The creation of a new fine relief fund is the top mitigation measure being considered by TransLink to reduce the impact of fare evasion penalties, specifically the disproportionate impact for low-income individuals.
A new TransLink staff report seeks board of directors’ approval this week on the continued planning of several of fare infraction penalty mitigation measures, but in ways that preserve the fare enforcement system to ensure any relief is not detrimental to fare revenue, which typically covers 58% of operating costs.
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“… Fares [are] integral to funding the operation of the transit system. The scheme helps ensure that people who do not pay their fares face the consequences if caught and helps preserve the integrity of requiring fare payment,” reads the report.
“The general public and TransLink customers provide frequent feedback about the need for TransLink to address fare evasion. Without a proper mechanism in place to deter fare evasion, the integrity of TransLink’s fare system and revenue would be at risk of being compromised.”
Currently, fare infraction notices (FIN) for fare evasion and a provincial violation ticket (PVT) for misusing fare gates both carry a fine of $173, with the FIN if left unpaid reaching up to $273 after 366 days and restricting an individual from renewing their driver’s license or vehicle insurance.
With the preferred option of a new fine relief fund, low-income individuals could apply for funding to pay their $173 fine, which would be funded by TransLink and donations, and administered through a partnership with not-for-profit organizations. The potential amount of funding for this program has yet to be established.
“The financial impact of this option is dependent on the amount TransLink contributes to the fund, though funds will ultimately be paid back to TransLink through FIN payments,” reads the report.
“Since this option would be administered by a third party, TransLink’s ongoing administrative time and costs relating to this option would be minimal.”
Other possible options recommended by TransLink staff for further development include allowing fines to be reduced based on income, with low-income individuals submitting documentation proofing low-income status to TransLink to seek a reduced fine. This likely requires further approval from the Mayors’ Council and provincial government.
A third option recommended for exploration is the expansion of TransLink’s existing support programs for low-income individuals, which are funded by both TransLink and Transit Police.
Transit Police officers currently carry up to 10 Compass tickets each shift and have the discretion to distribute these tickets to individuals during their shift, usually for someone who is found fare evading and cannot afford the fare. These tickets are also carried by SkyTrain attendants.
TransLink and BC Housing each have a $50,000 annual fund that provides single-use Compass tickets for homeless individuals to access shelters, work, services, and appointments. During the 2018-2019 season, ticket requests were three times higher than the amount of tickets available.
Another $50,000 is provided by the public transit authority annually to fund community donation requests, mostly towards single-use Compass tickets. TransLink also allows organizations to acquire bulk Compass tickets at stored value rates, and about 600 organizations are participating in this program, including many organizations supporting youth or low-income individuals.
Due to COVID-19, TransLink cancelled this year’s $40,000 contribution of single-use Compass tickets to vulnerable elementary and high school students in need of transportation, and a planned six-month pilot program that would allow Transit Police to offer up to $20,000 worth of single-use Compass tickets to passengers at their point of need was also deferred.
Altogether in 2019, TransLink provided about $100,000 in support of providing fares to disadvantaged people.
Separately, however, the City of Vancouver is conducting its own free transit pilot program for about 400 low-income people, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Union of BC Municipalities.
TransLink staff have dismissed the option of reduced fines based on age and rejected the idea of abolishing the public transit authority’s fine collection mechanism of asking ICBC to refuse to issue or renew driver’s license or vehicle insurance for an individual with an unpaid fine.
The report states the approach of pursuing non-compliant individuals through ICBC is necessary to enforce fare evasion fine payment. This mechanism results in a 65% compliance in fine payment, compared to 6% when the non-compliant individual is referred to a collection agency.
The public transit authority began exploring new fare infraction penalty mitigation measures after it received complaints from community advocates over the impact of fines on low-income individuals.
According to TransLink data, the number of fare evasion tickets issued to youth has steadily decreased annually from 1,828 (7% of all tickets) in 2013 to 482 (3% of all tickets) in 2019. This year to date, 159 of these tickets have been issued to youth.
Youth account for 3% of FIN tickets and 5% of PVT tickets but are estimated to be responsible for between 6% and 12% of total systemwide journeys.
During the recent election campaign, the BC NDP majority provincial government promised to expand free transit for children up to age 12 on both the TransLink and BC Transit systems. Currently, free fares are available for young children under the age of five and discounted concession fares are offered up to 18 years old and over the age of 65.
TransLink estimates the expansion of free transit to those up to age 12 will cost between $5 million and $10 million annually in lost fare revenue. The BC NDP previously suggested it could provide an annual subsidy to account for this revenue decrease.
The provincial government is also considering expanding the eligibility for the BC Bus Pass program, which is currently offered to low-income seniors and individuals on disability assistance at a cost of $45 annually.