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Last Wednesday, I gave up.

I paid a $124 fine for a ticket I did not believe I deserved, a ticket from a Sound Transit fare enforcement officer who at first told me I would only receive a warning, after fully intending to challenge the ticket in court.

What changed my mind? In the end, I just couldn’t stomach the Shoreline Rule, which says that, in order to challenge a ticket from Sound Transit or King County Metro, no matter where that ticket was issued, you have to travel all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. If you live in Shoreline or far north Seattle, bully for you. If you have a car, more power. But if you’re transit-dependent like I am, and live in any other part of the county (I’m in Southeast Seattle, which is hardly the hinterlands), your only option is to get a ride from a friend (good luck doing that on a weekday at 10am), or take the bus.

Don’t blame the county or Sound Transit. Both agencies told me they have nothing to do with the Shoreline Rule. Blame, instead, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker, who signs the General Administration Orders (most recently in March of this year) directing where various case types are adjudicated, and whether the court can hear challenges in more than one location.

“State law says the county district court handles our fare enforcement,” says ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “We don’t have the ability to tell them what to do. It’s their decision.” King County’s Rochelle Ogershok confirms the same is true at King County.

So why does King County make people travel to the far northern county line to challenge tickets they got in Renton, Burien, or Bellevue? According to Tucker’s court assistant, the Shoreline Rule was set up to “balance caseloads” between the nine King County District Court locations, so that no single location gets overburdened. (Prior to 2005, cases were assigned to court “based on location,” the court assistant adds). These days, judging from the orders the court has issued designating locations for various offenses over recent decades, the court appears to pick locations almost at random: If you commit a criminal offense on a light-rail train, for example, you’ll have to show up to court in downtown Seattle; if you violated a Fish and Wildlife law south of I-90, you’ll plead your case in Burien; and if you break a liquor law you’ll join the transit scofflaws up in Shoreline.

Having accepted that King County insisted on my presence Shoreline, I checked out my transit options. King County Metro Trip Planner suggested a convoluted route that involved four buses: the 9 to the 218 to the 41 to the 346, for a total of 76 minutes.

 That speaks, in part, to Metro’s sometimes bizarre Trip Planner recommendations (common sense suggests taking the 7 or Link to downtown and then the RapidRide E Line to 185th, but the ride plus the walk won’t be much shorter than Metro’s suggested route), but it also speaks to the fact that both Metro and Sound Transit make it so tough for transit-dependent riders to respond to tickets in person that it may make more financial sense to pay the $124 than take a half-day off work to challenge it. This policy sends a discouraging message to riders: Pay up even if you think we’re wrong, or suffer the consequences by being stuck on a bus for the better part of a day.

tripplan

Interestingly, this policy strikes particularly hard at people who ride light rail. That’s because light rail relies on fare enforcement officers to enforce payment of its barrier-free fare, whereas buses rely primarily on drivers to confront riders directly and summon security if a rider refuses to pay or simply doesn’t have their full fare.

Bus confrontation doesn’t usually happen because a) drivers don’t typically want to create conflict with potentially volatile passengers; b) holding a rider while security makes their way to the bus holds up all the other passengers, whereas fare enforcement officers can ticket riders on-board and accompany evaders off the bus or train; and c) many “fare evaders” are simply people who don’t have full fare, a requirement drivers can choose to enforce or ignore at their discretion.

In contrast, Sound Transit’s security officers generally adhere to rigid dictates: If you haven’t paid your full fare or tapped your pass at the station entrance — even if you have already paid the full price of a monthly pass — you get a warning. If you get more than one morning in 12 months, you get a $124 fine. No driver discretion, no exceptions for people who ride every day and therefore open themselves to more potential “fare evasion” incidents in a 12-month period. Just a ticket, followed up by a note in the mail, followed, if you’re really feeling persistent, by a trip up to Shoreline and hopeful vindication.

Or, if you’re like me, you can do this: Go online, type in your citation number, and pay your fine, whether you think you deserve it or not. Pressing “pay” will cost you a $4.99 “convenience fee.” But it sure beats a field trip to the county line.

