In recent weeks Metrolinx has noted an increase in fare evasion on GO trains — nearly double what it usually is.
On average, the transit service said around 3 per cent of GO Transit riders don’t pay their fares, however recently that number has increased to 5.5 per cent.
Metrolinx spokesperson Matt Llewellyn says the service believes the increase is due in part to riders getting back into their regular routine after the summer.
“We hear things from customers like they were running late on their first morning back from vacation, or maybe they’ve been off for the summer, maybe they’ve forgotten to add money to their Presto card,” Llewellyn said.
“With a lot of our riders not taking the service since March, we think that’s sort of similar to what we’re seeing now,” he said.
GO Transit is reminding customers to check the balance of their Presto cards and, if necessary, load them before getting to the station.
Bill Grodzinski, GO Transit’s chief special constable and director of transit safety, says historically GO Transit sees an increase of fare evasion at this time of year.
“We expect this won’t be as much of an issue as customers start travelling with us more regularly during the next few weeks,” he said.
Metrolinx is also reminding customers that there are several contactless ways riders can pay for their fares, and that another way to ensure there are available funds is to set up autoload, which automatically adds funds when the balance reaches an amount set by the customer.
‘We need to understand the reality of why it’s rising’
Josh Matlow, city councillor for Toronto-St. Paul’s, says the rise in fare evasion is concerning, but he’d like to know more details about why there’s an uptick.
“I’d like to understand if it’s due to the fact that more people are struggling in our society, more people are facing evictions soon and obviously we need to understand the reality of why it’s rising,” he said.
Matlow says understanding why should be a part of the discussion, as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many people losing their jobs.
“If people stopped paying fares then it would be impossible to run the transit system unless it’s completely subsidized to tax dollars,” he said.
“But rather than just clamping down on them, in a way that polices them and tries to find people who may not have enough money to pay a fare, let alone a fine, I think there needs to be a better understanding of what the root causes are, and address those.”
Matlow added that he’s not surprised by the uptick, and if the root cause is affordability, he believes Metrolinx should consider temporarily lowering their fares.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transportation said in a statement to CBC News that it expects everyone to pay their fares, adding “The pandemic has had a significant financial impact on transit systems that play a critical role in helping people get to their jobs and essential services; fare evasion increases those impacts.”
The statement also said in part that the province is committed to supporting municipal transit systems by funding the actual pressures experienced as a result of COVID-19.
Increase in ridership expected: Metrolinx
As the transit service anticipates some customers will be riding for the first time since March, it’s also put together a guide for customers who want to learn more about any changes and new safety measures.
One of the changes since the start of the pandemic is that all customers are now required to wear some kind of face covering while in stations, on platforms and on trains.
Front-line staff are reporting about 98 per cent of customers are regularly wearing face coverings.
Llewellyn says Metrolinx is expecting an increase in riderships after Labour Day, and will be relying on accurate numbers to make changes to the service.
“What we will be doing is monitoring those ridership levels really closely,” he said.
“That data is important for us to understand where our customers are and if we need to make any adjustments as required.”