With University Link coming online in about two years, Sound Transit’s fare enforcement needs are about to increase considerably. Sound Transit has asked the legislature for a simple bill to save them (and you) money enforcing fares, and it could use our support.

Today, law enforcement has access to a system that allows them to issue citations on the spot. Sound Transit fare enforcement officers (FEOs) can’t do that.

Right now, when an FEO on Link finds someone who hasn’t paid, they first photograph the person’s ID. At the end of a shift, each FEO has to spend almost three hours doing the paperwork to send all the data they collected to a district court. Finally, the court processes them and attempts service on the people identified. This is a mess – it wastes hours every day, and the rate of returned service is very high.

Sound Transit wants to streamline this process. If FEOs have the tools to issue citations at the time of enforcement and avoid the court process, the agency thinks it won’t have to hire any more FEOs for University Link.

Sound Transit first requested permission from the state patrol to use the same system as law enforcement, but were told that fare enforcement would have to *be* law enforcement to use it.

Eventually, the district court requested a simple bill to save both governments money and create a standard citation for Sound Transit fare enforcement to issue in the field. The House bill (HB 2111) passed with bipartisan support, as it not only helps Sound Transit but also increases farebox recovery and generally makes government a little more efficient. Now the Senate companion, SB 5961, is stalled in Transportation, where an apparent failure of two district courts to communicate with each other led to incorrect testimony in opposition. Seriously.

This is a worthwhile way to save us all a little money. What we’re asking is that you call your Senator and say “please ask your friends on Senate Transportation to move SB 5961 ASAP.” Because this is embarrassing.

62 Replies to “Help Sound Transit Simplify Fare Enforcement”

  1. Why were the words ‘regional transit’ struck from SB 5961? Could this mean other agencies (other than transit) could also issue tickets without law enforcement present? Seems arbitrary to me…

    1. It is a formatting change. RCW 81.112.020 says:

      “Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter.

      (1) ‘Authority’ means a regional transit authority authorized under this chapter.”

  2. Thanks, Ben. Time to meet my new representatives anyway. Will also be sure to request some help from my elected State reps to persuade King County to use the fare inspectors to get fare collection in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel out of the way of service. Can anyone help me with an accurate estimate of the cost to taxpayers of one minute of operating delay down there?

    “Now the Senate companion, SB 5961, is stalled in Transportation, where an apparent failure of two district courts to communicate with each other led to incorrect testimony in opposition. Seriously.” Not very comforting to see that inability to make two and two be four due to bad communication isn’t limited to a transit system under stress.

    Technologically and historically, good case could be made that this kind of thing worked better when someone had to deliver messages written in beautiful script with a goose feather on parchment. Sealed with a piece of wax stamped with an artistic design.


  3. I wonder if an FEO works just 5 hours on the trains, then puts in 3 hours back at the office filling out paperwork to make an 8 hour day, or they spend 8 hours on the trains, then spends 3 of overtime back at the office filling out paperwork.

    I also wonder what percentage of Link FEO tickets are actually paid. I once asked someone to look into that. I suspect the percentage of people who pay the fine is in the single digits.

    It’s also amusing to me that an agency with a big budget like Sound Transit is fretting over the thought of hiring a couple more FEO’s. I would imagine they have to be some of the lowest paid employees at ST. The phrase penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind.

    1. “It’s also amusing to me that an agency with a big budget like Sound Transit is fretting over the thought of hiring a couple more FEO’s.”

      So, Sam, you’re advocating that Sound Transit not try to maximize the efficiency of the staffing they already have?

      1. Careful, Velo. That’s exactly the argument that’s being used for putting your drivers’ seat-springs in danger of rusting.


      2. What Velo is trying to say is that if we can become more efficient with regard to Fare Enforcement, then why hire more when we can do just fine with what we’ve got? If they can write citations on the spot, then it will save everyone involved time and money, and they can do the jobs for which they were hired: Enforcing fares and security.

    2. Would this bill allow Metro to do the same? The RapidRide FEOs are based at Central Base and I seem them huddled there after their shifts going through records and creating citations. I’d support this bill but only if it’s open to improving operations at Metro as well. (and, presumably, Community Transit on SWIFT)

      1. That’s fine… I’m more interested in leaving options open for all agencies that do fare inspections. Having to go back to the legislature for each agency is nuts.

      2. I’d prefer those that provide citations are LEOs…not some low-wage security guard. While some may cite profiling as a problem, my concerns are based on non-(law enforcement) certified private employees giving citations/fines.

        I like the Swift model.

    3. Sam, you would know the answer to your question if you had taken up my dare to apply for the job. Are you afraid?

  4. People should not be allowed in the tunnel or on any platforms unless they have tapped their orca card or have a ticket.