111 Replies to “The Shoreline Rule”

      1. But again, it’s the King County court’s rule, not ST’s. The only other recourse is the state legislature.

  1. Faregates would reduce the accidental evasion rate to zero. Perhaps that is another reason to support them. If STB readers and contributors (who I imagine are much more aware of fare policies) are getting tripped up by the proof-of-payment system, imagine what must be happening to the general public, and especially tourists.

    Few seem to want faregates, but I’m growing more and more convinced that the benefits outweight the negatives. It is unfortunate that some of the surface stations were not designed to support fare control with the narrow platforms.

    1. Despite the fact that fare enforcement officers are cheaper (or so I’ve been told) than fare gates, I really think tbe fare gates are a much better user experience and avoid the frustration of accidentially forgetting a fare.

      Punitive enforcement seems to me to make transit staff a potential enemy of the riders rather than someone you feel you could turn to for help in an emergency.

      It also could quickly turn a first transit experience into a terrible incident potential new riders would not want to repeat.

    2. I’ve ridden the light rail a half dozen times or so since it opened, and I still have no idea if I paid properly any of those times.

      Does paying for a one-time ticket and just walking on cover me? I don’t know, but if so, why doesn’t just possessing a monthly pass cover you? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

      I’ve had a similar experience in Salt Lake City, riding their rail system to Rio Tinto Stadium for a Sounders game. It is especially bad during events like that where you have large numbers of people boarding at once. I think one or two people in our group were caught for not doing things properly. I can’t speak for if they were intentional or accidental screw-ups, but the lack of clarity didn’t make it easy for those of us who wanted to pay their fair share.

      My experience in 3 years in Chicago, plus a few visits to DC and NYC were the complete opposite. Chicago is great because you pay to get in and your obligation is complete until you need to get in again. If you don’t have the fare then you can’t get in. Pretty cut and dry. DC was also pretty good, despite the confusion of the variable fares. If you don’t have the fare they don’t let you out, and there are machines on the inside where you can add money to your card. I can’t remember exactly how NYC worked, but it was one of these two systems.

      As someone who rarely uses transit (since I left Chicago), fare gates are the only thing that makes sense.

      1. NYC was pay-to-enter when I visited about 20 years ago, and I doubt it’s changed, because Metrocard was incrementally rolled out with an overlap period when both Metrocard and tokens were in use. Such a rollout would only work if the cards matched the tokens pay-to-enter policy.

        Somewhere I still have a souvenir token or two from that trip.

      2. Yup, New York is still on the Metrocard system, pay-in only, flat fare for the whole system. DC is pay-out because it’s distance-based fares.

      3. Yeah, I just used the New York subway the other day. It was very easy, even for a tourist like me.

      4. I’ve seen “proof of payment” done in a perfectly sensible way. For instance, on the light rail in New Jersey, you walk up to a machine and it spits out a little paper receipt, which is your proof of payment for that trip, marked with a time period. Because it’s PAPER, not some electronic gubbins, you know you can prove that you’ve paid.

        Seattle, by contrast, is just being stupid and obnoxious.

    3. Several STB regulars have gotten warnings or tickets, or forgotten to tap sometimes, or have a persistent anxiety that they might forget sometime, or the reader registered a tap out rather than a tap in, etc. In the past sometimes readers weren’t working all but I haven’t seen that for a long time. If you travel regularly, tapping becomes unconscious and then you can’t remember if you did or not, so sometimes you have to go back to the reader and tap twice more (once to cancel, once to restart the trip), or even get off a train to verify you tapped.

      It’s especially problematic at places like Beacon Hill Station where the readers are off to the site so you may not see them to remember to tap, although that has happened to me more tapping out rather than tapping in. They have put some “Fare Paid Zone” signs up but some of them are high up, so you’ll only see them if you’re looking up, which again people don’t usually do if they take transit a lot.

      All this would go away with turnstyles, or at least doorway-line entrances with the readers in front of you at eye level. The surface stations like SODO are best in this regard.

      Then there’s RapidRide E, where the offboard readers are set to one zone, and if you’re going two zones you’re supposed tap with the driver or it’s “fare evasion”. I’ve made it a point to hold up the bus at rush hour asking for a two-zone fare, hoping that if enough people do it Metro will make change the policy. Sometimes the driver tells me to just tap the preset (one-zone) fare, other times he presses a couple buttons and maybe it changes to two zones or maybe he gives up.

