The So-Called Thrill of Fare Evasion

In “The Seduction of Crime” by Jack Katz, the author asks what committing a crime feels, sounds, tastes and looks like. He names the pleasure of consuming a crime a “sneaky thrill,” or the “seductive qualities of crimes: those aspects in the foreground of criminality that make its various forms sensible, even sensually compelling, ways of being.”


Does the high of chasing a small ‘sneaky thrill’ contribute to public transit fare evasion? Does intercepting fare evaders catch public offenders early, before their moral thresholds are lowered for future rule breaking endeavors? Or do most people not pay their fare for a myriad of reasons born out of diverse circumstances?




The debate around criminalizing transit fare evasion has picked up steam over the last decade. With renewed public attention on the excessive criminalization of poor people and people of color, some transit agencies and law enforcement officials are reevaluating their fare evasion policies.


Many are asking if the decriminalization of fare evasion would reduce the overall cost on society? This cost includes enforcement, prosecution and maybe most significantly the criminalized mindset given to small time offender. Are there programs which could cost less at the end of the day? And if evasion was communicated as a crime against the public, where the overall price of purchasing a ticket compensated for those who stole, would the general public be more supportive of different types of programs?


Why Do People Not Pay Their Fare?

Like any other behavioral choice, people create belief systems that amount to rational intentions in the decision of their actions, for example, the decision to fare evade.


Fare evaders can be grouped into four different categories. In order to develop programs and process to counter fare evasion, agencies must understand the different types of fare evasion:

1. The “Accidental Evader”: believes fare evasion is wrong, but due to misunderstanding the fare policy, accident or negligence evades the fare


2. The “Not My Fault Evader”: wants to purchase the fare, but sometimes fails to pay due to payment barriers


3. The “Calculated Risk-Taker”: believes the reward outweighs the risk of fare evasion and so deliberately skirts the fare when they think risk of getting caught is low


4. The “Career Evaders”: always fare evades


shutterstock_360313850 (2)


I’ve talked with a young man who frequently hangs out at my station asking for help buying a ticket. He’s not exactly the type you’d want to sit next to on a train, but he understands his circumstances. He’s been caught as a fare evader multiple times and recently received a letter saying he’d be arrested and prosecuted in court if he was caught evading a fare again. In the traditional citation system, a citation can appear on his record, inhibiting future employment or housing. This has generated enough fear in him that the risk of fare evasion outweighs the benefit.


As he faces a criminal penalty, I’ve asked myself, is he more of a weight on the public good because he has to rely on the individual generosity of riders to purchase his fare? Is his denial of public transportation damaging to his ability to survive and get ahead in life? Will this impact his future ability to give back to society?


Experimenting with Alternative Solutions

A new Oregon State law gave TriMet the authority to decriminalize fare evasion starting on January 1, 2018. The current system levies a $175 fine on fare evaders, a dollar value many cannot afford to pay. Instead, the new citation could come with a smaller fine if paid within a certain time period. Those cited could ask to perform community service instead of paying the fine if they cannot afford to pay it. If neither the lower fine or community service is performed within a 90 day period, the citation would follow the traditional criminalization route.




Other agencies have led the way with this sort of methodology. For example:

– Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) levies a $50 administrative fee which if paid within 30 days clears the evader’s record


– San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) decriminalized fare evasion by levying a $112 administrative fee on perpetrators


– Utah Transit Authority (UTA) reduced fare-evasion fines to $100


In addition to decriminalizing fare evasions, some agencies are tackling the problem by making boarding easier and removing gated infrastructure.

– Oslo’s Ruter buses has four entry points, which make for easier and faster onboarding and disembarking. Passengers have several ways to pay: ticket machines at major tram and bus stations, refillable plastic cards, or paying through an app on their phone.

The Ruter system is built on an honor system. To deter fare evasion, Oslo transit authorities do occasional spot checks — when passengers are asked for proof of payment, they have to show paper receipt or a blinking confirmation on their phone. In conjunction with easy onboarding was the support of easy to use mobile and card based fare media. By making it easier to pay for fares, Oslo halved their fare evasion rates to five percent.


