Regarding Translink’s ‘Fare Not Paid’ Button

On January 6, 2015, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation put out a press release stating

TransLink bus drivers pressed a special button in their coaches to record a “fare not paid” more than 2.76 million times in 2013…

2.76 million times! That’s a lot of button presses and a huge amount of fare evasion! Like Jordan Bateman, the CTF’s BC Director, said:

These bus drivers should be checked for carpal tunnel syndrome from having to repeatedly push that fare evasion button. TransLink executives have turned a blind eye to millions of fare cheats, causing unnecessary financial grief for honest riders and taxpayers.

Indeed! TransLink executives really don’t give a shit about fare cheats. They have no fucks to give about fare cheats. They put up giant signs saying “FARE CHEATS WELCOME HERE” on every bus.

Well, no, they didn’t. That’s hyperbolic. And so are the statements from Jordan Bateman and the CTF.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But each one of those button presses isn’t someone refusing to pay their fare. If you read the actual document you’ll find this:

A “fare not paid” entry can represent one of a range of fare-related discrepancies. An issue can include: a partial payment of fare; overpayment of a fare into a bus fare box, which cannot dispense change; failure of a passenger to AddFare when travelling across zones; or fare evasion. It is not the intent of this tool to document revenue loss.

So those 2.76 million button presses were not 2.76 million instances of fare evasion. Some of them were because someone paid, but not enough. Some of them were because someone paid too much!

Strangely, the CTF press release makes no mention of that, instead labelling every one of these button presses as caused by “fare cheats” and “freeloaders”.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But how many people boarded buses in 2013? If it’s five million, then TransLink’s got a huge problem. If it’s 50 million, then TransLink still has a problem with a potential “fare loss” of about 5.5%.

TransLink didn’t have 5 million bus boardings in 2013. It didn’t have 50 million. It didn’t even have 100 million. In 2013, TransLink had 228 million bus boardings (from Page 9 of their 2013 Bus Service Performance Review). Is 2.76 million out of 228 million still a huge problem? It’s 1.2% of bus riders. One point two percent.

That’s what happens when you take raw numbers out of context. You can take those numbers and have them fit your narrative. In Jordan Bateman’s narrative, TransLink is horribly wasteful and not deserving of any tax dollars. Finding “fare cheats” and “freeloaders” is easy to do when you just yell TWO POINT SEVEN SIX MILLION FARES NOT PAID without giving any context whatsoever. Unfortunately, reality tends to illuminate these context-free statements, showing that Jordan Bateman and the CTF are being intellectually dishonest on this issue.

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