Photo by Oran

PubliCola breaks down a Metro report claiming that 88,000 riders a week (4.8%) fail to pay their entire fare,  and over 60% of those pay no fare at all (Metro has about 400,000 boardings per weekday).  The annual cost is $3.2m a year, assuming that about 30% evaders would not ride if enforcement were in place.  Orphan road also has a (shorter) summary if you prefer.  More after the jump.

The data was collected by all Metro operators tracking evasions using their farebox. Each base (except DART and Vashon) collected data on one weekday and one weekend day last winter.  There are some types of evasion (like misused transfers) that were not easily detectable and therefore not counted.

There isn’t much fare evasion research, but other agencies (who may have used different methodology) report:

The reported percentages of trips that are evaded vary greatly: Toronto (0.7 percent), Vancouver, BC (2.5 percent), San Francisco (3.3 percent), Los Angeles (5 percent), and Portland, (8.2 percent).

On Metro-operated Sound Transit routes the rate is 4.1%, but that’s largely due to partial payment.

Metro also asked operators what to do about it:

In response to a survey, transit operators identified the following as their top ideas for reducing fare evasion: fare simplification (eliminating zones and peak surcharges), eliminating the Ride Free Area (and its pay-on-exit policy), and more Transit police and fare checkers.

Metro is also planning a fare-inspection system, similar to Link, on RapidRide.

All I’d say about the solutions is that it’s important to recognize that, however unjust it may be, fare evasion in itself is not the problem here*.  It’s the c0ncurrent loss of revenue, and to a lesser extent the tendency of some fare evaders to disrupt the bus in other ways.  As a result, any attempt to address the problem needs cost/benefit analysis to see if it actually improves the budget situation.

The exception I’d make is for transit police, who have additional salutary effects that are more difficult to quantify.  Recovering even a fraction of that $3.2m would pay for a few teams of transit police riding different buses day and night, which has merit even if it has no net impact on Metro’s budget situation.

*To clarify, as a rider I care that Metro maximizes its net revenue and keeps disruptive riders off the bus.  If those objectives are met I don’t care what the fare evasion rate is.

66 Replies to “New Fare Evasion Estimate”

  1. I wonder if the 8% estimate for Portland was based on data before or after free bus fares within Fareless Square were eliminated?

    Also, while the report mentioned a low percentage of passengers leaving through the rear doors on pay when exiting buses, it did not address passengers who enter from the rear doors on pay when entering buses.

  2. Metro’s policy appears to be that operators are not to make much of an effort to enforce fares. In my experience in travelling on NYC and NJ Transit buses, their operators enforce fare payment to a far greater extent than does Metro. Could it be a self-fulfilling result, that fare evaders in King County know they will not be challenged?

    1. Carl, to what degree can an operator enforce? Shout? Yell? Shake fists? Threaten fare evaders with a gun?

      1. Inform the evader that they need to leave the bus or the police will be called. Either the person leaves or the bus waits and get arrested/fined. Yes some people would be inconvenienced while the bus just sat there, but with enough arrests that should sort itself out.

      2. What I’ve seen in other places (and even here, although to a very limited extent) is that the operator will remind the individual who boarded without paying that they need to pay. The operator then doesn’t go anywhere until the would-be evader either pays or leaves the bus.

        Also, I noticed in Chicago that passengers are far more likely to say something about someone who skips fare by boarding through the rear doors. I suspect that this is probably because there are no scenarios during which rear-door boarding is normally acceptable, and ignorance or confusion is highly unlikely given a system where everyone always pays when they board, contributing to a “bus culture” that is less tolerant toward fare evasion. I’m sure it also helps that law enforcement maintains a visible presence in Chicago as opposed to the situation we have here.

      3. What I have experienced in NY and NJ is that the operator doesn’t move the bus until the fare is paid, and if it isn’t paid or is short, the operator will state the expectation of payment in a reasonably commanding voice. There seems to be good compliance. And of course fare is charged on boarding.

