British Columbia

Illicit reselling of U-Passes common on Craigslist, CBC investigation finds

About three dozen university students in the Metro Vancouver area are illicitly reselling their discounted transit passes on the internet for a profit, a CBC News investigation has discovered.

U-Pass transit fraud

12 years ago
The CBC's Eric Rankin reports on some students illegally reselling their discount bus passes, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars 3:00

About three dozen university students in the Metro Vancouver area are illicitly reselling their discounted transit passes on the internet for a profit, a CBC News investigation has discovered.

As many as 70,000 U-Passes are provided to students at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Capilano University and Langara College.

The fee for the passes ranges from about $100 to $150 for a fourth-month semester, depending on the institution. The pass allows unlimited transit on all TransLink buses, the SkyTrain and the SeaBus and is automatically tacked on to students' tuition fees whether or not they use public transit.

Regular transit users pay $544 for a similar universal multi-zone pass.

The CBC News investigation found 35 students flogging their U-Passes on the classifieds website Craigslist even though the passes carry a photo and are non-transferable, and selling them is prohibited by the terms of use.

This ad posted on Craigslist is for a U-Pass being resold for substantially less than what regular transit users would pay for a similar fare card. (CBC)

Some of the students advertising on Craigslist, who were met in person and captured by a hidden CBC camera, said they have no use for their U-Passes and sell them every year.

"I sold it every year. I don't use them… because I drive a car," one student told a CBC-TV intern who posed as a potential buyer.

Bus drivers don't usually check the U-Pass photo against its carrier, another student said. "When I do use it during the school year, they never really check. I just flash it."

CBC News didn't purchase any passes from the students but decided to test the transit system by having a white female producer, armed with a U-Pass borrowed from an East Asian male student, take several bus trips in Vancouver.

The female producer flashed her U-Pass at three different bus drivers, none of whom batted an eye. She later paid her fares after informing the drivers of her experiment.

TransLink, the transportation authority for the B.C. south coast, acknowledged Monday it doesn't really know the magnitude of the problem of U-Pass reselling.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie guesstimated that the prohibited reselling of U-Passes by some university students costs the transit authority tens of thousands of dollars a year. (CBC)

"Is it rife? Probably not. Is it annoying? Yes, it is," spokesman Ken Hardie said.

Bus drivers can't slow down boarding to check holders of the discounted passes, and increasing policing would cost more than a crackdown would save, Hardie said.

"We found that the strategies that the police have used thus far — going in and ruffling a few feathers, getting the word out there — … that tends to shut it down for reasonably good periods of time."

Hardie said it's hard to quantify how much the company is losing to U-Pass reselling.

"We really couldn't put that much of a price on it," he said. "To do that, we'd have to know who's doing it.

"Anecdotally, though, we would say it's maybe in the tens of thousands of dollars. But it certainly, it isn't the kind of thing where you'd want to run out and buy a whole bunch of extra police officers to enforce."

Gord Price, director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said the solution to the problem is simple if TransLink is determined to curb it. TransLink can assign one transit police officer to occasionally send email warnings to sellers running ads on Craigslist, Price said.

The assigned transit police officer can also carry out regular fare checks on buses and SkyTrains so that would-be buyers think twice about obtaining the U-Passes, he added.