    1. Are you suggesting that barriers be installed everywhere? What would the cost of that be compared to FEOs?

      1. You don’t need turnstiles to do this, it just needs to be marked that proof-of-payment is required on the platforms. It’s often a sign reading, “Proof of payment required beyond this point,” at the entrance to the platform.

        In order to do this, we’d have to implement off-board payment for buses at tunnel stops at the mezzanine level… but because of in-tunnel transfers we’d still want ORCA readers for both trains and buses on the platforms as well, just for transferring riders.

        At Beacon Hill I think the “fare-paid area” would extend just to the platforms, but not the hallway between them. Big elevated stations like SeaTac and TIBS (and Northgate in the future) will have mezzanine levels and work just like tunnel stations. At IDS you’d call the platforms fare-paid and require riders to pay on the plaza above. I don’t think any of this would apply at the surface stations along MLK because the only place to put the readers is on the platforms themselves, and you really don’t want people lining up for readers to form lines out toward the street (it happens without incident at arterial-median stops in SF and at-grade stops on the Brown Line in Chicago, but it’s not ideal for handling crowds).

      2. Beacon Hill already has signs posted at the surface that ‘fare is required beyond this point’. I think its mostly to give them a legal basis for booting any suspicious loiterers underground given the safety concerns some people have.

      3. @Al Dimond
        I like the idea of added signage and extra readers. It seems like an easy solution to people forgetting to pay (as opposed to people refusing to pay).

        Rather than the expense of turn-styles, increased signage, and more visible card readers would help a lot of folks remember to pay I suspect.

    2. I have advocated something like this in the past, but really this would only work when the buses are out of the tunnel.

      Even then there is a significant cost associated with installing ticket turn styles in all of the link stations. It might be worth it eventually… but it depends on how much enforcement ends up costing. Right now it doesn’t seem like it would save money yet.

      I do think that making it easier to notice the ORCA readers (signage, and maybe more permanent looking fixtures for the readers that scream “touch your card here”) would be a great idea though as its easy to miss these now if its your first time.

      Again though this is really only something that works when the buses are out of the tunnel, as we don’t want bus riders accidentally tapping in for riding the train when they intend to ride a bus.

  5. Isn’t the most logical fix is to add turnstiles? I know we can’t do that now in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel because it’s shared with buses, but once they’re removed in the future for East Link, can’t we install them then? That way lots of money isn’t wasted on Sound Transit fare enforcers and lots of work can be decreased.

      1. The article you linked to says that “an average of 5,000 daily riders/station seems like a prudent minimum number of users needed to justify the use of turnstiles.” In 2030, Link will have roughly 280,000 riders per day and around 35 stations (excluding Tacoma Link and any ST3 extensions). This results in 8,235 per station, which is well over the 5,000 riders/station that is needed to justify turnstiles. Of course, if fare evasion is higher in LA than in Seattle it would make the calculation less favorable, but it seems like Link Light Rail should get enough usage to make installing turnstiles worthwhile.

    1. No, you would have to cordon off the entire operating system. Fencing and turnstiles around the tracks wherever they run on ground, and around all stations. Otherwise, people would just go around the turnstiles, jump on link for free, and no longer be caught since there wouldn’t be fare-checks like there are now. That’s waaaaaaaaay more expensive than salary for a few FEOs.

      1. Agreed, though a small investment in better signage and placement of the ORCA readers would be worthwhile after the buses are out of the tunnel.

        There are a number of stations (like Beacon Hill) where its very easy to miss them now and having them in easier to notice location could do quite a bit to reduce unintentional fare evasion.

        The intentional fare evasion is still cheaper to resolve right now with better enforcement.

    2. Turnstiles cost more – equipment maintenance and real estate are high, and you still get jumpers, especially on a surface system. There are a bunch of benefits to proof of payment, and most new systems are using it, in fact, I heard from ST that all new systems in the last decade are, and Chicago and LA are experimenting with switching to proof of payment.

      1. LA was fully open proof of payment until recently. Although many stations now have latched turnstiles, proof of payment still applies and you still can get a fare evasion citation if caught. I have been checked for POP inside the gated area and on trains.

      2. Honolulu’s HART elevated Light Metro line is switching to fare gates. It’s in early construction stages, and the first segment scheduled to open in 2017.

  6. Something to consider with regards to proof-of-payment, from Denver (p 14, last paragraph)


    “Residents expressed some fear about security guards used on light rail vehicles. Several [community members] reported incidences of racial profiling and being removed from trains to have their fares checked”

    Text box, with the original comment provided in Spanish: “My family cannot take the trains because the police always come to talk to us first”

    One clear advantage of pay-driver (buses) or faregates (rail) is that boxes of metal inherently are unable to discriminate in their enforcement of fares, while proof-of-payment appears to be creating a confrontational atmosphere towards non-white populations or customers with limited English proficiency.