        I understand that it’s not done in our area to avoid confrontations, but does it just create an expectation that payment isn’t required? They have the same stickers that assault of an operator is a felony, so I don’t think there’s a big difference in assualt levels. Maybe it creates a greater level of respect for the authority of the operator if riders have to comply with fares.

        I’m not saying I know what’s right: I’m just pointing out that Metro operators are much less assertive about fares than what I experience on some other systems. Probably a certain level of evasion is a direct result of this, and perhaps that’s a worthwhile tradeoff, I don’t know.

      4. I think it’s just a culture change, Sherwin. Instead of being wishy-washy, bus operators would inform (and be empowered to inform) would-be evaders in a clear, firm, voice loud enough for other passengers to hear that they must either pay or get off the bus; that the bus isn’t moving until they do one or the other; and that police will be called while the bus sits. The ensuing cold stares from other passengers go a long way toward resolving the situation. Eventually people will stop assuming they can board without paying. I’d be curious to see some fare evasion numbers for systems east of the Mississippi, which I think are less accommodating to scofflaws. I know I see fare evasion pretty regularly here, and can hardly think of a single problem in 20+ years of riding CTA buses—where you board in front and don’t board if you can’t pay.

        And I completely concur that adding transit police is attractive because of the impact it could have on overall civility and decorum, which is a real problem on Metro buses and which certainly has a negative impact on ridership. I’m curious as to what the tipping point is in terms of investment and fare-evasion reduction.

      5. Hampton Roads Transit (the agency where I live in Virginia) doesn’t seem to have as much of a fare evasion issue because operators expect us to put our $1.50 in the box (granted: we don’t have peak hour or zone charges; all we have is $1.50 / ride or $3.50 / all-day pass – no transfers are offered).

        Operators are very good about insisting that you pay your bus fare, but I have no specific percentages on fare evasion data, just what I witness when I ride the bus.

      6. As a rider, I’ve had Metro operators not move the bus until someone who is not paying pays. I know that’s not really the policy, but it’s happened. I hate it. Collective punishment is what it is, and I don’t appreciate having to wait because of someone else. I think one of the highest objectives should be to keep the fare-paying people moving efficiently.

      7. I think in NYC the expectation is that the riders will direct their anger toward the evader, rather than the bus driver. Because everyone knows that you’re supposed to pay.

      8. If you are so inconvenienced by it Matt, then get up and pay for the loser yourself and the bus will get a rolling again!

    2. Have you been around Seattle long enough to remember the bus that went off of the Aurora bridge when the driver was shot and killed? See here. Several passengers were injured and one died as a result of his injuries. Do you really want me, as a driver, to put my passengers in danger if a fare dispute gets out of hand? Make no mistake, if I start to get pushy about fares that is exactly what I’m doing. I’ve had the relatively tame reminders that I issue instantly turn into a one-sided shouting match that I have to backpedal out of. Without the police there all I can do is write it up and keep an eye out for the miscreant.

      The real solution, as has been outlined many times before, is a proof of payment system with random fare enforcement done by the police and/or well-trained security backed up by the police when necessary.

      1. That’s why I find the contrast in NY and NJ so jarring, even in Calif to some degree: the drivers to confront non-paying riders and the riders seem to comply. I’m surprised each time I see it, but it doesn’t seem to lead to any more violent incidents than letting the non-payers meekly onto the bus.

      2. We’ve been so weak kneed and liberal minded toward these fare evading losers, that it is easy for them to get in your face when you ask for a fare. I have gotten in more than a few shouting matches regarding non payment. I generally take it easy on the ones that come up short on occasion, but the repeaters I have gotten more staucnh with as of late. I’ve even started to just pass up the few that never pay!!! Luckily, after more than fifteen years behind the wheel, I have never been assaulted physically, and have had few complaints for being more aggresive toward collecting full fare. Many drivers have just given up on it!

