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Nearly $75K in OC Transpo fare evasion tickets late last year

A report to Ottawa's transit commission says inspectors issued 287 tickets at $260 each in 39 days between Oct. 11 and Dec. 12, 2023. (Melanie Campeau/CBC - image credit)
A report to Ottawa's transit commission says inspectors issued 287 tickets at $260 each in 39 days between Oct. 11 and Dec. 12, 2023. (Melanie Campeau/CBC - image credit)

A report to Ottawa's transit commission said OC Transpo fare inspectors issued 287 tickets adding up to nearly $75,000 in fines over 39 days this past autumn.

The data comes from what the city said was a normal level of fare enforcement between Oct. 11 and Dec. 12, 2023.

Inspectors gave 212 $260 tickets to LRT riders and 75 to bus riders, according to the report: an average of about seven tickets or $1,910 per day.

Transit services said the fines will help close what's become a "permanent gap" in annual revenue and operational costs.

Ridership hasn't rebounded to the same levels as other major cities, leaving the service having to come up with tens of millions of dollars to cover the fact it's fallen short of projections.

The report also outlines a new "fare compliance initiative" that started Jan. 5: two enforcement officers issuing tickets, supported by two special constables.

The initiative is testing the mix of resources needed for fare enforcement and other offences on transit network such as open liquor and trespassing.

A pilot in December yielded 11 fare tickets, nine liquor-related offences, seven trespassing offences and two arrests.

The initiative will continue until the end of April 2024, when its data and effectiveness will be reviewed.

Targeting the wrong people

A transit advocacy group said fare tickets are the wrong priority and OC Transpo should focus on improving service if it wants to dissuade turnstile jumpers and fare evaders.

"Our transit system is in this sort of death spiral right now where the fares keep going up and the quality of the service keeps going down," said Kari Glynes Elliott, co-founder of Ottawa Transit Riders.

She said given OC Transpo's track record, it's no wonder people aren't paying.

"I would imagine that a lot of people choosing not to pay are probably doing so because they've been waiting an hour for a bus that's supposed to come every eight minutes," she said.

Kari Glynes Elliott is the co-founder and a board member of the advocacy group Ottawa Transit Riders.
Kari Glynes Elliott is the co-founder and a board member of the advocacy group Ottawa Transit Riders.

Kari Glynes Elliott of Ottawa Transit Riders says issuing tickets doesn't get to the root of the problem and OC Transpo should focus on improving service instead. (Jean-François Benoît/CBC)

She also worries people ticketed can't afford hefty fines.

"If you don't have enough money for a transit fare, there's no way you can afford a [$260] ticket like that," she said.

On top of improved service, she'd like to see a more well-rounded approach to poverty reduction to get to the root of the fare skippers.

"It's like clearing out encampments; you can't enforce your way out of poverty," she said.

"We need to be talking a whole bunch more about giving people opportunities and alternatives to get around the city."

Fare evasion seen as on the rise

The report didn't put that 39 days of tickets or fines in a broader context. It said the initiative that started this month will set a new baseline for fare-dodging data.

Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, recently warned that the city is losing precious revenue from more and more passengers skipping out on paying.

Transit services general manager Renée Amilcar also said in December OC Transpo has been working closely with drivers to come up with a solution to fare evasion.

An action plan was being formed, she said, which will target problem routes that drivers identify. She planned to present it to the commission next month.