Free Riders and Ticket Fraud in Public Transport: a Delphi Analysis

Free Riders and Ticket Fraud in Public Transport: a Delphi Analysis


E Fuerst, WU Vienna, AT


Free-riding and ticket fraud are serious problems in public transport. In a Delphi study of a panel of experts we analysed the phenomena and shed light on current developments and measures to prevent passengers from unpaid use of transport services.


Public transport companies are the backbone of urban transport networks and provide important mobility services for the general public. As these services are of particular importance to a vast majority of people, municipal, provincial and state governments take responsibility for financing infrastructure networks and - at least in part - also the maintenance of the services.

However, usually the use of public transport services is not free of charge for passengers. Although tariffs are frequently subsidised, revenues generated by ticket sales are an important source of income for the transport companies in order to keep the system financially balanced. The problem of free-riding (i.e. people using a transport service but not paying for it) and ticket fraud (the production of an illegal ticket facsimile) is of course not new to transport industries. Due to technological changes (on the suppliers' as well as on the passengers' side) the problem seems to change. Different approaches to ticket control, electronic ticketing, a rise in propensity to violence, broadening of poverty or better copying machines are but a few impact factors to take into consideration which render the problem more and more serious. Thus transport companies need to react to recent developments if they want to avoid substantial loss of income at present and in the future.

We conducted a Delphi analysis on the subject by sending out two rounds of surveys to a representative number of public transport companies and transport associations in Austria, Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland asking experts to participate in the study. We addressed the experts' overall perception of the phenomena, its development over time, passengers? motives, measures and technologies to prevent and curtail free riding and ticket fraud, penalties, estimated revenue losses, related legal regulations, social aspects of ticket checking procedures, the acceptance of paying passengers and whether using a transport service without paying is seen as trivial offense only or rather as a serious delict, respectively.

The article gives an actual overview on experts' perspectives and discusses different aspects of both free riding and ticket fraud. It concludes by some implications with practical relevance as well as an outlook on further steps in research.


Association for European Transport