      3. Why blatantly violate policy, inconvenience passengers and put yourself in danger?

        Perhaps it’s not a matter of drivers having “given up” – but of wanting to do their jobs well, a job that does NOT include getting into shouting matches with customers over fares, or even passing up passengers because you don’t think they’ll pay.

        Seriously – why waste your energy on this? You’re not expected to play hard-ass over fares. In fact, you’re expected NOT to. What’s the point?

  3. …”however unjust it may be, fare evasion in itself is not the problem here.”
    I’m not sure if you really mean that, given it leads to the real problem, which is lack of revenue, and disruptive behavior by riders that don’t pay.
    The drivers have it right on all points. Simplify the fare and payment method (as you enter – no exceptions)then work on speeding up the entry process with off-board payment systems at really busy stops, more doors on buses, and fare checkers for proof of payment to keep the system ‘mostly’ honest.
    C’mon, how may people do you see refusing to pay at the theater entrance, or at the QFC checkout counter. It’s a perception thing. Metro is lax about it, so it happens a lot. QFC will call security in a heartbeat.
    If you really mean that, then would it be OK with you to continue letting it happen, and just let someone else pick up the tab, like other riders with higher fares, or maybe another round of tax increases?

    1. In Stockholm during peak periods there are fare inspectors at busy stops. They stand at the back door of a bus and check smart cards and stamp other passes allowing for two door boarding. Maybe something like this could be used if Metro wanted to get rid of the ride free area.

      1. I remember in Frankfurt as a child there would be fare inspectors who would choose a long segment to double check tickets on the buses, U-bahns, etc. Do we have roving fare inspectors?

      2. This was used in the Seattle Transit era at many major bus-stops downtown in the afternoon rush from WWII until just after the Worlds Fair, if I recall correctly. Worked great!

    2. Mike,

      If Metro finds a policy equilibrium that maximizes net revenue and keeps disruptive elements off the bus there’s no reason to care what the evasion rate is.

      1. Well, I guess that answers it. In your scenerio, the honest people are charged more, and will probably pay it, maybe some cops keep the roudy’s in check and revenue is higher than before, so “no problem” anymore. Don’t check the evasion rates, because – Who cares!
        I think a lot of passengers would eject you from the bus for standing on a soap box in the middle of the isle, trying to convince them that cheaters don’t matter.

      2. I don’t think you’re thinking through this carefully enough. If reducing fare evasion is a first-order concern than we should be willing to spend money to reduce it. If evasion is widespread then by definition Metro is not maximizing revenue.

        Leaving aside disruptive riders, does it makes sense for Metro to spend more money on fare enforcement than it receives in new fares? If your answer is “no” you agree with me.

    3. What a goofy comparison! The theater doesn’t grind to a halt while the ticket taker waits for someone to pay. Nor is she/he alone if the person decides to get rough.

      The grocery store doesn’t grind to a halt when someone refuses to pay. Nor is the cashier alone.

      Even the transit security folks don’t want to confront riders without backup.

      You may be a toughie, Mike, but can we expect all operators to be a physical presence? Should it be a job requirement?

      If the bus just stood still every time someone refused to pay, routes would run late, people would be late for work, etc. Soon, people who need to get to work on time would give up on the bus, and Metro would lose revenue hand over fist.

      Indeed, the cost to Metro of delaying a route by a minute is roughly the value of the fare. And that’s not including the collective value of the riders’ time.

      Hit the secret “police response” button if you care to, but please don’t delay the route.

  4. It looks like the routes with the most need for more police presence are also the routes that have the most fare evasion. So you can kill two birds with one stone. Improve safety while also improving revenue. Although as you said the extra fares might not cover the full cost o the extra police. One more thing that could be done is to better publicize the consequences of no paying. Is it just a fine or something else?