– San Francisco’s Muni became the first big U.S. transit agency to implement all-door boarding across its entire bus system in 2012. Many cities had avoided all-door boarding policies for fear of inviting fare evasion- a concern that did not materialize. Pre-implementation studies had found MUNI fare evasion as high as 9.5 percent; after all-door boarding was implement, evasion was at 8 percent. Another positive metric was impacted: all-door boarding reduced the average entry and exit dwell time per passenger from nearly 4 seconds to 2.5 seconds at each bus stop—a dip of 38 percent. More than half of all passengers used the rear door to enter, and time-consuming fare payments at the front door declined by 4 percent. As a result, overall bus speeds improved.


By removing barriers to entry at Oslo stations and allowing all-door boarding on MUNI buses, riders have enjoyed faster vehicles, less crowding and in turn hopefully more frequent service. A public transit system where there are multiple payment options to match quick entry and exit operations may help curb the number of “Accidental” and “Not My Fault” evaders. I’d also speculate that by creating a strong sense of public ownership through an honor based system, the “sneaky thrill” is diminished.

Let the Cheater’s Cheat

In order to effectively decrease fare evasion, communities must examine the unique behavioral and circumstantial motivators that drive people to do it. This matrix would help identify tangible gaps where areas for improvement, such as contactless smartphone payments and all door boarding, could target the system and not individual people. At the same time, communities can build creative solutions for supporting riders who cannot afford to pay but still need access to transportation to participate in society.


With better ways to ensure payment from those without criminal intent, the overall cost of capturing fare evasion by Career Evaders may not be as urgent. Because in the case of Oslo, “It makes more financial sense to let the cheaters cheat.”



Cited Articles:

The Sneaky Thrill of Breaking the Law

Seductions of Crime

From Intentions to Actions: A Theory of Planned Behavior

Four types of fare evasion: A qualitative study from Melbourne, Australia

TriMet to decriminalize fare evasion

New law lets TriMet handle fare evasion citations in-house, avoiding courts

SFMTA All-Door Boarding Evaluation Final Report

Ignoring Fare Evaders can make Mass Transit Faster – and Richer

Cuba, Currency and Access

Ever since hearing my Nana’s stories of extravagant winter holidays in Cuba, I romanticized the island. Tales of tropical beaches, big band music, and late night salsa danced through my mind. In college, I was introduced to the revolution and the influence of Che Guevara. I also learned from a Palestinian friend of Fidel Castro’s support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. All of this fueled an interest to better understand the revolution, and to see one of the last standing states of communism. As a transit professional, I was especially curious to experience the country through its public transportation.


A trip was in the cards. So this summer, right before the current US administration put additional restrictions on travel, I caught a flight out of LAX for the Caribbean.



Two Currencies, One People

U.S. financial institutions don’t integrate with the Cuban banking system. Therefore, I had to bring enough money into the country to fund the trip. I walked off the plane with enough rolls of bills to trigger a minor anxiety attack.


I arrived with Canadian Dollars and Euros in tow to avoid the 30% exchange tax levied by the Cuban government on the US Dollar. Our first morning in the city, we found a bank to change my money into Cuba’s two types of currency: the CUC and the CUP.


– The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is pegged to the US dollar. It’s the primary
means of payment within the tourist industry.

– The Cuban Peso (CUP) is the currency used by the general population and is
exchanged at 1 CUC to 25.5 CUPs. General public transit requires the CUP,
whereas private cars, tourist long-distance buses, and trains from Havana to
Santiago use the CUC.


I wanted some CUPs on-hand to ride public transit, buy street food, and maybe see a baseball game in an effort to peek through the tourist veil. I asked the banker how much I should exchange? He had no opinion. So I decided to convert $15 CUCs to CUPs; surely, that would cover everything we’d want to do. He laughed. That was way too much. It exchanged to 382.5 CUPs to be exact. I later learned that minimum wage is 225 CUPs, or just about $9 USD per month, and the average state salary is $20 USD per month. This is supplemented by a monthly food ration from the government. No wonder the tourist industry relied exclusively on the CUC and disregarded the CUP!


I left the bank with ALL OF OUR MONEY on my person, along with the accute sense that I was unfathomably wealthy. At least we were now set to pay for our sights.

