Burnaby mayor says Lekstrom using fare evasion to evade larger issues

The provincial government plans to ensure transit fines are enforced, transportation minister Blair Lekstrom told reporters last week after TransLink announced millions of dollars is lost annually to unpaid fines.

But TransLink's inability to enforce fare evasion fines is not a new issue, according to Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.

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Bringing fare evasion up now is an attempt by Lekstrom to justify the faregate project, he added in a phone interview last Wednesday.

"The provincial government has always used fare evasion as a political football," he said.

"They pretended interest in it so they could stir up public sentiment and get support for their big capital expenditures," he added, "so everybody would be happy when they handed over a contract to a company that was lobbied for by (former premier Gordon Campbell's deputy minister and advisor) Ken Dobell."

Dobell was a registered lobbyist for Cubic Transportation Systems, which received the contract to build the electronic fare card and faregate system from TransLink in December 2010.

Faregate construction began last summer and is expected to be completed by 2013.

"That is where the rubber hits the road, really," Corrigan said. "How interested were they in fare evasion, except for the political mileage they could make out of it."

And after spending an estimated $170 million on the faregate project, it is unlikely the system will be an effective deterrent, Corrigan added.

"The fare evasion rates in those systems that have subways that are gated are similar to the rates we have," he said. "People find their ways around those systems."

Depending on automated card readers at stations to check smart cards will lead to more sophisticated fake cards being created, he added.

Fares should be checked by employees as much as possible, to enforce payment, Corrigan said.

"If you have people checking the fare medium when they go on the system," he said, "then it makes it a lot more difficult for someone to act in a fraudulent manner."

The problem of enforcement isn't a new one for TransLink or the province, Corrigan said, adding it has been a concern for years.

"They (the province) weren't doing the most basic kinds of things themselves to ensure that fare evasion is curbed by collecting the fines that were levied against people," he said.

Many of the tickets go to people who cannot afford to pay the $173 fine, such as homeless people or those on social assistance, Corrigan pointed out.

Money collected from transit fines, like other traffic violation tickets, goes to the provincial government via ICBC.

Neither ICBC nor TransLink has the ability to enforce payment of transit fines.

TransLink estimated it lost about $7.4 million to SkyTrain fare evasion and $7.9 million to bus fare evasion last year, according to The Vancouver Sun.

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