    1. More visible security would lead to more people feeling comfortable riding. Hiring an extra security person is partially offset by extra revenue.

      1. I don’t know about that. I remember riding a bus in Puerto Rico and saw soldiers at every corner with M-16s. LOTS of security but I felt pretty sure I had made a mistake venturing outside the traditional touristy areas…

    2. Years ago when I was active with the security committee at South Base we tried to get non-payment of fare data from the fare box delivered to us to see if it could be useful as a tool to deploy security emphasis teams. I presumed that it would give us evasion numbers sorted by route and trip# from which we could determine time of day and route of the evasion taking place. It seemed reasonable to deploy what limited security teams we had to where the problems were. Further we assumed that other behavior problems were present where fare evasion took place making the security deployment even more likely to have a real impact.

      There was resistance to this (never was able to determine why) and we finally got a single report which was months old and not of any use to us without many hours of additional time manually going over many pages of raw data – the effort went no-where.

      Some of us on the committee got burned out trying to get our security to be more pro-active instead of only reacting to events after they happened. Our transfer policy and no requirment to have proof of payment on your person when using transit (bus) makes it impossible to cite anyone who has not paid the proper fare without an officer actually witnessing the crime when it happens.

      I still think that being creative with tools and technologies we already have could be very effective lowering the evasion rate. Even a little effort if visible will go a long way to deter most of the fare evasion that occurs.

  5. It seems to me that evasions on Metro could be drastically cut if we did away with the ride-free area (though not politically correct at the moment). Then everyone would have to pay upon entry and, I assume, be denied transportation if not paying. Then again, I take METRO mostly during commuting hours and I haven’t seen anyone get on the inbound bus and not pay, but is it METRO’s policy to let someone on without paying (inbound or after hours)? What if they say they have no money? What if they obviously look indigent? If it is METRO’s policy to give such individuals a free pass, then there will continue to be fare “evaders”. Fare-inspection system? Now how would THAT work on a METRO bus where no receipts are given for cash fares and currently fares are collected at the end of an oubound run?

    1. RapidRide fare collection will work more like Link’s, requiring an orca card or paid ticket, with no cash fare on board. So fare inspection will be done via ticket show or card reading. Basically RapidRide will be Link on tires…

      1. You’re thinking of Swift.

        RapidRide buses will have fareboxes on board. Only a few RapidRide stops will have ORCA validators and none will have ticket machines. In fact, the photo above is of a farebox on a RapidRide bus.

      2. Metro is considering having ticket machines at some stops, but due to budget problems it’s wise to be skeptical.

    2. Under a fare-checker system, nobody would be denied transportation, but a ticket (fine) would be issued for failure to pay. I have not heard of such a fine being levied on a bus (other than SWIFT). Nor do I know if poverty is an acceptable appeal against the fine.

      The political difficulty of eliminating the RFZ, besides the large cost of equipment, would be how to handle the indigent. I would say that denying the poor access to public transit is not only politically incorrect now, but it will never become politically correct.

      I would fully be in favor of giving out ORCA cards to those who need them, with a warning that cards given out in this manner can be confiscated for misbehavior on the bus, and to warn the recipients that there is no expectation of privacy as to the tracking abilities of ORCA. If someone decided to sell their ORCA card, and then go back for another free one, the system will show they already got one, and they’d be denied an extra.

      If they say they lost theirs, the value of the original one would be checked, the remaining value transferred to the replacement card, and the sap who bought the card would get ripped off. It would serve him right. Heck, maybe the card reader could give a different tone to signify “This card has been reported lost.”

      1. And that’s the difference between NYC and Seattle. In NYC, nobody has any problem denying access to those who can’t pay for it. If you can panhandle $2.25 worth of change, you get to ride the subway, if not, too bad. The system is considered a transportation system, not a social service.

      2. Public transit is subsidized by the government/taxpayers. So, either it really is a social service, or all of us are fare evaders.

