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Deep dive: fare evasion and enforcement on the TTC

Last Updated Feb 20, 2020 at 6:25 pm EST

With yet another altercation between TTC transit officers and a streetcar rider making headlines in recent weeks, concerns are being raised about the transit agency’s enforcement staff, the extent of their powers as well as fare evasion enforcement policies as a whole.

Adding to the ongoing discourse about fare evasion is a highly visible new TTC advertisement campaign that states, “There’s no excuse not to pay your fare,” which has been seen in subway cars and plastered onto to entire streetcars. Transit advocates and riders alike are calling the campaign a waste of money as well as privileged and exclusionary.

Duties and authorities of transit enforcement staff

There are four types of transit enforcement staff: transit patrol, fare inspection, system security, and training and administration.

The staff responsible for law enforcement and security are designated as special constables.

When it comes to enforcement, its important to note that TTC special constables and TTC fare inspectors do not have the same level of authority.

Special constables are sworn in by the Toronto Police Services Board under the Police Services Act, and are granted limited police powers.

This means they have the same powers as police officers to enforce specific sections of the:

  • Criminal Code – sections 495, 496, and 497. Subsections 495(3) and 497(3) of that Act, apply to the Special Constable as if he/she is a peace officer.
  • Mental Health Act – sections 16 and 17.
  • Liquor Licence Act – subsections 31(5)36(1), 47(1) and 47(1.1) and 48.
  • Trespass to Property Act – section 9

 

Fare enforcement officers are not involved in law enforcement and security, are not designated as special constables and do not have police powers.

As per a TTC recruitment listing, their main duties are:

  • Inspecting customer’s proof-of-payment on the TTC’s streetcar network
  • Connecting and working collaboratively with other TTC employees

 

In reference to recent violent incidents involving enforcement staff and riders, TTC CEO Rick Leary says while special constables have the legal authority to use force, it is never the first choice.

“We work on ‘do they have to?’ [use force]. Is there a way of deescalating, bringing the situation down? [Force] is a last resort,” he says, adding that he thinks the special constables and fare enforcement officers are doing a commendable job so far.

“I’ve been riding with them and I’ve witnessed — sometimes people get a little nasty to them and the way they hold their demeanor — it’s very impressive,” he says.

A recent report presented to the TTC Audit and Risk Management Committee outlined an objective to deploy plainclothes special constables to help with fare enforcement.

Leary said they will be part of a support team for uniformed officers.

“A lot of times we want to have people out there just to support our fare inspectors, they’re undercover. We like to have them there just to witness what’s going on, to see exactly what’s happening on these vehicles. And when they report back to us that they see people not paying, it allows us to properly deploy our staff.”

Councillor Brad Bradford, who also sits on the TTC board, adds that training protocols for all officers are updated on an ongoing basis.

“I know the priority has to be deescalation. They’re very highly trained professionals and that training is continuing to evolve based on feedback and recommendations from our ombudsman. That training is underway and has been rolled out across the commission,” he tells CityNews.

“Safety has to be the priority, we want to deescalate situations whenever possible. Nobody wants to see violent altercations on the TTC.”

Anti-fare evasion ad campaign

The TTC has launched an advertisement campaign aimed at making riders aware that they must always pay their fare, under any and all circumstances.

Opinions about the campaign online have been divided on whether it is a necessary evil or entirely unnecessary.

But many point out that faulty machines which often make it difficult to pay, poor service and various issues with the Presto system are more pressing issues.

 

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director for transit advocacy group TTCriders, also says the ad campaign does not get to the root of the problem.

“The TTC is unaffordable and that’s because it’s the least subsidized major transit system in North America. That means it is the most reliant on riders to pay for the operating budget. That needs to change,” she tells CityNews.

She said the low-income fare pass is a good first step in tackling the affordability issue, but it has not been fully rolled out yet and does not go far enough.

“Other cities in Canada like Calgary have a sliding scale pass from $5 to $50 and we know that other Canadian cities — their regular monthly pass is actually less expensive than our discounted low-income fare pass.”

Pizey-Allen said the onus needs to be put on the “fund evaders” — the politicians, who need to commit to proper funding for the TTC.

“I think people are rightly frustrated and upset by this ad campaign that puts the blame on transit users who maybe cant afford to pay their fare or who are encountering faulty Presto gates,” Pizey-Allen says. “We need to be putting the blame where it belongs which is on politicians who are under funding transit.”

She adds that hiring more fare inspectors and an ad campaign are not going to fix these fundamental problems.

Bradford says he’s not sure if the campaign will be effective, but they have to try all methods available to prevent fare evasion, including such ads.

“I think we need to try everything. I’ve heard feedback that this is upsetting for folks, but at the same time we do need a culture shift,” he says. “When there’s that much fraudulent activity we need to take steps and creating the educational campaign around that — that we have a culture of fare evasion and that’s something that’s really problematic — that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Leary said the campaign is a necessary reminder for people, given that the TTC lost over $73 million to fare evasion in 2019.

“The campaign of reinforcing and reminding people of their obligation — I think it’s a subtle campaign from the standpoint that ‘you could be fined,’ we have to remind people of that,” he says, adding that awareness is a big part of the campaign.

TTCriders says they will be launching their own spoof “fund evasion” awareness campaign, mirroring the TTC campaign’s messaging, but flipping it to reflect what they believe to be the real issues that need to be tackled.

High fines for fare evasion

Whether you actually choose not to pay your fare, can’t afford to pay it or forget to tap your Presto card — it’s all considered fare evasion.

If you’re caught, the fines for fare evasion on the TTC range between $235 to $425 — considerably higher than many traffic offences which are arguably a lot more serious and can endanger lives.

Fine amounts are recommended by the TTC through their board. The recommendations then require approval of the regional senior judge who can and has modified TTC recommended amounts in the past.

If a person challenges a fare evasion ticket, is convicted, or pleads guilty, the actual fine is then determined by the court and can be the maximum amount prescribed under the Provincial Offences Act.

Pizey-Allen says the fine amounts are simple not fair or commensurate to the offence.

“It’s not fair for someone to get such an expensive ticket if the machine was out of order and for people who can’t afford the fare, it’s an incredibly high fine.”

Leary, however, says he believes the high fines are warranted.

“[The fine amount] just shows the criticality of the need to pay your fare,” he says. “When people think that they don’t need to pay a fare and they can get away with it 50, 60, 70 times and then worry about a ticket — you want to make sure people know right away that there’s a significant ticket coming. I think it’s warranted. I think people have to understand that it’s critical they pay their fare.”

Presto problems and fare evasion

Since the Presto system was rolled out almost 10 years ago, it has been plagued with various issues including faulty card readers and failing gates.

A 2019 auditor general’s report outlined high rates of failure and “information gaps” between Metrolinx and the TTC as the main causes for lost revenue.

Pizey-Allen adds that Presto has also made it much more difficult for people to actually pay their fares by removing some modes of payment entirely.

“It’s good to remember that the TTC did not want to go with Presto. The provincial government imposed it on the TTC,” she says, adding that the TTC reportedly wanted to use an open payment system. “Presto is basically already outdated – people can’t pay with their credit and debit card.”

Bradford admits there are challenges with paying via Presto and not being able to pay with credit or debit has complicated the issue further.

“The TTC is rolling out this enforcement and ad campaign but Presto is to blame for a large part of what’s going on,” says Pizey-Allen.