TransLink to cancel the U-Pass function and make students more reluctant to sell them, because they would need them for library use and other functions on campus.
"The U-Pass doesn't double as a student card now but it is something we would like to see happen because it would make the administration much more easy," he said.
Jeff McCann, the president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, said he agrees that something needs to be done to crack down on the misuse of the U-Passes.
But he blames unmonitored backdoor loading of buses on campuses and people manufacturing fake passes for a significant share of TransLink's losses.