  6. It’s my understanding that it is metro policy to never deny transportation to anyone.

    This is a well-meaning policy that, like service-animal policy and a few other similar things, is easy to abuse and impossible to question people on.

    The problem is Metro truly is a social service that serves different communities differently, is severely underfunded, a political hot potato, and expected to run like a business.

    As many gripes as I have with the way Metro is run and managed, it’s no surprise things are a mess, and it’s a dangerous and thankless job I think most sane people generally would avoid.

    1. “like service-animal policy” Pets are allowed on Metro. But you have to pay an extra fare if you bring a large dog.

      1. It doesn’t matter how big the dog is – they just have to not take up space that can be occupied by another rider. My wife and I travel with our 55 pounder on our laps to save $2.25, and we could fit probably twice as much dog on our laps space.

    2. @Andrew – “It’s my understanding that it is metro policy to never deny transportation to anyone.”
      If that is in fact the case, perhaps it is time to rid ourselves of fare collection completely, something proposed by Herman Adalist when he ran for Mayor 40 years ago.

  7. If they are going to eliminate the Ride Free Area for buses, they should enable it for Link, where it is much easier to determine (based on tag in and tag out locations).

    But by that rationale, why do they need to eliminate it at all? Why not enact the same tag-in, tag-out system for buses? With the Bus Time Tracker location tracking for buses already in existence, the readers ought to be able to determine clearly whether a rider traveled entirely in the RFA or not. You’d have to have an orca card, even an empty one, to ride the RFA, but it would still be free, and Metro would lose less fare.

    Still a 3% no-pay rate is pretty good. What’s the average rate of shoplifting losses in retail?

    1. (does a quick search) 1.7% on average. But that’s for shrinkage – shoplifting is a much smaller percentage of loss compared to employee theft. Speaking of which, how many bus drivers pay their fare? (kidding, I would hope a bus pass is a perk of the job)

      1. As a retail manager I have to speak up about the shoplifting vs. employee theft statement.

        The claim that employee theft makes up a bigger portion of shrinkage than shoplifters is wrong, because it is only based on the number of thieves who get CAUGHT. Shoplifters never get caught; even if employees see a shoplifter snatching something, our only recourse is to try and embarrass them into putting it back.

        Employees, on the other hand, are under constant surveillance due to the widespread corporate belief that employees are not to be trusted. A manager can stop and detain an employee in exactly the way that an employee cannot detain a customer. Thus, employee theft is caught at a much higher rate than customer theft.

  8. One of the fare evasion systems is people that save up their transfers and reuse them when the appropriate color comes up. I have seen numerous people with envelopes full of old transfers, ratty though they may be, boarding and deboarding. One system might be the fare cards like Vancouver transit has, where the card is only good for two hours or so.

    With more and more people using ORCA or similar prepaid cards, maybe it is time to move away from free downtown. One of the reasons for free downtown was to reduce the loading time at the concentrated stops downtown. ORCA is fast enough to significantly reduce this delay. Make the back doors exit only, with enough transit fuzz to make this rule stick.

    1. Ome more comment: the Charlie card in Boston offers free transfers and reduced rates, encouraging people to use prepaid cards. Maybe it is time to do that here.

    2. Transfer colors aren’t the only way transfers are different. The colored transfers are single letter and then double letter plus all the different colors. Yes, I suppose someone could have two dozen transfers in a specially designed transfer holder, but I think it’s highly unlikely.

      1. I have seen people carrying bunches of color coded envelopes and pouches under their jackets, looking through them like someone peddling fake watches, to match at least the color and time period, if not the code letter. I doubt the driver looks at much more than the color and whether the length of the transfer slip is reasonable. Again, the driver isn’t looking for a fight. Metro Fuzz is the proper way to solve the problem.

        In Boston, a cash fare does not get a free transfer. A prepaid paper card gets a transfer, and a Charlie card, like our ORCA, gets reduced fare, along with transfers.

