Another Reason to Make Transit Free: Fewer Kids Will Get Beat Up by Fare Inspectors

©. EQRoy /

In Berlin and Vienna, there are no turnstiles or gates to the subway; you buy your ticket and get on the train, where occasionally a fare inspector will check you out. When I was there I asked one of the inspectors how much money they lost through fare evasion, he told me that it was a lot less than they saved on fare collectors and equipment like turnstiles.

In Toronto, the new Bombardier Flexity streetcars work this way; you can get on through any door, touch your Presto card to a reader or carry proof of payment. There are TTC Fare Inspectors who occasionally come by and ask to see it. I have seen my share of fare evaders, such as this guy in the tweet above.

The trouble apparently starts if you are young and Black, in which case not having proof of payment for a $2.05 fare gets you seriously beat up.

The videographer is quoted in BlogTO:

"It looked like he was going to get off and they were making their rounds checking people's transfers and they wanted to catch him," she said. "I saw the [teen] react semi-aggressively, in a defensive manner." The video, shot after police had arrived to the scene, shows at least seven adults gathered around the young man, five of them pinning his body to the floor. "I didn't do anything though," the boy can be heard crying. "You're hurting me. You're hurting me."

This isn't just a Toronto problem. Angie Schmitt writes on the same day in Streetsblog, making The Case for Decriminalizing Fare Evasion.

Nobody gets thrown in jail for not paying a highway toll or a parking meter. But for some reason people who break transit fare rules are subject to criminal penalties.

And they get beat up; Schmitt describes how in Washington, a 20 year old woman ended up with 12 stitches, a fractured knee and four broken teeth. Schmitt notes that most cities have been decriminalizing fare jumping, and that it is counterproductive.
In the end, WMATA isn’t even helping its own bottom line, because obsessing over strict fare enforcement slows down service and repels would-be riders. Transit experts recommend implementing convenient, proof-of-payment fare collection methods that speed up service, with non-punitive inspection systems. Make the fare system work better for riders, and more people will ride — and pay fares. Smashing your riders’ teeth when they forget their fare cards, on the other hand, isn’t a good way to encourage people to use your service.

But there is also another lesson that we learn from Germany, that would encourage people to ride: make transit free. It would clear the air, and take a load off the roads. Instead of spending billions on widening or replacing highways, spend it on giving people affordable or free transit to encourage them to us it instead of driving, and get rid of all those inspectors and fancy $385 million fare systems like Toronto has. And stop beating up kids over a $2.05 fare.