TransLink admits a few fare evaders are getting through Compass fare gates without paying by using a smartphone app that makes expired Compass paper tickets valid again.
Officials say it has so far happened only about 25 times since December.
“We can see it as soon as it happens,” spokesman Chris Bryan said of the tech-savvy ticket tampering. “Right now we’re just monitoring the frequency of it. It’s been very low. We are continuing to monitor it closely. If we do see that increase we’ll have to act on it.”
He stressed it affects only the Compass paper tickets that that are dispensed as temporary fares at station vending machines – no vulnerabilities have been detected so far involving the Compass cards themselves.
A paper ticket manipulated by smartphone can be instantly detected by TransLink and it can be cancelled so it won’t work the next time the fraudster tries to tap it at a gate. Even if it’s not cancelled the ticket wouldn’t work for more than a day.
If Transit Police intercept perpetrators they could face a $173 fare evasion fine and potential criminal fraud charges.
“It is fraud, it is an offence to do what some people have done,” Bryan said, but added the overwhelming majority of passengers pay the correct fare.
Officers are equipped with mobile scanners to verify tickets in fare-paid zones.
So far, some manipulated tickets have been cancelled but there have been no arrests.
Bryan said it would be an offence to either tamper with a Compass ticket or to use one to avoid paying fares.
The vulnerability with transit payment systems provided by Cubic Transportation Systems was first exposed in 2012, and similar hacks have been documented in U.S. cities where smartphones have been used to rewrite data on the chips embedded in tickets.
Bryan confirmed TransLink knew such hacks were likely to happen here too.
He said a technology solution is available to TransLink that could be considered if the problem becomes too large.
“There is a solution, it’s just a matter of measuring the costs versus the benefits,” Bryan said. “Obviously there is an ability to manipulate this. For us it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of what kind of impact it is having. Right now, it’s very minimal in terms of cost.”
No estimate has been provided on the cost of upgrading the system to thwart the smartphone hack.
The same type of fare ticket is used in numerous systems around the world.
“This is a lot of work to not pay a fare,” one local transit user said of the smartphone hack on Reddit, noting other fare evaders now cheat by simply closely following behind paying riders as they pass through the gates.