    Has Seattle had any known instances of accused discrimination on proof-of-payment routes Link or RapidRide?

    1. Every time I’ve seen Fare Inspectors in operation, they start at one end of the car and work their way towards the middle. Kinda hard to discriminate when you take riders in order like that, one by one.

      1. This is my experience with the Denver light rail (I live there). Denver’s light rail ridership is also pretty diverse, so it’s unlikely that the people who made that comment would always be the only minorities on their train.

    2. My experience is with Link – when fare enforcement comes on, they go through each and every person every time. No discrimination in checking as they always check everyone.

      I don’t know that enforcement is perfectly non-discriminatory if someone without a fare is found. But from the few times that I have seen someone get busted it looks like they’re going from a pretty scripted procedure so I would hope it would be enforced in a uniform manner.

    3. For many riders, especially the more vulnerable, agencies cite an increase in safety perception from having the FEOs.

    4. Everyone’s guilty until proven innocent, contrary to our protections under the Constitution. I’m just waiting for someone to sue to get these laws overturned.

      1. So you oppose all proof-of-payment systems? How else would you plan to efficiently and effectively conduct them?

      2. Chris…

        In more detail – I see the Constitutional problem you raise, and at first glance, your argument does seem clear and convincing. However, your argument would tear down more than fare enforcement. You’re effectively saying no one ever has a legal obligation to show any document at any time – which would spell the death of drivers’ licenses, age controls in alcohol sales, and perhaps of passports as well. While I admit this isn’t a legal argument, and I agree that just because a practice is longstanding doesn’t make it Constitutional, I hope you’ll agree we have to be cautious before tearing down such an integral part of modern order as drivers’ licenses.

        Perhaps we could build up a new system of highway safety even if drivers’ licenses are unconstitutional, based around immediately prosecuting any moving or equipment violation as assault with a deadly weapon. But I’d rather see more details first – and I definitely won’t oppose something so useful as proof-of-payment unless the principle of not demanding documentation is actually going to be universally applied.

  7. I have a question related to fare enforcement: Is an 18-year-old required to carry age-proving ID and have it ready to show the driver when they use their youth ORCA card (yes, ORCA card) when boarding ST express buses? I ask because a driver requested that from me once, I don’t have a driver’s license and would not want to carry around my passport everywhere I go.

    1. Not an ST Express Bus, but a few months ago, I saw a Link FEO request ID from someone with an under-18 ticket who he believed looked older than 17. When the young lady said she didn’t have ID, the FEO made her get off the train with them at the next stop.

    2. SIde Sam-level question: Is a youth ORCA designed to expire when the holder turns 19? How much is a rider charged for a pass the month she/he turns 19?

    3. BTW, as far as I’ve seen, none of the services in the ORCA pod require a youth ORCA in order to get the youth fare. Not even Kitsap Transit.

      King County Ferries, though, charges a heavy premium when youth pay with a non-ORCA product.

      1. My experience on Metro [the 202 to be explicit] is that trying to pay my 8 year old’s one zone fare with my ORCA card consistently led to me being charged 3 bucks no matter what I asked the driver to do. Complaints to Metro were met with my being told to get her her own youth ORCA.

  8. Sadly, i will write my reps to vote “NO!” unless one provision is added: require that the Orca readers be made useful for the visually-impaired. A rising chime for tap on and falling chime for tap off would do nicely. Contextual sounds will help the sighted too.

    1. I agree with your goal (different sounds), as I have gotten warned for tapping twice (even though I have a sufficient monthly pass for all Link trips). I also agree that it is important enough, for accessibility’s and equity’s sake, to be legislated if ST doesn’t act on the various complaints about the identical tones.

      That said, wouldn’t it be more productive to ask for this as an amendment, rather than threaten to kill the bill? It is a more-than-reasonable request, so go ahead and request it in a reasonable manner.

  9. To discourage such behaviour, perhaps those who are caught fare-cheating should have their picture taken and be told to get off at the next bus stop.

    1. That’s pretty much what happens on RapidRide now, except that the picture is of the person’s ID. If they don’t have ID then they get to wait for the Sheriff to ID them.

