British Columbia

TransLink exploring ways of reducing or removing fines for youth and low-income people

It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, rich or poor — the $173 fine for being caught not paying a TransLink fare remains the same no matter who you are.

Penalties based on income, alternatives to a monetary fine, reduction for early payment all being considered

A failure to pay transit fares in Metro Vancouver comes with a $173 fine.

It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, rich or poor — the $173 fine for being caught not paying a TransLink fare remains the same no matter who you are.

But that could change.

TransLink staff say it is exploring options for changing how fines work for children and low-income individuals, following a request by Metro Vancouver mayors last year to look into the matter. 

"A one-size fits all approach to fare enforcement can have a disproportionate negative impact on low-income individuals who have the least ability to pay full-price transit fares in the first place, let alone the high cost of fare evasion fines," said TransLink VP Geoff Cross in his report to the Mayors' Council, which is meeting Thursday. 

According to the report, "fines to be adjusted based on ability to pay, allowing alternatives to a monetary fine [and] reducing fine amounts for early payments" could be considered, with specific possibilities to be presented to the Mayors' Council in the future. 

"The system that we have in place right now does an enormous amount of harm to people below the poverty line, our most vulnerable and at-risk youth, right up to our most vulnerable seniors," said Viveca Ellis, a campaign organizer with  #AllOnBoard, an organization that pushes for affordable and accessible transit based on income. 

According to TransLink, just over 20,000 tickets were issued for fare evasion in 2018, of which less than 1,000 went to youth. 

Ellis said she was happy that TransLink was considering a change but wished there were specific timelines for action. 

"We know the impacts of this issue. We have a lot of examples from many other jurisdictions within Canada," she said. 

"We can have a different system that does no harm and that focuses on inclusion, not punitive exclusion."

Reducing fees requires help

However, in the same report, Cross seemed less enthusiastic about direct action in reducing or eliminating fares — or increasing discounts — for youth and low-income people.

"New funding would be required to implement expanded discounts for youth and low-income residents," said Cross. He estimated that making transit free for youth would result in a drop of revenue of $40 to $50 million annually and making transit free for low-income individuals would cost $25 to $40 million.

In addition, Cross said it would be difficult to accurately estimate how many new people would use transit. He also added that low-income transit discounts in other Canadian cities tend to be directly funded by governments, rather than part of the budget of transit authorities. 

As a result, the motion sent to the Mayors' Council says that expanding transit fare discounts "are best funded and administered by the provincial government" and recommends "publicly [advocating] to the province for funding to expand discounts."

Ellis said she hoped the province would step up. 

"It looks like there is definitely interest and a will to implement something," she said. "But it's the funding piece that needs to be discussed."