OC Transpo can’t balance its budget, and so it’s blaming its customers.
The bus service estimates it loses $3.7 million a year from fare cheats, and hence is declaring yet another enforcement crackdown and public information campaign to get tough on this crime wave.
Ridership, meanwhile, which is supposed to cover half of Transpo’s budget, still hasn’t recovered from last winter’s strike, and I’m no expert, but suggesting your riders are a bunch of thieves seems a counter-intuitive strategy for boosting those numbers.
Where did the shocking $3.7 million total come from? It’s most likely somewhere between a rough extrapolation and a wild guess. We’ve been given good reason to be skeptical of numbers we get regarding our transit service.
The cost of automated systems for calling out stops, originally budgeted at $6.7 million, is now pegged at $17 million. The price of our new light rail plan has reportedly already jumped another $100 million before a plan’s even been completed.
Transit math, it turns out, can be tricky stuff.
Even if the $3.7-million fare fraud figure stands up, for all the fulmination about rampant criminality on our buses, that’s a little over one per cent of the company’s $349-million operating budget.
It’s less, for example, than the $6.32 million OC Transpo blew on post-strike overtime pay between April and June alone, far outstripping the $4.47 million that had been budgeted for the period. It’s about the same as the $3-to-4 million the city had hoped to save annually with the proposed scheduling changes that largely provoked the strike.
It’s dwarfed by the $22.7 million shortfall caused by the strike itself, despite more dubious transit math by the city claiming that we were actually saving $3 million a week from the shutdown.
If OC Transpo hired mind readers as fare enforcers, and they somehow caught every single offender, we’d have enough to pay off the $36.7 million legal settlement for cancelling the old light rail plan in a mere decade.
I am by no means suggesting that bus riders shouldn’t pay their fares. Nor am I denying that a certain number will cheat if given the opportunity. (OC Transpo learned this the hard way after they eliminated all their fare enforcement officers in 2001 as, oddly enough, a cost-saving measure. A golden age of cheating ensued, and an arbitrator ordered the bus cops rehired in 2005.)
It’s just that this outcry over rear door-boarding stowaways bleeding the transit system dry rings a little hollow in the face of the less-than-stellar management of the system itself.