Free-Riding Public Transit

A subway/train system that has no wickets is such a delight!

We generally buy a monthly pass for all members of the family (including the very cheap “sibling ticket” for one of the girls) and off we go. Meaning that on subways and trains, we show a ticket perhaps once a month when they are checked by plain clothes “controllers”. Even on the bus, we flash our passes very casually. There’s no “tapping”, inserting tickets into machines, there are no barriers. What a sense of freedom that contributes to the utility of the Berlin public transit system. In a previous post I mused what the costs of this policy might be. I.e. does the attractiveness of the system and absence of enforcement machinery outweigh costs lost due to Very Important Fahrgäste “forgetting” to pay their fare.

The Berliner Zeitung carried an article on Jan 8 (couldn’t find it online, sorry no link) that reported Berlin to be the “delinquent-rider capital of Germany”. Apparently, ticket checks generally find just under 6% of passengers not to have paid in Berlin (2nd placed Duisburg is around 4%). Assuming that some delinquents are clever enough to evade the check, that’s a lot of people, maybe 2-3 per subway cart or so.

Vancouver’s CompassCard cost around $200m to introduce, though I’m not sure whether that includes infrastructure and all technology.

I still wonder what the overall cost would be for enforcement vs. lost revenue from non-enforcement.

By the way, if you’re caught three times over two years in Berlin, you get a court date and according to the newspaper, 400 people are currently serving jail sentences for skipping transit fares in Berlin.

Non-enforcement certainly is the much more welcoming and convenient option and thus surely encourages ridership.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Doug says:

    400 people in jail for bus fare evasion? Wow! That’s extraordinarily punitive and expensive. I think I’d rather install fare gates than put people in jail.


    1. jdierkes says:

      Yes, I was amazed by that as well. And it’s because they can’t afford to pay the fine, i.e. debtors’ prison. Totally crazy! But I think you can not install fare gates and not throw people in prison as well. There has to be a compromise there!


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