A Transit Police officer conducts a fare check at a SkyTrain station.

A Transit Police officer conducts a fare check at a SkyTrain station.

Reform pledged to recover unpaid TransLink fines

Problem of unenforceable tickets was flagged in 2007

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom is promising action to extract unpaid fines from TransLink fare cheaters who for the most part never pay up.

He was responding to a TransLink acknowledgement that fare evasion tickets issued by Transit Police have been unenforceable for years because there are no consequences for not paying the $173 fine.

“What we have here is the ability to issue tickets without the ability to enforce those tickets,” Lekstrom said. “So we are going to find a solution to that.”

The issue is not a new one for TransLink, which was advised by auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2007 to ask the province to deny government services, such as driver’s licence renewals, to transit scofflaws until their fines are paid.

TransLink officials raised the issue with the government a number of times since.

“We have had an opportunity to look at that over the years,” Lekstrom confirmed, adding the current system was created in 1999. “We haven’t changed that. But I can tell you this is the first time it’s been brought to my attention and I’m going to fix it.”

He did not say how he plans to fix the problem.

According to ICBC statistics, just 7,540 fines were paid in the past 14 months, leaving 86 per cent of the 53,000 fines on the books unpaid. A total of 64,069 tickets for failing to present proof of payment were actually issued, but more than 11,000 were cancelled or successfully challenged.

The unpaid fines for a typical year are worth around $7 million.

The back of tickets warn violators that bill collectors will be dispatched if they don’t pay.

But that doesn’t actually happen because TransLink has no power to collect the fines.

That’s ICBC’s job and it uses collection agencies to extract debts owed directly to the insurance company but not to TransLink.

A spokesman said ICBC does not currently withhold licence renewals for unpaid transit fines, adding that may require legislation.

Currently, ICBC does withhold licence renewals for those who don’t pay their traffic tickets, liquor fines, family maintenance payments and tolls to TransLink for the Golden Ears Bridge.

TransLink Chief Operating Officer Doug Kelsey said he’d like to see the province enable various tools – a holdback on driver’s licence renewals being one.

“There’s been ongoing discussions over the last few years,” he said, but would not say what the province’s response to TransLink had been before.

Kelsey said he’d also like to see a lower fine offered as for those who pay early.

And he suggested bench warrants might be issued for multiple unpaid fare evasion fines, allowing Transit Police to arrest repeat offenders.

“Maybe you go to jail for the weekend and you meet the judge on Monday,” he said. “These are topics that need to be discussed.”

Others who can’t afford to pay a fine should be able to perform community service instead, he said.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said using collection agencies may be a better tactic than withholding driver’s licences, which some chronic fare evaders don’t have.

“Leaving it on the honour system for people to pay for a fine they got for violating the honour system in the first place clearly is not going to work,” he added.

Money from fare evasion fines goes to the province, not TransLink, but Bateman says that money could be made available for transit and better enforcement would cut down the rate of cheating and increase fare revenue.

TransLink estimates four to six per cent of transit riders don’t pay their fares, resulting in a loss of $18 million – five per cent of the total $412 million in fare revenue.

It says the installation of SkyTrain fare gates and the Compass smart card payment system – at a total cost of $180 million – will reduce fare evasion, saving an estimated $7 million a year.