Krystina Mierins is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Artillery, Border Crossings, and The National Post, among others.
The TTC is trying to crack down on fare evasion on streetcars—as nicely as possible.
Passengers stream off a red streetcar at Spadina station, one of the worst in Toronto for fare evasion. “Checking proof of payment, please,” calls out Julie Corsetti, who wears pearl earrings and a bulletproof vest. “Please have your Metropasses and transfers out.” Corsetti and her partner, Dafydd Cooper, are imposing figures in their work attire. Most customers seem familiar with the drill as they ready their proof of payment for inspection. Cooper gives a verbal warning to a student before he and Corsetti board the next streetcar to check riders en route to Union Station.
Corsetti and Cooper have a job that didn’t exist until last summer, when the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) decided to try taking a customer-friendly, educational approach to ensuring fare payment. The transit system had recently implemented new rules that allow passengers to board streetcars through the rear doors; the program rolled out on some routes in 2014, and was put in place on all streetcar lines in December 2015. The new rule helps to keep the transportation system moving efficiently, but also makes it easy for fare evaders to hitch a ride for free. That is, unless there are fare inspectors like Cooper and Corsetti on board. (The stakes are fairly high: a TTC executive told the Toronto Star the system loses about $20 million annually to fare evasion or fraud, and the TTC is operating at a deficit of nearly $30 million.) As of March, there were 60 fare inspectors throughout the system, and their ranks are expected to expand this summer.
These TTC workers have been trained to keep their cool. Prospective fare inspectors complete a six-week course. They receive three days of training about mental health to help them to recognize conditions such as dementia and schizophrenia, and run through scenarios with actors so that they are well prepared for difficult customers.
Prior to this pilot program, there were already Transit Enforcement Special Constables who could check fares, but had a broader focus on enforcing laws within the transit system. They are armed with batons and handcuffs and have powers similar to the police. Cooper and Corsetti, on the other hand, are part of an effort to take a friendlier approach to ensuring more people pay the fare. Fines for fare evasion range from $235-$425, but they’re not uniformly imposed. Inspectors also encounter a lot of people who genuinely don’t know about changes to the fare system. Cooper recalls working at Union Station when there was a Selena Gomez concert at a nearby venue. They issued many verbal warnings because there were a lot of moms from out of town taking their daughters to the show. This was a moment to educate riders. “Just because we’re allowed to write tickets doesn’t mean that we have to,” Cooper says.
During an average ten-hour shift, the Cooper-Corsetti team is assigned to two of the city’s eleven streetcar routes and will check approximately 1,200 riders. Their days involve a surprising amount of paperwork, especially if they do issue tickets—those records need to be flawless since the tickets could be evidence in court proceedings.
Some fare evaders get angry when they see they’ve received a fine that is a lot higher than a $30 parking ticket. That’s why Cooper and Corsetti wear Kevlar vests. They haven’t had any violent interactions, but some of their colleagues have. Corsetti explains that this is why communication between the partners is so important. They may be working at separate streetcar entrances, but they frequently make eye contact to check in with each other.
The team is also aware they are under constant scrutiny, and images of them at work could easily appear on social media. Corsetti says that she always tries to act as if someone is taking a picture—“which they are,” the partners add in unison.
Although the newest numbers for fare evasion aren’t yet available, most customers are following the rules. Still, Corsetti says, “It’s funny what people do for $3.25. They go out of their way to run away from us.”