      This really puts train riders at a disadvantage to bus riders, and could be part of the resistance to reorganizing buses around Link.

      1. +1

        The sub-optimal locations of many ORCA readers within the stations makes me wonder if ST wants to trick people.

      2. Please don’t hold up RapidRide buses at rush hour just to make a minor operational point. Better for everybody if Metro just eats that 25-cent zone differential. Nobody on Aurora will mind.

        The perspective is we’re #5 or so in road congestion, we’re spending $20 billion or so to build light rail networks, and the buses move a half-million daily riders.

      3. It’s not a minor operational point. I don’t want to get a $124 ticket. How do I know the fare inspectors won’t say I should have asked for a 2-zone fare?

      4. I second the idea that Metro should absorb any 25 cent differentials. First of all, I don’t see how a fare inspector is going to know whether you went one zone or two. Second, they built a crappy system in that they’re trying to do distance-based fares without doing pay as you leave. It is actually conceivable that when you get on the bus you’re not positive where you’re going to get off, or how many zones it will be. More crappy, every ORCA card has a setting (the “Zone Fare Preset”) that controls how many zones you are charged for by default. And, unless you register your card and change the setting, the default is to charge you the maximum fare. I don’t know if the Rapid Ride readers are different, per Mike Orr’s comment above, but I know I paid a bunch of extra zone fares before I figured this out. And the ORCA website FAQ seems to back up the default-to-maximum fare (“Use the preset if you regularly do not travel the full length of a bus route with a zone fare.”) Which undoubtedly means a lot of people are riding one zone but paying for two, which means Metro & ST are scooping up a bunch of extra cash they’re not really entitled to. So anyway I think the system is flawed and zone fares probably best eliminated, but it is extra ridiculous to even think about delaying buses over such a minor issue.

      5. Wow! ‘I live in Shoreline and frequently take E downtown to connect to a Sounder. I wonder how often I’ve inadvertently paid the wrong fare buy just tapping my ORCA card in the obvious manner? Guess I’ll keep doing it until I get a warning. FWIW I’ve never seen any fare enforcement agents North of Northgate Way.

        I’ve been a semi-intentional fare evader years ago when I couldn’t figure out how to use my ORCA on the SLUT and when I didn’t tap because LINK was the next vehicle to arrive in the DSTT when I planned to ride a bus a couple stops on a free transfer.

      6. Metro should simply declare the E a one-zone service. If it wants everybody to choose RapidRide, it should have the base fare and not cost the same as a Seattle-Shoreline express. The zone system was set up decades before RapidRide or the general concept of frequent local corridors, so it shouldn’t be used to dampen RapidRide’s success.

        The offboard readers include their location in the message AFAIK, so the inspector can tell if you tapped a reader before the zone line. I guess they can’t tell if you tap on the bus. I have my card set to one zone, mainly for ST Express. But when Metro started the E it said the offboard readers are set to one zone because that’s what most people are doing, and if you’re going two zones you have to tap with the driver or it’s fare evasion.

    4. Fare gates are ridiculously more expensive – you can’t just put up gates at stations, you have to block access to the ENTIRE LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM – from the airport down to Federal Way, into Seattle, from Seattle all the way to Bellevue and Redmond and beyond, from Seattle up to U Dist, to Northgate, To Lynnwood, and eventually Everett. You literally need fencing and security absolutely everywhere, plus you STILL need officers to check for evaders who hopped the turnstile, because otherwise you spent millions of dollars on faregates that people can just walk or get around.

      Yeah, we love the idea of making it hard for someone to get away with something, but just like drug-testing welfare recipients, this one doesn’t pencil out in the financial math.

      1. Agreed — fare gates would have needed to be in the plans from the very start, that ship has sailed.

        That said, there are better solutions. Placing readers in walking lanes is a simple, sensible starting point. There are two that come immediately to mind — Stadium, where all of the readers are oddly along the sides, and the Airport, where the sole readers on each side are to the side of the baggage gates. Makes no sense — orient machines to walking patterns, place front-and-center. No more of this “reader placement as afterthought” BS.

