Why Do Public Transportation Systems need Bias Training?

Nov 29, 2021

How does public transportation worldwide allow the opportunity for racial bias and discrimination to take place? Here is a hint.

Most urban transit systems inherently facilitate and encourage a reliance on unconscious bias due to the reverse principle of the rider having to prove that they have paid.

Here is the problem:

The current transit fare payment and collection system being utilized by many public transit organizations and most rapid regional urban transit systems inherently facilitates and encourages a reliance on unconscious bias. The current fundamental “reverse onus” principle that a transit user must prove that they have paid the required fare to utilize public transit provides the ideal circumstances for bias to be relied upon to support fare payment confirmation activity. The words used as part of the discretionary nature of fare verification activity further compounds the actual opportunity for discriminatory conduct by transit employees tasked with ensuring transit riders pay their fare.

Public transit “Proof of Payment” systems rely on a three staged process. The first stage of the process is automatic electronic fare collection by a provided “collection device.” The second stage of the process is physical system access in an open or secure setting. Open settings for the purpose of transit fare collection are areas or vehicles that allow a passenger access to transit service without a physical access control feature such as a “fare gate.” Secure settings are system access controlled with a door or gate for a bus and subway stations. The third and final stage of the system is “random payment verification.” This task is undertaken by an authorized transit employee and is the only human element of the process, and thus, the only part of the process that allows for the influence of personal bias.

The concept of “rapid transit” in a major urban centre works most efficiently when public transportation systems can move large groups of people to multiple destinations without delay. This concept then produces convenience and expected efficiency for both people and business, since it is widely agreed that “time is money.” The requirement of fare payment verification by human beings has the potential to impact the system and individual efficiency by creating delay when passengers are stopped to verify fare payment. The transit system attempts to mitigate this potential delay by instituting “spot checks” or “random verification checks.” Spot-checking and randomly verifying fare payment of a limited number of passengers is designed to be a fast process that also provides an element of fare evasion deterrence. This quick “two for one” process is thought to minimize both system delay and revenue loss. Unfortunately, the utilization of random or spot checks maximizes organizational human rights liability and the opportunity for unintended discrimination.

The terms “proof of payment,” “fare inspector,” “revenue protection,” “fare integrity investigation,” and “rapid transit” all come together to create a situation where implicit bias, employee perception, and the exercise of individual discretion result in systemic discrimination focused on BIPOC people. The terms “proof of payment” and “fare integrity investigation” in the context of a multi-racial society raise questions that are inherently bias laden, such as, who should not have to randomly prove that they have paid their fare to prevent unnecessary personal delay on a rapid transit system? This question requires that a transit employee be able to rapidly identify people they believe are less likely to pay their fare and more likely to be economically impacted by a travel delay. The need for a fare integrity investigation lies in the perception of a transit employee to rapidly include those riders whom they believe that an investigation will result in a determination of fare evasion. Regardless, transit employees must exercise their discretion to protect agency revenue by investigating or supporting system efficiency, by choosing to inspect, or not inspect, a passenger’s fare media.

Recent media articles focused on scientific studies have clearly indicated that implicit bias by transit employees is the “driver” for discriminatory treatment of Black and Indigenous transit users. In a recent Toronto Star article (Spur, 2021), it is stated that recent research concluded the disparities for Black and Indigenous riders were so great that “at a minimum, [they] were consistent with allegations of racial bias.” However, investigators could not definitively rule out other factors. A second phase of the review is due in 2022 and will better determine the role of bias (Spur, 2021).

Here is one potential solution to address this racial bias:

Some public transit organizations have documented the impact and cost of bias within day-to-day operations, and should explore the provision of coaching on how to best identify internal policies or practices that may facilitate organizational or individual bias. Coaching individuals towards mitigation of the effects of their bias, is only part of the solution. Public Transportation leaders need to understand unconscious bias and create systems which support the individual employee’s efforts to significantly restrict the opportunity for bias to manifest itself.

At TNT Justice Consultants, we believe in “innovation through introspection.” There are no inferences made that most people are either broken and, or in need of repair. Rather, we all have biases and are all capable of identifying and implementing mitigation strategies.

TNT Justice Consultants, in partnership with Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists, a U.K. firm which is led by psychology and where psychology is led by evidence, have advanced a “proof of concept” Implicit Bias Test. This tool has the field-tested capability to measure individual personal bias against members of BIPOC groups and other identifiable individuals. TNT is the exclusive Canadian administrator and distributer of a customizable and enhanced bias test called Implicitly®. This bias test was developed over a six-year period and has been utilized in the fiels across Europe, since 2009, with over 300,000 tests administered. At TNT, we recognize where our expertise begins and ends, and we only work with psychologists and justice sector leaders with the same ethos to promote exciting new developments in leadership thinking based on both knowledge (i.e. awareness, application, action) and judgement.


There have been commissions, reviews, and reports cited in Canada on this subject, dating back 20 years or more. There have been some apologies and compensation, strategies and action plans. However, the discriminatory treatment of indigenous peoples and other minority communities continues across the public services, education, health and criminal justice sectors, and more broadly in society. Many current forms of training, system policies and processes introduced by transit organizations are moderately successful but fail to address the common denominators of such disparity and abuse. That is, “the people who make the decisions, pass the laws, write the policies, set up the systems and exercise the power have yet to address the root cause of unconscious bias” (Trovato & Jones, 2021)


Spur, B. (2021). You assumed I didn’t tap because I was Black’: TTC promises change over report officers stop Black and Indigenous riders far more often. Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/04/09/you-assumed-i-didnt-tap-because-i-was-black-ttc-promises-change-over-report-officers-stop-black-and-indigenous-riders-far-more-often.html

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