CUC vs. CUP Mobility

– Local city buses accepted CUPs. They ran on fixed routes with unpredictable
schedules and were overcrowded and not air conditioned. All transit,
including city buses, were impacted by the US import/export embargos of the
early 1960s. New vehicles and vehicle parts were incredibly difficult and
expensive to come by. The government struggled to get working buses on the
road. Tourists were discouraged from riding the local bus, but I especially
wanted to ride on a camel bus (a semi-trailer with windows and seats pulled
by a conventional tractor unit).

– Almendrones, which are mostly classic American cars, ran on a fixed route for
a more-or-less fixed price in CUPs. Although if you were a tourist, you’d
most likely need to pay in CUCs.

– Taxi Colectivo, the original on-demand shared taxi used mostly for inter-city
travel, accepted CUCs. They ranged from classic American cars to Soviet-era
automobiles, and for some reason, a good number of Peugeots as well. You’d
have to pre-arrange a pick-up by calling ahead to a driver, or connect with
one of the dozens of locals shouting “taxi!” at any well-visited location.

– There were two options for long-distance buses: the Viazul and Astro bus.
Both were state-run, but paid for in different currency. Viazul had nicer,
more reliable vehicles with air conditioning and bathrooms. Fares were sold
in CUCs, so they were almost exclusively used by tourists. Astro buses sold
fares in CUPs and were used by locals.

– Trains, paid for in CUCs. It’s said that around the mid-20th century, Cuba
had more tracks per square mile than any other country. Today, only one train
runs reliably between Havana and Santiago. The government had struggled to
operate the nationalized railroads, as well as find the necessary equipment.


My goal was to hit all of these. But sometimes your go-getter pride gets in the way. By the end of my trip, I’d only successfully alighted on a couple Almendrones and Taxi Colectivos. Everything else seemed to operate as an afterthought. Since we were only there for eight days, our feeble attempts to ride public transit weren’t good enough.



Letting Go of My Cuban Train Riding Dream

Public buses and trains were really difficult to navigate in a timely, convenient manner. There was no information around local city buses, no maps of where anything went, no fare zones, no timetables. Nothing. Just large crowds of people waiting at roughly marked “stops.” All public transit was reliant on talking with people to get secondhand information on approximate routes, stops, prices.


We tried to travel from city to city on Viazul or Astro buses. Buses ran infrequently (maybe two Viazul buses a day between major cities) and were sold out on all major routes, even when we showed up to the station a day in advance to try pre-purchasing tickets. Stories of people taking days to travel on what should have been 6-hour trips via train to routes outside of the main Havana > Santiago line scared us off the heavy rail. Everything on the local level takes time. Because we were there for such a short duration, we opted to pay our way out of the local struggles using CUCs for Taxi Colectivos.

A 1950 Chevy with a Mitsubishi Steering Wheel

The Taxi Colectivo was still an intimate experience and involved hours of driving down roads with few cars. My most memorable was a 1950s Chevrolet with a Mitsubishi steering wheel. And the Peugeot that overheated again and again. Or the taxi driver that pulled off the highway, onto a dirt road and into someone’s gated backyard to buy black market gas.




We were the upper class, able to physically remove ourselves from the CUPs daily struggle to travel across the country with our CUCs. We passed locals on the side of the road, with umbrellas or tree branches held over their heads for shade and outstretched hands waving cash bills at passing drivers. The basic necessity of transit was a constant difficulty.


How do you operate a public transit system in a country where, despite your degree in mechanical engineering, you make more as a taxi driver? What do you do when motor vehicles and spare parts are impossible to come by, petrol is sold at high prices at government gas stations and the common man can’t afford more than a few CUPs for transit? How do you increase accessibility to public transit amidst these complexities?


Despite the challenges caused by a difficult history, the social graciousness of the people of Cuba prevailed. They were kind and generous. Their infrastructure was old, but taken care of by the best means possible, and despite the discomfort of non-air conditioned vehicles, there was a joy in our driver’s eyes as he revved round country roads.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

The Rise of Bluetooth Beacons & Public Transit

Let me guess – transportation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Bluetooth.” Stop for a second and name all the objects around you that are Bluetooth connected. Most likely your smartphone, laptop, and speakers. Maybe your headphones? Keyboard? Mouse? What about the road you take to work? The bus that’s pulling into your stop? Bluetooth has entered the world of mobility, and low energy beacons offer an accessible solution that can help transit agencies implement the next innovations in public transit.