      2. You don’t need “security and fencing everywhere” – you just need a row of faregates. Obviously some stations were not designed accomodate faregates well, but those stations could have inspectors checking fares on the platform periodically to maintain compliance. If your destination was fare controlled, evasion would still be nearly impossible as you’d still have to tap out.

        You’re also vastly overestimating the percentage of gate jumpers. Gate jumping is not rampant in Boston or DC, the two fare-gated systems I’ve been riding a lot over the past few years. Even late at night when nobody is watching, people are remarkably honest when presented with a faregate system. I don’t think lots of people would actually walk down the track to save $3. Most people aren’t that stupid or that desperate.

        As Link trains get more crowded, onboard fare checking is going to get more and more difficult, which will make evasion much easier. Especially for short trips, evasion will be very easy. Fare inspectors won’t be able to process everyone before getting to the next station, at which point any determined cheat would simply get off and wait for the next, likely inspector-less, train.

      3. Until EVERY SOV car is stopped and ticketed in every HOV lane at all hours, I will oppose turnstiles.

      4. Alex, yes, you absolutely do need fencing and security everywhere. The ONLY reason a turnstile system is effective is because the entire system is inaccessible. If you put up turnstiles but still leave the tracks and platforms otherwise accessible, what is to stop any pedestrian in the MLK corridor from simply walking a few feet on the open-air, at-street-level tracks to get around the gate at the edge of the platform? If you want to resolve the issue by hiring faresheckers, then WHAT THE HELL are you saving by keeping the existing security guards but adding turnstiles that cost a hell of a lot and can be easily walked around?

        [ad hom]

        If you think there are very few fare evaders and most people are honest as you state, then what reason do you have to spend exponential millions on new security for these rare evaders? If you think fare evasion is actually a big effing problem, then your argument that people won’t simply go around a gate in an otherwise accessible system is contradictory BS.

        We already have Link trains packed to teh very brim like sardines partically every day during rushour and FEOs have no problem processing the cars between stations. But heaven forbid they ever thought they were getting a little behind, they can easily hire a couple most FEO staff for about .0000001& the cost of restructuring to a gated system.

      5. (Although a typo, I’m sorta liking “faresheckers”. There’s gotta be a use for that word somewhere. :)

      6. According to analysis by this article http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/08/17/are-turnstiles-worth-their-cost/, Seattle’s light rail system is actually projected to have enough riders per station to make turnstiles worthwhile by 2030 (after Sound Transit 2 extensions). ST2’s ridership estimates project ~280,000 daily riders on ~34 stations by 2030, which is about 8,400 per station. This is on par with Vancouver’s and higher than Los Angeles’ 2009 numbers, and both are installing fare-gates. So it’s plausible that installing turnstiles would make financial sense, especially since the majority of stations haven’t even been built yet, as opposed to having to retro-fit them into existing stations like Vancouver/Los Angeles are doing.

        Additionally, I would argue that a large benefit of turnstiles is not just to reduce intentional fare evasion, but also to eliminate accidental fare evasion and make the payment system more understandable to non-regular riders. Under the current system, it’s very easy to forget to pay (especially when transferring from a bus in the DSTT), even for people who know they have to. Additionally, the fact that payment is required might not even occur to many people (such as visitors from cities with real subway systems and turnstiles, or people for whom English is not a native language), unless there is an obvious physical barrier. Slapping these people with fines just because they forgot to pay or weren’t aware of the intricacies of our fare system cannot be right.

      7. @Jewels: Thanks for the ad hom. Very classy. Most people here like to have a reasonable discussion about transit issues. No need to make this personal.

        Nowhere did I say fare evasion was a big problem. We’re only talking about apparently honest mistakes that turn into $124 + $4.99 citations. That can’t happen in a faregate system. That is all.

        If someone has a death wish to walk along Link tracks to save $3, that’s too bad. I think that’s probably indicative of other, more serious issues that transit fare collection policy is not meant to solve. What it can change, however, is not nailing otherwise honest people with heavy fines for not tapping in and out of a system that makes it unnecessarily inconvenient to do so.