      2. You are profoundly naive – stand at any bus stop in the retail core from about 2:00 until 8:00 and watch closely the scum from all walks of life comparing and trading transfers.

      3. Oh please, just because someone is trying to get out of paying $2.25+ doesn’t make them “scum”. (I recycled transfers for months and months when money was tight.)

      4. I always give my transfers and parking meter passes to others if they’re still valid. I was inspired by a Depression-era photograph I saw of a streetcar stop, which had thousands of transfers people had stuck in a fence to help each other save what little money they had. Not a bad idea in modern times, eh?

        Pretty scummy of me, though. Sorry, Seattle.

      5. Not a bad idea at all: it helped drive the streetcar companies to bankruptcy and abandonment of their systems, likely resulting in many of their employees losing their jobs.

  9. I don’t mean to be the heartless one here but I agree with you Martin, however I would take things one step farther…

    Bottom line, Metro is losing money (worse than ST but pity poor Portland). If people are going disrupt a bus ride because they aren’t going to pay, those people shouldn’t be allowed to board the bus in the first place. I would eliminate the free ride zone. People should pay at the front door when entering and exit through the rear door when leaving. If someone doesn’t have a fare, tell them that I’m sorry but you have to pay.

    I have far too many friends in both Europe and Asia that spend a disproportionate amount of their income on buses and trains to get to and from work. On most subways, we need either an Orca-type card or have to pay for a ticket. On most buses (at least the ones I was on), if you didn’t have your Ocra-type card or correct change, you were not allowed to board the bus.

  10. Publicola didn’t break anything down. They just presented the flashy stats with no analysis of the tradeoffs involved in fare evasion enforcement. You broke that down in far better detail.

  11. Is Metro ever going to get rid of monthly PugetPasses, paper transfers, or ticket books? ORCA should render all of these moot, if Metro weren’t so timid. (By timid, I mean they can’t even straighten out a bus route, like the 22, if so much as one citizen complains.)

    If the problem with ticket books is that they don’t expire, then have a buyback period where ticket books are converted into ORCA e-purse loads, and waive the card purchase fee. But at least stop printing new ones.

    The time required for change fumbling is arguably as expensive as the fare evasion. If we make it financially advantageous for everyone to get ORCA, nearly everyone will do so, the routes will move faster and more dependably, and we’ll be able to convert the time savings into additional service.

  12. Keep the RFA, just make all passengers get off/on the bus at the last ride free stop. Yes, it will take time and yes, everyone without a fare will have to walk the rest of the way.

  13. I’m with Martin that eliminating fare evasion is not necessarily a primary goal here.

    I’m all for it if we can improve safety, and $3.2m a year is a nice chunk of money…

    On the other hand, it is a TINY percentage of Metro’s overall budget, and not an unacceptable level of evasion.

    1. Unacceptable can’t be judged without context. Is there a comprehensive site of fare evasion percentages across systems? I have seen numbers cited of 2%-5% being the range, but without details…

      1. No, there isn’t a comprehensive study, just the numbers I quoted above.

  14. Lose the RFA, except on LINK in the tunnel. Just like Portland and St. Louis.

    Problem solved.

    You’re welcome.

  15. Did anyone catch the interview with Kevin Desomond on KUOW yesterday? I was surprised to hear him say that the fare evasion problem as it relates to pay as-you-leave buses is not in Seattle, but “at the end of the line.”

    The piece starts at 6:26 and Desmond says that the fare evasion problem relative to pay upon exit buses “is not in Seattle” but when passengers are expected to pay “at the end of the line” when exiting:

    Either Desmond is confused or I am. It seems to me that pay as-you-leave presents an issue anywhere outside the RFA boundaries for outbound buses since passengers can exit without paying anywhere along the line – not just outside Seattle or at the end of the line.

    1. Oops, meant to say that the part about the problem not being in Seattle is at about 9:16.

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