The fight against fraud in transport is far from being a new subject. However, things are not changing enough, or fast enough. Numerous strategies have been tried out. But the results are not always up to scratch. In this article, we take stock of the different approaches initiated, the successes and failures.
#1 - Increasing the number of control and enforcement agents
The strategy that almost all transport operators have tried is to increase the number of enforcers. Logically, if you control more, you report more. However, having the means to do so is not easy. Indeed, the budget allocated by the organizing authorities is fixed in advance as part of the service contract over several years. It is not negotiable afterwards. It is therefore difficult to recruit. This solution is not a panacea either. By tightening controls in certain places, at certain times, others are abandoned, providing new possibilities for fraudsters.
#2 - Adopt a deterrent strategy
Popular with transport operators, this strategy consists of deploying measures to dissuade users from travelling without a valid ticket:
Unfortunately, this is not enough. Binding measures need to be taken to achieve convincing results.
#3 - Install control gates
In many metros, and even in some railway stations, gantries "close" the platforms: it is difficult to access the tracks without validating one's ticket. These gantries have been constantly improved over the last twenty years, from the famous Parisian tripod to glass doors, with video form recognition to detect "double" passages, distinguish luggage, etc.
Some operators have decided to test these gantries in buses. The aim: to limit fraud despite the presence of the driver, which is already a convincing factor.
However, installing this type of equipment in a vehicle is quite expensive. Few actors are ready to make this investment. Moreover, it poses security problems: in case of evacuation of the bus, it can create a blockage. Finally, at peak times, this type of structure can clog up access to the bus, causing delays and a deterioration in service quality. It is therefore not the best approach for the user experience.
#4 - Deploying metering systems
Another strategy is to install counting systems in different vehicles. This makes it possible to know at any time how many people are in the bus, and to compare this with the number of ticket validations. This strategy is quite effective and helps to target the checks.
But it is expensive in terms of equipment. Today, less than 15% of transport networks use this system and it remains more devoted to analyzing ridership with a few equipped vehicles, rather than to fighting fraud.
Certain alternatives to sensors have been studied. For example, using on-board surveillance cameras to estimate the number of people in a bus. This is effective but poses real problems in terms of privacy protection and compliance with the General Regulation for the Protection of Personal Data (RGPD). Weighing systems have also been tested but remain anecdotal.
#5 - Making transport free
What about free public transport? Can it be considered as a solution to combat fraud, when we know that public transport is already heavily subsidized anyway (the ticket price paid by the user covers on average only one third of the real cost of the journey)?
This has been considered by several municipalities, and some have implemented it (Châteauroux, Dunkirk...). The Île-de-France region commissioned a report on this subject in 2019 to estimate the advantages and disadvantages of this solution. And the results are indisputable: it would cost more than fraud. What is more, in order to make transport completely free, it will have to be affordable
And this necessarily involves an increase in taxes, with an obvious political risk.
Finally, it would lead to a loss of important information to adjust supply to demand. Validating transport tickets makes it possible to estimate how many people use a line, what are the peak hours, the need for vehicles, the activity on the network. This information is essential for the correct dimensioning of the transport network.
#6 - Opting for AI
In recent years, Artificial Intelligence has made its way through in the field of public transport and is proving to be effective in the fight against fraud. How does it work? Taking into account multiple sources of data, it is possible to make accurate predictions on transport use and to plan optimized enforcement routes according to the objectives set by the transport authorities.
AI solutions take into account data as diverse as weather forecasts, major events, variations in home-to-work or home-to-school flows, enforcement force work hours to be drive control agents in the right place and at the right time. Rather than increasing the number of checks, the solution is used to better target them to achieve fraud reduction objectives.
Despite the wide variety of measures put in place by operators, fraud will always be present. However, the use of the most effective measures allowed by AI enables more targeted controls and thus gives enforcement agents the possibility to carry out other tasks such as ensuring the safety of users and staff. If you are looking for a solution to achieve your objectives, please do not hesitate to contact us.