Every business wants to attract new customers and retain the existing ones. In the particular case of public transportation, most of the time, the customers are the same. Statistically speaking, more than 95% of the population of a major city has taken at least once the bus. The other 5% are the rich people who have a car with a driver or the new generation of UBER fans. Competition is healthy for every business in town.
For the 95% of us that are commoners, the bus company has some mean of identification. Nowadays it is called a travel pass and it is digital. Twenty years ago it as a photo stamped on a 2 inch by 3 inch paper.
As long as it was hard to duplicate, in other words next to impossible, due to technological limitations, the paper ID served well its purpose: allow authorized personnel to validate the fact that people taking the bus have paid their trip. For the vast majority of them, it was true. People often commute between home and workplace. Next come the tourists, who pay their bus fare, too. Last, the special category of people who bet on the chance of not being caught. Their group is melting down, especially with the advent of modern technology. In some cities we have the group of untouchables, people who don’t need to show identification, like retirees who benefit from free transportation without having a pass. This is a hole in the system and we will see to it later.
Normally, the personnel that checks the travel passes have a special badge or ID, in a different color from the normal passes. They used to work alone, but today, fraudsters perceive control as a thread and may behave dangerously. It is customary for the controlling personnel to work in groups, sometimes more than ten people, in case of a tram.
The transportation company needs to perform these controls for several reasons and they are all justified by common sense.
First, the transportation is a business. Even for public companies, when money is exchanged for the value of the service, there should be a mean to check if the exchange money for goods/service has taken place.
Next, people who don’t pay for transportation are most likely to disregard society at different levels. Thy may be hooligans, people on the run, and other similar individuals. We might add the homeless, but they don’t have the means to pay. This is not about the morality of paying, but about a pure business rule of exchange money for a service. Period.
Third, by knowing how many people travel on a particular bus line, the company can adapt to the needs. An overcrowded bus could indicate that the line is in high demand. A logical answer to that could be to run additional buses, or reinforce nearby lines. People travel by bus by need, most of the time.
Anyway, public transportation companies must know their customers, at least to identify those who respect the rules from those who don’t.