Confessions of a Transitway freeloader - Metro US

Confessions of a Transitway freeloader

Ottawa has been fined $5,000 by the Canadian Transportation Agency for the failure of OC Transpo drivers to call out major and requested stops. More penalties could be on the way, and Transpo is threatening to suspend drivers for non-compliance.

The fine itself is peanuts, nothing compared to, for example, the $562,500 assessed against the city last fall for spewing almost one billion litres of raw sewage into the Ottawa River and failing to report it.

I also feel I’m in a poor position to scold. Like many cheapskates, I have perfected the trick o’ the transfer, packing my initial trip, return home and whatever errand I’m on into the hour-and-a-half allotted by a single fare.

On Friday, though, I experienced a failure of time management, and boarded my bus with mere minutes left on my transfer, which expired approximately mid-trip. Duration of my free ride: 11 minutes.

Technically, I could have been fined $150 for my perfidy.

Catch me and 33 other perps, and that $5,000 fine is paid off. There are many offences on the pretext of which a passenger can be relieved of $150, like smoking on Transpo property.

I hesitate to even mention such a course of action, given the city’s stated goal of recovering 50 to 55 per cent of transit costs from fares and, ahem, other revenue sources.

Numerous money-grubbing schemes have emerged recently, including gouging students older than 27 for regular bus passes, and last month’s 15 per cent hike in the price of a bus ticket (also selling them in sheets of six — two-and-a-half trips — to encourage you to buy another if you want to go home again).

Transpo also hired more fare enforcement officers. Are there that many scofflaws on the buses, desperados like myself with expired transfers or passes, stowaways boarding at the back doors without paying?

According to the company’s 2008 Performance Report, 7.3 per cent of riders checked were caught cheating, but only 15 per cent of those were actually fined, the others getting off with verbal or written warnings. More draconian ticketing might seem tempting.

Since 2000, when cities were permitted to keep the fines they collected from provincial offences, traffic enforcement has increased markedly. The lure of added revenue has proven too great. I’d hate to see budget obsessions turn our transit system into a rolling police state, crawling with fare enforcement goons to shake down passengers.

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