No ticket to ride: OC Transpo inspectors fining fewer fare jumpers

The number of tickets OC Transpo inspectors have issued for fare-jumping has plunged from nearly 4,000 in 2013 to only a few hundred last year.

Inspectors issued nearly 4,000 tickets in 2013 — but only a few hundred last year

The number of tickets for "tariff evasion" handed out by OC Transpo inspectors has dropped dramatically over the last five years, according to data from the organization.

An articulated OC Transpo bus arrives in front of you. You don't have change, or your Presto card, but you board through one of the back doors of the bus anyway — even though you're a little nervous at flouting the rules.

Fortunately for you, there's no inspector on board — and you reach your destination without getting a ticket.

This sort of scenario has become increasingly likely, as an analysis of OC Transpo ticket data by Radio-Canada shows that dodging fare inspectors is now easier than it's been in a long time.

In 2013, 3,726 tickets were issued by OC Transpo fare inspectors for non-payment, or "tariff evasion," according to statistics from the organization.

But in 2017, a mere 219 people were caught. 

In recent years "rate controllers have been assigned to related duties," said André Brisebois, OC Transpo spokesperson.

In addition to ensuring riders have paid, Brisebois said they've also been asked to "educate and inform the public" about how fares will work on the Confederation Line, which is expected to open this November

"Because of added responsibilities, there has been a diminished number of offences," he said.

Drop in revenue

Taking a free ride on public transit can be expensive, however, for those who do get caught.

The fine for tariff evasion is set at $150. Therefore, it's possible to estimate that catching fare-jumpers amounted to a $558,900 windfall for OC Transpo in 2013.

In 2017, that potential revenue would have fallen sharply, to around $32,850.

The fines are paid to the Provincial Offences Court, Brisebois said, so getting an accurate number on revenue from tickets isn't possible.

The organization also doesn't track the number of people who don't pay their fares, he added.

"The only way we'd have an absolute number is if we were able to check on everyone," Brisebois said. "Right now we have samples, but we don't have an absolute number."

Back door boarding

Brisebois said allowing passengers enter through the back doors of some buses has its advantages, making it easier for riders to board and "minimizing potential delays."

Back-door boarding only takes place on articulated and double-decker buses, however, so most riders still have to board through the front door, Brisebois said — where the driver can check that fares have been paid. 

It's very rare that you'll see them on the buses now.- OC Transpo rider Chris Miner

Transit users who spoke to CBC News Sunday said that when it comes to the presence of fare inspectors on OC Transpo buses, times have changed.

"It's very rare that you'll see them on the buses now," said Chris Miner, as he waited for a bus at Mackenzie King station. "About three or four years ago, you did."

Alex Baupre said she's seen people find creative ways to get out of paying their fare, and that more fare inspectors would likely help. 

"I know my first year of university, we'd lose our U-passes all the time. And you just tap yours and hand it back," she said. "People have a lot of ways around it."

A spokesperson for OC Transpo said LRT stations will feature new fare gates that will limit opportunities for fare evasion. (Mathieu Fleury/Twitter)

The end of fare-jumping?

The arrival of light rail should change the way people in Ottawa access transit, Brisebois said.

New ticket gateways at all of the Confederation line stations will "greatly reduce the possibility of tariff evasion," he said.

Riders who use the system must be in controlled areas to get on the train, said Brisebois. 

To access the stations, customers will have to go through an access gate by scanning their Presto card or ticket.

With files from Leah Hansen