      8. Los Angeles provides a great case study for Seattle.

        Their subway stations were designed from the very beginning to accommodate faregates (just like the DSTT), as were most of the elevated light rail stations. The at-grade light rail stations on the other hand were not built to accommodate fare gates.

        From 1990-2013 the Metro system operated entirely on a proof of payment system. Around 2010 they started gating the stations that could accommodate faregates.

        Now it’s a sort of hybrid system. Half the stations have gates, the other have have “virtual faregates” which involves putting the fare validators in the middle of the entryway, with a large red vinyl stripe on the ground that says “valid fare required beyond this point.” They still have fare enforcement officers roaming the system.

        Also worth noting that pre-2013 Metro said fare evasion was very low (around 5 percent) but it turns out when they added faregates revenue suddenly surged… and the agency brought in an extra $6 million per year.

      9. Fare gates take money to install and maintain and money to staff. As every station with gates needs an ADA gate, that gate needs someone to watch it or it becomes easy for multiple people to ride on one fare via the ADA gate. Also the gates can be finicky about double taps and other issues so you need staff to deal with people having problems like I did when trying to exit MARTA last summer.

        The surface stations need to either be staffed to catch those walking around fare gates or you need to pay inspectors to check fares on trains.

        None of it is magic or free. For the level of ridership we have now proof of payment is the sanest way to do fare enforcement. We just need to lean on Sound Transit to ensure they have sane policies in place. For instance only giving warnings if someone’s card shows a monthly or annual pass.

    5. Of course the benefits outweigh the negatives. Why do you think that nearly every system in the world with stations separated from casual walkers has them? So far as I can see, the only places in the Link system that need or will need on-board fare enforcement is MLK and the surface stations in Bellevue. Every where else is grade separated.

      Because gates simplify and “equitize” fare payment (e.g. it’s REALLY obvious when you’re cheating) I would submit that it makes sense for ST to put full time fare enforcement at the three MLK stations and the few in Bellevue that will be at-grade. It would be cheaper than depending on roving inspectors throughout the system.

      1. Every fare-gated system I have ridden has full-time “station agents” at each station, to assist with handicapped passengers and resolve fare gate issues. Adding fare gates does not necessarily reduce staffing requirements.

      2. Los Angeles does not have station agents at any station that is gated. Instead they use motion activated call boxes with a camera, microphone and speaker. All a customer has to do is walk up to the call box and an agent at the rail operations center comes on the speaker to ask how they can help. They can also remotely control the faregates. That way if a customer has trouble entering, the agent can see them and open the gates if necessary.

      3. Chad, plenty of NYC subway stations have no agents, at least at certain hours of the day.

  2. Can’t you dispute it by mail? I got a fare evasion ticket once on Link around the Mt. Baker station and that’s what I did. I got the whole ticket dismissed.

    1. I’m glad that’s a possibility. I’ve disputed quite a few driving or parking violations over mail, and have never failed to at least get the ticket reduced. If this isn’t possible for transit violations it would be a strong asymmetry of justice based on your travel mode.

  3. I once got a ticket at a Forest Service trailhead north of Cle Elum because the ranger didn’t recognize my interagency annual pass. Fun Fact: east of the Cascade crest you fall in to a Federal district court based in Yakima if you want to dispute it. Luckily the ranger station took my word about it and cancelled the ticket over the phone before it went to the legal system.

  4. The current fare-enforcement system works GREAT. I can’t believe the other comments that want to replace it with something awful like gates. Under the current system I boop my pass every day, literally zero time spent waiting in line, touching something that other people touch, waiting for people to dig their pass out of their purse, etc. One out of every five or six rides my pass is checked while I’m just sitting there on the train anyway. Awesome.

    If we are going to have fares they should be enforced. That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with the above scenario. If you have a valid monthly pass you should not get a ticket. I understand why ST wants to enforce the boop – they need you to register your trips so they get their revenue.

    The solution is simple. Continue with the current system but those with a valid monthly pass will never get more than a warning for failing to boop. However, they will still be escorted off the train at the next stop to discuss the importance of booping before they can continue on their way on the next train. This is a simple, fair solution that will actually work. Even the minor inconvenience and embarrassment of having to get off the train will be enough to get people to boop but no one will face exorbitant fines for not paying a fare they already paid.

