TransLink, the transportation system authority in Vancouver, B.C., is searching for collection agencies to crack down on riders who don't pay.

The transit authority has put out requests for proposals from collection firms to take advantage of authority granted in September by the provincial legislation. One or several collection agencies will be selected by the end of the year, according to TransLink spokesperson Drew Snider.

Hiring third-party debt collectors makes more sense than employing TransLink staff, who don’t have the time or training to chase unpaid fines from riders, says Snider.

Until September, many of the $173 fines issued to transit riders without a valid fare went unpaid because TransLink had no enforcement mechanisms in place to collect them.

The transit authority will be able to use revenue from the fines, which escalate to $273 if unpaid for one year, to cover the costs of the fine administration, dispute resolution services and collection costs.

The province said the new enforcement rules could apply to outstanding fines issued over the past 10 years. There are about 245,000 unpaid tickets.

TransLink estimates it lost about $7.4 million to fare evaders on SkyTrain last year, along with another $7.9 million in lost fares on buses. It expects the collection of unpaid fines could bring TransLink $4 million a year.

TransLink also will be able to pursue fare evaders through the Insurance Corp. of B.C., which can refuse licenses or vehicle registration renewals to the debtors if they go more than 90 days without fine payment.

An estimated 30 percent of fare evaders have driver’s licenses or vehicle registration, according to Canada's Ministry of Transportation.

TransLink will be able to refuse transit service to evaders until all fines are paid, but Snider acknowledged the legislation doesn’t explain how offenders will be kept off city buses, SkyTrain service or be denied the ability to purchase passes at retail outlets.

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