Commuters on faulty Presto machines and “fare evasion”

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By Charlize Alcaraz

The start of the school year has sparked a common concern among commuter students on what to do when they encounter faulty Presto machines and they are unable to pay their fare. 

According to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), failing to tap your card could be considered “fare evasion” and cost you up to $425. 

Fare evasion includes boarding a bus or streetcar and entering a subway fare gate without paying. This includes hopping over a gate, tailgating behind someone who paid or holding a gate open, according to the TTC website.

CBC previously reported that the TTC lost an estimated $61 million last year due to fare evasion.

Though some students choose to not pay their fare, there are some who try to pay heed to the ‘honour system,’ when the faulty Presto machines become an issue.

Samreen Masqood, a first-year journalism student at Ryerson, said that this week, she tried tapping her Presto several times and it didn’t work. There were two other groups of people that came after her, she says, whose cards were also declined. 

“Both groups ended up evading their fares,” said Masqood. “I ended up going outside the station…to the ATM to get cash, change the cash [and] throw it in. It was super inconvenient because I had work.”

“It’s just the added stress that you don’t need.”

Whether it be faulty Presto machines or an attempt to save fare money, some students avoid paying their TTC fares. Christopher Curry, a fourth-year East Asian studies student at the University of Toronto, said that he thinks evading fare is a typical thing for students and people in general to do.

“[One day] the machine wouldn’t work on the streetcar and there was no other thing to use, and the machine to get tokens or to reload wasn’t working either so I just didn’t pay,” he said. “If you’re already on the streetcar then what are you gonna do?”

TTC’s media relations and issues management specialist Stuart Green previously said there is a responsibility for customers to “at least make an effort to pay their fare.”

“If they are absolutely unable to pay their fare because the devices are out of order, more often than not our fare inspectors will use their discretion on how to handle that,” he said. 

The Eye previously reported on another concern of students—racial profiling within the TTC. In the article, a Black Ryerson student wrote that it’s an “eerie feeling” to be stared at on the TTC, and to be questioned about proof of payment and whether or not they paid their fee. 

Green said in 2017 to The Eye that to prevent racial profiling, fare inspectors are trained in a “neutral and unbiased way.”

Though the advertised fine for fare evasion is up to $425, some students have received a reduced fee such as Sophia Silfavan, a first-year child and youth care student at Ryerson.

“I was fully aware [of] what I was doing. I was just going to allow my friend to save $2 from just letting her slip in when I swiped my metro pass at Sherbourne station,” she said.

According to Silfaven, one of the officers was going to let them off the hook since it was their first offence but the second officer chose to give them a $240 fine. 

Silfaven also said that while she was getting a fine ticket, two other commuters committed fare evasion, but the officers allowed them to get away.

“We took the tickets and we were pissed, because he let two other guys get away when calling us broke high school teens but having the audacity to give us a ticket worth $240.” 

Silfaven is not the only Ryerson student who has raised concerns on the biases behind fare inspectors when issuing tickets. 

Eleanor Alagao, a first-year child and youth care student, received a $235 fine for getting caught using a child Presto card at Union Station. 

“I got scared, so I just answered all of the questions they asked me and took the ticket because one of them said that they could take us to court,” she said. 

According to Green, just because someone does not pay their fare, it’s not an automatic ticket. He said that people may either get a warning or get educated by a fare inspector on how they should pay their fare. 

Regarding faulty Presto machines on streetcars, Green said it is “highly unlikely” that both readers on the streetcar would be out of service. 

“If all the machines on the vehicle are not in service, then that’s not on the customer—that’s on us.”

“We can’t charge people when the machines don’t work, but what we do ask is that people tap their card when they have the opportunity throughout their journey.”

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