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Transit Fare Evasion

Are Transit Fare Evasion Crackdowns Distracting from the Need for Be In, Be Out Solutions?

What’s that saying by Abraham Maslow? “If all you have is a hammer, every problem seems like a nail.”

It’s been four years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet it seems like its looming effects on transit fare evasion, revenues, and rising crime are nowhere near being solved. As cities around the world grapple with declining transit revenues in the wake of the pandemic, transit agencies are turning to familiar efforts to combat fare evasion with the same results.

Investments in new fare gates, updated collection systems, and increased policing are being made to ensure every fare is collected and that violent crimes are reduced. These investments are being heavily socialized by agencies like the MTA – which estimates over $700 million in losses due to fare evasion – in an attempt to further deter offenders. 

However, the effectiveness of these measures is up for debate, as highly publicized efforts to combat fare evasion don’t seem to be making a dent. 

If the transit industry keeps trying the same tactics, will it ever break through? Could the focus on fare evasion crackdowns be a distraction from the more pressing need to adopt innovative solutions like Be In, Be Out (BIBO) technology? 

Though BIBO could make a more fundamental shift in fare evasion, it’s unimaginably challenging to put fare evasion crackdown initiatives on hold to test out a new solution without getting to the bottom of the real cost of fare evasion, and what it will really take to nip it in the bud once and for all. 

TL;DR: Key Takeaways

  • Widespread fraud and fare evasion are still on the rise, despite substantial public relations efforts and investments
  • Capital expenditure investments in physical infrastructure like gates and other technology to detect evasion haven’t resulted in a substantial reduction in evasion, though expenses and losses continue to rise
  • Solutions like Be In Be Out have the potential to fundamentally shift how ticketing and fare collection operate, which could be used to reduce fare evasion and other issues impacting transit revenue
LISNR-Ultrasonic Proximity for Multimodal Transportation-Santiago Chile Transit Fare Evasion

The Cost of Fare Evasion Enforcement

When the subject of fare evasion and its sweeping impacts on transit arises, The NYC Metro Transit Authority is often top of mind. The MTA has been quite transparent about its issues with fare evasion and what it is doing to curtail it. However, the MTA is far from being the only major transit organization faced with rampant fraud and fare evasion. 

Transit agencies in major cities all around the world from Santiago, Chile to New York City are faced with rising incidents of ticket fraud and are spending significant amounts on fare evasion enforcement, as a result. 

For instance, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) estimated that fare evasion cost them $10 million in Fiscal Year 2022. In 2024, WMATA estimated the new cost of fare evaders is now costing the agency upwards of $40 million. To combat this, the agency:

  • Installed higher fare gates to deter fare evaders which had a short-term reduction of 70%
  • Reduced fares by 50% for over 1,600 SNAP-qualifying customers
  • Issued over 2,000 citations with fines up to $100 each

Similarly, Philadelphia’s transit system, SEPTA, is spending nearly $1 million on new fare gates for just two subway stations, with many millions earmarked for the rest of the stations​. Local transit users and SEPTA employees have voiced public concerns about the potential to thwart evasion. As one employee pointed out, the 14” gap under each gate is enough for passengers to slide under and the doors don’t close fast enough so evaders can slip in behind paying customers. 

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has made a concerted effort to thwart an uptick in violence and fare evasion:

  • Doubled its security personnel to over 300 unarmed guards, costing over $71 million for a 3-year contract
  • Earmarked $3 million for an emergency contract to promote CTA rider rules
  • Invested $2 million in new fare gates​ 

Time will tell if transit agencies like WMTA, CTA, and SEPTA will experience long-term benefits from their investments and if the significant cost of infrastructure updates outweighs the cost reduction for SNAP customers or improves revenue. 

The Impact on Revenue and Social Order

Fares only cover a fraction of operating costs – 10-15% for most transit authorities – ridership is stagnant, and public funding is down. With such low revenues, fare evasion can have a more significant impact on the solvency of a transit authority, which is why a more fundamental change needs to be put in place to instigate a fiscal turnaround for public transit.

However, the main argument for these expenditures is that fare evasion also contributes to a perception of lawlessness on public transit. This perception can deter paying customers from using the service. 

Going back to the Chicago Transit Authority, while the additional presence has likely deterred minor offenders, locals aren’t convinced of any improvement since the changes were implemented last year. Passengers, CTA employees, and even state politicians have publicly pressured the Chicago Transit Authority to do more, voicing concerns that the investment hasn’t made a significant amount of a crime reduction. 

In another example, the Los Angeles Metro has faced significant issues with drug abuse and lawlessness on its trains, leading to a broader push for increased enforcement and security measures​. In 2023, serious crime on the Los Angeles Metro was up 24%, causing between 30% and 56% of long-time, loyal users to abandon the use of services amongst the most popular lines. 

In 2024, while evasion is slightly on the decline, violent crime has already risen 16%. A recent survey by USC found that 84% of Los Angeles residents believe their public transit is unsafe, despite the authority’s efforts to increase security guard and police presence in high crime areas.

