The TTC is cracking down on fare evasion. But why is the fine so hefty?

The TTC is defending what critics are calling exorbitant fines as the system grapples with mounting losses from fare evasion. The agency says the fines are necessary because of its heavy dependence on the fare box for revenues.

TTC's fine more than triple those handed out by transit agencies in Vancouver, Ottawa

Some critics say the troublesome introduction of the Presto system is largely responsible for growing fare evasion on the TTC. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The TTC is defending what critics are calling exorbitant fines as the system grapples with mounting losses from passengers not paying for rides — saying the fines are necessary because of its heavy dependence on the fare box for revenues.

The transit agency lost an estimated $70.3 million due to fare evasion in 2019, which the agency largely attributes to riders deliberately skipping out on fares.

"They are doing it almost to try to beat the system," said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. "Some have quite a cavalier, laugh-it-off kind of attitude."

Penalties for fare evasion on the TTC range from $235 to $425, which is the highest range among major Canadian cities. 

According to some researchers and the TTC itself, those penalties are among the most severe of any city in North America.

Here are fare evasion fines in other Canadian cities:

  • $150 at OC Transpo in Ottawa.

  • $150 at Calgary Transit.

  • $173 at TransLink in Greater Vancouver.

  • $150 to $500 at STM in Montreal (The agency says the highest fine is generally reserved for repeat offenders).

  • $250 at Edmonton Transit Service.

Toronto Mayor John Tory agreed that many fare evaders are deliberately cheating the system.

"Some of them I will acknowledge are doing it because they're finding themselves in difficult financial situations, many others are not," he told reporters on Wednesday. "They are doing it because they think they can."

However, people calling for lower fines say the TTC's penalties are disproportionate when considering other fines commonly issued to Torontonians.

"It's really outsized in comparison to, for instance, a parking infraction," said Coun. Shelley Carroll, who sits on the TTC board and represents Ward 17, Don Valley North.

"Why is it $30 for someone to park a heavy vehicle in the wrong place and it's $400 for slipping through a rear door of the TTC without tapping?"

Two of the advertisements being used in the TTC's new fare evasion campaign. (TTC)

She said growing losses to fare evasion suggest the TTC's hefty fines are not successfully encouraging riders to pay their fares.

The TTC estimates that fare evasion rates range from 15.9 per cent on streetcars, 6.3 per cent on buses and 2.4 per cent on subways.

Campaign ignores 'systemic failures'

The current penalty rates were set in 2009, but the fines have been under increased scrutiny since the TTC unveiled an advertising campaign that calls out riders who evade their fares.

Critics have called the messaging aggressive and accusatory.

Carroll pushed back against claims that many riders are deliberately cheating the system. She pointed to unresolved flaws with the Presto system, such as broken gates and the complicated online system to reload cards, as larger issues than dishonest riders.

"Those are key, daily systemic failures and we need to address those," Carroll said.

The TTC also announced a new fare increase this week, which will go into effect in March. Most fares are being raised by 10 cents, while the price for a monthly adult pass is now $156, or $201.90 including the use of downtown express services.

High fines needed due to low subsidies

The TTC has acknowledged that its fines are unusually high, but Green also pointed to the system's longstanding funding challenges as an important aspect of the fare evasion problem.

"We know we're high, if not the highest," Green said, noting that fares account for around 60 per cent of TTC revenue.

"[Fare evasion] hits us in a way that perhaps other cities don't experience."

TTC bylaws that include set fines for fare evasion are approved by a court before going into effect, Green added. The money collected also goes into city coffers, and not towards the TTC itself.

The TTC said it also levies the $235 fine much more often than the $425 fine, though the TTC did not provide figures showing how often the most severe penalty is handed out.

A person who attempted to tap an empty Presto card would likely face the lower fine, Green said, while an adult fraudulently using a child Presto card might be subject to the highest penalty.

When asked if he would support lower fines, Tory said he has not seen any evidence that smaller fines would reduce fare evasion.

"I would encourage [TTC CEO Rick Leary] and others to revisit that if they wish," he said.