Cities across the world, from Bangkok and Montreal to Tempe, Arizona, are already using Bluetooth technology on roadways. However, current use cases are focused on reducing traffic congestion with Bluetooth sensors – a small departure from beacons. These sensors are built into highways to track traffic and provide analytics on congestion, traffic management, pricing, toll collection, HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes, safety, and maintenance. The Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) is developing best practices with a transportation sensor network blueprint to help advise cities that are interested in implementing sensors technology.


Taking Bluetooth adoption in transportation a step further, the technology presents an opportunity to build smart solutions for public transit. Bluetooth beacons act as transmitters that broadcast information to nearby devices like smartphones and tablets. For example, beacons on a bus could broadcast the bus route. When a mobile device with the corresponding app comes within range of the bluetooth transmission, the device detects the signal’s message, which can trigger different notification and in-app behavior dependent on the message. So, a mobile device with a transit agency’s mobile fare app could trigger “your bus is here” messaging when the bus with the correct route comes into proximity with with the mobile device. When combined, these capabilities offer various possibilities for public transit.


1. Mobile and contactless ticketing

Bluetooth infrastructure on transit vehicles, platforms or stations can track when riders with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile fare app are in and out of the mesh network. This Be-In/Be-Out (BIBO) framework captures transit usage analytics similarly to gated systems, but without the enormous capital investment. BIBO paired with a real-time fare payment engine shifts the responsibility of understanding complex tariffs from the rider to the automated system. In this model, the fare is calculated in real time while the rider is on the vehicle, and the system provides the best fare for the rider automatically. As reliability is still a challenge to overcome, the alternative Check-In/Be-Out model provides the same level of data analytics with a low friction user experience of Checking-In.


2. Fleet management

Public transit systems are already using CAD/AVL and Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) systems to capture real-time vehicle location and passenger counts. Installing beacons on vehicles can augment these systems by pairing vehicle capacity and location information with richer data about on-board customers. This would combine the value proposition offered by CAD/AVL, APC and fare collection systems into a single source of truth. Data could be used by planners to support decisions around routing, frequency and vehicle needs, or by public safety personnel for real-time analytics on vehicle occupancy and location.




3. Accessibility

Beacons open up a range of possibilities for making public transit more accessible to riders. They can help those with disabilities or impairments travel more efficiently and safely. Wayfindr is an app that uses Bluetooth beacons to locate blind or visually-impaired users within a transit station. It then directs them with verbal instructions, such as which trains are to their right or left or how many steps are in an approaching staircase. Another company, Onyx Beacon is implementing beacons to alert riders when a bus is nearing the station. A visually impaired user can mark which bus route they need in their mobile fare app, and when the correct bus arrives at a station, the app will notify the rider that their bus is there.




4. Mobile marketing

As more transit agencies adopt mobile fare apps, there’s an opportunity to see beacon technology come into play with retail engagement. Beacons are often used in the retail industry to send passersbys coupons or alerts. This opportunity allows transit agencies to partner with local businesses to send riders exclusive deals based on their geo-location and nearby retail locations. The retailer would broadcast their bluetooth signal, as a rider with the transit agency’s mobile ticketing app came into proximity with that signal, the app would trigger a coupon or alert pop-up.


5. Gamification
Gamification offers transit authorities the opportunity to put Bluetooth beacons to good fun. Installed beacons can act as rider checkpoints, turning a particular transit line, or an entire system, into a life-sized game board. In 2015, moovel used beacons to create a mobile scavenger hunt, celebrating the opening of a new TriMet transit line. Riders earned points and won sponsored prizes like Nike sneakers and round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines for visiting beacons along the line.

Now when you think “Bluetooth,” think beyond the smartphone in your pocket. In this age of transportation innovation, it’s critical that transit agencies push for smarter mobility solutions. The doors are open to implement new technologies that can improve both user and operator experiences with public


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.