Transit Police will be going undercover to catch university students flipping their discount transit passes for a profit – a problem that has already cost Translink millions.

Officers are trolling Craigslist, Kijiji and other websites and want would-be sellers to know that they might get an unpleasant surprise when they make the transaction, said Transit Police spokesperson Anne Drennan.

“They should know that they might find they’re selling to a police officer which means they will be charged criminally,” Drennan said.

University students pay about $30 a month in student fees for a three-zone pass, called a U-Pass. That’s about six times cheaper than the $170 a month adults will pay for a similar pass in January.

The idea behind the passes is to encourage students to take transit while at university, which Translink believes will encourage them to continue using public transportation as adults, taking cars off the road.

But if you check Craigslist or Kijiji, dozens of students a day are selling their passes for a profit. Every pass sold is a pass that isn’t bought from Translink – something that has resulted in millions in losses for an agency that is raising fares and installing fare gates to fight a large deficit.

“It’s a significant and ongoing problem,” said Drennan.

CTV News also went undercover to see students selling passes. In three different interactions, our hidden cameras saw students who had paid $30 in student fees selling their passes for as much as $50.

One UBC student told our undercover intern that it wasn’t his first time.

“I’ve sold many of them,” he said, adding that his customers haven’t called back to say that the passes don’t work.

When asked what he was doing by CTV News, the student said, “That’s awkward,” and biked away.

He called back to explain that he lives on UBC campus and doesn’t use the pass, so was trying to recoup his student fees.

“It’s the market,” he said.

Drennan said websites like Craigslist and Kijiji have tried to crack down on postings, and there has been some success removing posts. But dozens of passes continue to be for sale because the websites are overwhelmed with posts.

“You can’t be fast enough,” Drennan said. “There are so many ads and they get snapped up quickly so this is a significant ongoing problem for us.”

Drennan said an undercover operation has already netted one charge against one seller, and police say other sellers could face charges.

“If you’re selling passes, that is fraud, which is a criminal offense,” Drennan said.

Drennan said if the purchaser of the pass is checked, and doesn’t have the matching student card, they could also be looking at a $173 fine.

Passes for January are being issued today for students, and police are hoping that they get the message.

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