  10. I agree with VeloBusDriver, all of the transit agencies should have whatever power is decided upon, it’s not just Sound Transit that faces this issue. Fare evaders who hold ORCA cards sit closest to the ORCA readers (on Metro), then tap their cards when they see fare enforcement; those who don’t have a card (or there’s no reader nearby), they deboard. Others just ride for one station (for free). I’ve rarely seen a Metro fare enforcer. Up north, they have a total of three fare enforcers, with an occasional Sheriff (I’ve seen one of the latter in 4+ years of regular riding and haven’t seen one of the former in maybe 3 years). It’s no wonder that a recent study at an LA agency found that 26% of riders didn’t pay their fare (12% without a card or without fare loaded on their cards, 3% who had paid for a pass-but had never activated it, 7% hadn’t tapped their cards), cost them between $1 million and $2 million/year. Even a portion of that amount would hire a lot of fare inspectors and would close some of the gap, but they need more power than just being able to tell the person to leave the the bus, as the fare evaders just get on the next one.

    1. Fare evaders don’t get told to get off the bus/train and find another way home, except to be given the talk on how and where to pay, after which they get back on the bus/train and proceed on their merry way; or if they have been given a previous unpaid ticket, at the very least.

      Trespass results in arrest, not simply being told to get off. I’ve seen several riders carted off in handcuffs.

    2. For fare enforcement to be both cost effective and result in reasonable proof of payment compliance, the process needs to be efficient and the penalties to the rider need to immediate and certain and high enough. In most European countries where I have experienced fare enforcement (e.g. Paris and Germany) some of the officers are plainclothes, and they do issue citations immediately, not warnings or mail them later, and they can take immediate payment.

      Germany doesn’t use fare gates anywhere and has reasonably complex fares. It’s the customer’s responsibility to figure it out. Paris does use fare gates on subways and regional rail, but it’s POP on buses and trams.

  11. Bad idea. We should not have FEOs in the first place. You are using law enforcement to solve an engineering problem. It would be much better to simply have turnstiles to access the stations like they do in NYC with a few cops to arrest people that jump them.

    I hate being pestered for my ticket by the FEOs when I am trying to relax and read a book. It harshes my vibe.

    1. A few points, Christopher:

      (1) Turnstiles don’t make FEOs go away.
      (2) Many of the Sounder and Link stations would have to be redesigned to be more enclosed, ruining the artsiness and good vibes of some of the stations.
      (3) In order to arrest turnstile jumpers, that would be a much larger police force than the current skeletal FEO contingent.
      (4) FEOs serve to make vulnerable passengers feel a lot more comfortable on the train or bus. They aren’t just there to check fares.

    2. Fare enforcement officers also free bus drivers from having to act as cops. Instead, drivers can spend their time and direct their focus to driving, and to helping passengers as needed.

      1. Actually, under the current system we have bus drivers acting as fare enforcers when passengers enter a bus. The policy is that they ask for payment once, which is a terrible idea that causes operators to be assaulted. The driver should just drive the bus and be completely divorced from fare payment. We should switch to a system where the ONLY way to ride the bus is with an ORCA card and the drivers doesn’t have to remind people to pay and hand out transfers. That’s what they do in NYC and DC.

      2. You are mistaken about NYC. The bus driver is very much a fare enforcement officer in NYC buses and they are more aggressive about it than in Seattle. In fact it perhaps instills a higher degree of respect of the bus driver. While most pay with a Metrocard, which is the only way to get a free transfer to the subway, you can also pay by cash and they can issue transfers to another bus.

      3. @Christopher, no. As I said last time this idea was brought up, one time my parents visited town and wanted to ride the bus from the Yarrow Point Freeway Station. There’s no Orca vending machine there. Under your plan, what were they to do? Drive to downtown, buy two cards for $10, and then decide whether to stay in the car or find somewhere to park it to ride the bus?

        (If your response is to lower the card fee, I agree, but that doesn’t solve the problem. If your response is that the Yarrow Point Freeway Station should have a vending machine, feel free to substitute in any other one of our thousands of bus stops.)

      4. It’s almost 10,000 stops, but who’s counting?

        Christopher, what are you going to do when your card suddenly malfunctions after three years of hard use, and you are trying to get home from, say, somewhere deep in Federal Way.

        Should Metro and ST deny you service, and make you call a for-hire driver?

      5. Christopher, I’m arguing for universal proof-of-payment, where bus drivers don’t have to do *anything* about fare enforcement. I’m saying that what we have now on buses is bad, and what we have now on Link is good.

      6. POP enforcement on infrequent routes, especially in the suburban areas, can be diseconomic. You’d either make those buses free or purely honor system. It can work when vehicles are frequent and dense, but you’re not going to make Issaquah-North Bend or Renton-Maple Valley POP and send FEO’s. It’s perfectly reasonable to have the driver perform two functions on routes like this or later in the evenings.

      7. There is no particular reason not to give Metro sheriffs the tool of universal POP. It can be in addition to pay-as-you-board. Sheriffs may have use to invoke the right to see proof-of-payment when dealing with troublemakers on buses, and thereby be able to issue a fare citation on top of warnings for misbehavior, and be able to move more quickly to a trespass warning.

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