The ability of public transit agencies to thwart fare evasion could have a circular dependency on social order.

Is Fare Evasion the Real Issue?

Despite the investments in fare evasion and social order, there is no standard method for tracking fare evasion or the impacts of lawlessness on ridership, and data varies widely from agency to agency. Without sufficient data and benchmarks, it’s difficult to determine if the benefits and savings outweigh the costs of the increased presence and new gates.

For instance, WMATA reported that up to 51% of Metrobus riders hadn’t paid their fare during the first six months of FY 2023, despite their significant investments to combat evasion​​. 

In contrast, other agencies like the CTA have candidly expressed their lack of reliable data on the extent of fare evasion. 

This inconsistency raises the question: Are fare evasion crackdowns truly addressing the root problem, or are they merely a visible response to deeper issues?

The Promise of Be In, Be Out (BIBO) Technology

BIBO technology, which automates the detection and registration of passengers’ presence, could revolutionize fare collection by reducing the need for direct interaction and minimizing congestion at fare gates. BIBO solutions have the potential to fundamentally streamline the commuter experience, making public transit more accessible, efficient, and less prone to fraud.

Addressing the Challenges of BIBO

Implementing “Be In, Be Out” (BIBO) technology presents several challenges that must be carefully managed to fully realize its benefits. Data privacy is a paramount concern, as BIBO systems rely on continuous tracking of passengers’ movements. In a recent report, McKinsey highlighted the importance of robust data protection measures to maintain public trust and compliance with regulations like GDPR in the context of urban mobility.

Technological compatibility is another significant hurdle. Infrastructures may already be equipped to address urban mobility challenges from fraud to sustainability. However, integrating multimodal systems and BIBO ticketing solutions with existing transit infrastructure often involves a complex interplay of hardware, software, and processes. 

According to a European Commission report, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) can significantly improve urban mobility but require initial investments in both hardware, like IoT devices, and software for advanced traffic management.

Initial costs for BIBO systems may vary, but the long-term operational savings and efficiencies, such as reduced fare evasion and optimized transit routes, can justify these expenses. McKinsey’s insights suggest that investments in digital infrastructure and modernizing public transit systems through digital upgrades can enhance the commuter experience and potentially reduce operational costs over time​​.

Balancing Enforcement and Innovation

The tension between cracking down on fare evasion and investing in innovative solutions like BIBO encapsulates a broader challenge in modernizing public transit. Traditional fare enforcement measures are labor-intensive and can be confrontational. McKinsey and BCG analyses suggest a shift towards more integrated and user-friendly systems, focusing on long-term benefits like improved efficiency and customer satisfaction. This approach aligns with global trends where enhanced quality of life and sustainability are prioritized in urban mobility strategies​​.

Investing in BIBO, on the other hand, offers a proactive approach that improves fare compliance while enhancing the overall passenger experience through truly contactless and seamless travel. Such investments support broader societal goals, such as improving public transport accessibility and reducing urban congestion, thereby contributing to environmental sustainability and ​​ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria.

The Path Forward: New Approaches to Reduce Fare Evasion

As transit agencies continue to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it is crucial to evaluate the true costs and benefits of fare evasion crackdowns to approximate and plan for the cost of inaction or the cost of rising incidents. Investing in BIBO technology could offer a more sustainable and effective solution, addressing fare evasion and improving the overall efficiency and user experience of public transit systems. 

Cost Benefit Analysis for Sustainability Goals

As transit agencies continue to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it is crucial to evaluate the true costs and benefits of fare evasion crackdowns to approximate and plan for the cost of inaction or the cost of rising incidents. Investing in BIBO technology could offer a more sustainable and effective solution, addressing fare evasion and improving the overall efficiency and user experience of public transit systems. By balancing enforcement with innovation, perhaps transit agencies can better prepare for the future and meet the evolving needs of their riders.

Resilient System Design

A balanced approach that incorporates both enforcement and innovative solutions like BIBO is essential for creating a robust and resilient transit system. By investing in technologies that facilitate seamless fare collection, transit agencies can reduce the need for costly and often contentious enforcement measures. BIBO technology not only addresses fare evasion but also enhances the overall commuter experience by reducing congestion and improving accessibility.

Insight-Led Approach to Operations Optimization

Furthermore, the implementation of BIBO technology can provide valuable data insights that help transit agencies optimize their operations. Real-time data on passenger flow and fare compliance can inform better decision-making, allowing agencies to allocate resources more effectively and improve service delivery. This data-driven approach can lead to more efficient and responsive transit systems that adapt to the changing needs of their users.

Community Engagement

In addition to technological advancements, transit agencies must also consider the social and cultural aspects of fare collection. Community engagement and public education campaigns can play a vital role in fostering a culture of compliance and respect for the transit system. By involving riders in the conversation and addressing their concerns, agencies can build trust and encourage more widespread acceptance of new fare collection methods.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a transit system that is both financially sustainable and user-friendly. Through prioritized innovation and a holistic approach to fare collection, transit agencies can become well-equipped to face the challenges of the future while providing a high-quality service for their riders.