TransLink rolled out its Compass card system to all users in January.

No sign SkyTrain fare evaders are paying up: critic

TransLink report shows fare revenue was flat in January through March despite Compass rollout

TransLink has yet to record any significant jump in transit fare revenue from reduced fare evasion since the Compass card system was fully rolled out in January.

The first three months of 2016 saw TransLink collect $91.1 million in fare revenue, an increase of just 0.1 per cent or $63,000 from the same period of 2015, according to TransLink’s first quarter report.

Langley City Coun. Nathan Pachal argues it’s an early indication smart card and faregates system won’t come anywhere close to recovering their capital and maintenance costs from fare evasion, which has been previously estimated at around $7 million a year.

“It’s costing more than if we didn’t have it in place,” Pachal said of the $194-million system. “For South of the Fraser communities, that’s money that could have been invested in buses.”

He noted TransLink officials had initially opposed installing faregates, forecasting they would not pay for themselves, until they were overruled by then-Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon in 2007.

“The whole point is TransLink said this is a bad idea, the province said it’s a good idea and here we are how many years later and we have a system that isn’t doing what the province promised it would do,” Pachal said. “I think the province has some responsibility on this because they’re the guys that pushed this forward.”

TransLink did not fully close off unstaffed faregates until early April, so Pachal acknowledges it would have been easier for fare evaders to avoid paying up until then.

“I still see people who evade fares even with the faregates, they just tailgate behind other people,” Pachal said.

TransLink spokesperson Cheryl Ziola said there’s been a seven per cent increase in fare revenues since the faregates closed in early April.

“The Compass fare gates were not introduced strictly as a fare evasion measure,” she said. “They also provide accurate and real-time travel data, ridership numbers and payment convenience for passengers. This data enables our planning experts to design routes and services to better meet demand.”

The quarterly report shows TransLink budgeted $4.9 million less in transit fare revenue than it actually collected for January to March.

The transportation authority had anticipated a drop in fare revenue to less than $87 million in those three months, mainly because the Compass card gives stored value users the same discount as old prepaid FareSaver tickets. That means riders who previously bought full-price cash tickets now pay less with Compass.

The report says the quarterly increase in fare revenue versus what was budgeted is “attributable to an increase in usage either through higher ridership or reduced fare evasion.”

It’s not clear how much if any revenue TransLink lost from its decision last fall to charge just one zone for all bus trips, providing a break to passengers on bus routes that cross two or three zones.