Ontario transit service wants inspectors to fine 6,000 train riders a month for fare evasion

Metrolinx, an Ontario government agency that oversees public transport in the southern part of the province, is now setting targets for the number of fines that inspectors collectively issue to GO train riders each month for not paying their fares.

CBC News obtained internal records that show a breakdown of the target number of inspections and notices of violation the agency wants customer protection officers and revenue protection officers to handle — and how many were actually completed and issued — on each of its eight regional train lines.

Notices of violation are fines issued by GO Transit to passengers who fail to provide proof of payment when requested.

In October 2022, Metrolinx implemented a graduated fee structure for those fines, so that first-time offenders are now fined $35, second-time offenders receive a $50 ticket and anyone with three offences faces a $100 fine.

The transit agency introduced a monthly target for the fines in September, according to an employee who was not authorized to speak on the matter. And while internal reports use the word “target,” the Metrolinx employee describes the figure as more akin to a quota.

August Puranauth, a transit advocate with TTCriders in Toronto, worries that a fine target could lead to profiling GO train riders. (CBC)

The new monthly benchmark raises alarms for August Puranauth, a transit advocate with TTCriders, a group representing transit riders in Toronto.

“Having a fare evasion fine quota could possibly mean that GO enforcement are profiling riders, and that could be profiling based on race, based on appearance,” Puranauth said.

Transit officers surpass fine targets

The first month, the target for officers was 5,000 fare evasion fines and 100,000 inspections. In October those targets rose to 6,000 fare evasions fines and 120,000 inspections. 

Metrolinx transit officers surpassed the fine targets both months — issuing 5,121 tickets in September and 6,187 in October, according to the reports. At minimum, if all of the tickets were issued to first-time offenders, the fines add up to $179,235 in September and $216,545 in October.

The Metrolinx employee said there have been internal discussions about what disciplinary action could look like if staff fail to meet the benchmarks down the line. 

Policy ‘protects the interests of fare-paying customers’

In an emailed statement, Metrolinx didn’t directly acknowledge the inspection and fine targets but said the transit agency needs “a structured approach to manage fare policy and enforcement.”

“This protects the interests of fare-paying customers and ensures Metrolinx can continue to provide a consistent level of service,” spokesperson Andrea Ernesaks said.

The statement said Metrolinx relies on fares to cover the cost of its transit operations and that fees collected from non-paying riders go back into operating the service.

It also said fare inspections are designed to be applied “in a fair and uniform way for all riders.”

“When fare inspection occurs, the goal is that all customers on a GO train or bus are inspected,” Ernesaks said.

All Metrolinx employees also receive anti-racism and anti-bias training, according to the statement.

WATCH | Ontario’s Metrolinx transit agency targets fare evaders:

Metrolinx implements a target for fining fare evaders

Featured VideoGO train fare inspectors beat the target and handed out more than 6,000 tickets last month.

In a 2019 revenue protection report, Metrolinx said it loses up to $15 million a year through fare evasion. CBC Toronto asked for updated numbers on those losses, along with how many fines it has issued and how much money it has collected through fines, each year for the last five years.

But Ernesaks said the information is “not publicly available” and that a Freedom of Information request would need to be submitted.

The Toronto Transit Commission does not set fare evasion fine targets or quotas, according to the TTC and the union representing its fare inspectors.

People boarding a GO train.
Metrolinx says it relies on fares to cover the cost of its transit operations and that fees collected from non-paying riders go back into operating the service. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Kitchener line sees highest rate of fare evasion

In addition to the GO train-wide monthly targets, the reports provide individual inspection targets for all of Metrolinx’s regional lines: Lakeshore West, Lakeshore East, Kitchener, Barrie, Milton, Richmond Hill, Stouffville and the UP Express.

The two busiest lines, Lakeshore East and West, account for roughly half of inspection targets for the whole system and resulted in more than half of the inspections completed in October.

On the Kitchener line, nine per cent of riders who were inspected were issued a fine for not paying their fare, the highest percentage of fare evasion found on any of the regional routes last month.

Instead of increasing inspections and fines through monthly targets, Puranauth of TTCriders argues that Metrolinx should be focused on improving its system.

“The best way to win riders back onto GO Transit and its system, and have more revenue, is to run better and more frequent service,” Puranauth said.

“We want to see the province step in and properly fund the TTC and GO Transit and other transit systems so we don’t have to depend on the fare box.”

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