    1. “The solution is simple. Continue with the current system but those with a valid monthly pass will never get more than a warning for failing to boop. However, they will still be escorted off the train at the next stop to discuss the importance of booping before they can continue on their way on the next train. This is a simple, fair solution that will actually work. ”

      What is the importance of booping? If it’s actually important, I’d rather just tap it and move through the turnstile instead of encounter some jackass wannabe cop who wants to be a dick about it.

      1. The importance of booping is proportional distribution of monthly pass fees. The money paid for a monthly pass, regardless of which agency sold the pass, all gets put into a pool of money. The pod of agencies that are part of ORCA all get their share distributed to them based on the percentage of riders who used their service. If you don’t boop, you don’t get counted and Sound Transit doesn’t get their share of money from your trip.

        However as Anandakos pointed out last week, they should be able to create a statistical model that accounts for missed boops and fairly distribute the kitty to the various agencies.

      2. If the monthly pass fees are being distributed proportionally then missed taps are already irrelevant provided the taps are being missed with roughly the same frequency at every station. Which seems a reasonable assumption and can be checked periodically by comparing boardings to taps.

    2. You know they have nice gates now that you don’t have to touch? I don’t see how gates would negatively affect the system in any way. They should be added simply to improve the ride experience.

      1. There are also invariably more gates per access point than there will ever be standalone validators.

        The dearth of sufficient sideline tap points on Vancouver’s system, which experiences station volumes unimaginable to Seattleites, is a big part of the reason their belated gate installation makes practical sense.

        Regardless of any other policy implications, the claim that gates somehow slow payment or platform access is incorrect.

    3. Why are faregates (not turnstiles – those are bad) so “awful” for riders? I know they cost money to install and maintain, which is another issue, but causing long lines? I’ve only seen a meaningful line in DC after sporting events, but in those situations the binding constraint is not faregate throughput. In fact, they sometimes hold people back to limit crowding on the platforms. I can easily bring my rolling suitcase through the faregates. There are extra-wide faregates available for strollers and wheelchairs. It is simple and efficient.

      Link has too few card readers and they are placed in non-standardized locations, so you have to look out for them at each station. In a closed system I don’t have to look for faregates – I know I will find them on the way to the platform. Link card readers are small enough to be easily missed by someone unfamiliar with the system. The need to tap off is another complexity since it is not enforced by the system via faregates.

      DC’s implementation of faregates works remarkably well, handling huge numbers of tourists from around the world. Meanwhile in Seattle, we’re tripping up locals and setting up a convoluted court system to handle appeals on the fines. The ridership experience in DC is just as easy as Seattle. Perhaps even easier with no need to remember to look for a tap-off card reader at your destination.

      1. DC’s implementation of faregates also provides staff at every major entry portal to monitor compliance. Fully staffing today’s system would require something like 50 FTEs and be totally imcompatible with DSTT joint ops.

      2. Martin,

        The DSTT is a deal breaker for putting faregates in the current setup.

        However, haven’t I read that the plan is to kick all of the buses out of the tunnel in the relative near future? I thought I heard that was the plan once one of the expansions (was it Northgate or East Side?) and the train headways become too tight to fit in buses.

      3. Maybe implement a unified fare system, so the DSTT can be a fare paid area, and people don’t have to worry about if they are getting on a bus or a train?

      4. LightRail4Life

        It works fine in Chicago. There has to be extra wide gates for wheel chairs and such anyway. So people with bikes just use those generally.

        I didn’t have a bike during my time in Chicago, but I saw plenty of them on the trains. I can’t imagine that getting a bike through a gate was any worse than trying to get two large roller bags through the gates at O’hare.

        http://www.loyolaphoenix.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/13544351315_62464a1b78_o.jpg

  5. Erica,

    The way you wrote this piece, it sounds like you make more than $124 in a half-day of work. If this is true, please stop whining and lets get someone on here that genuinely represents those that really dependent on transit not by choice, but by limited income.

    1. Yes. Journalism is so lucrative. I assume she only takes transit because her private helicopter is in the shop.

    2. Pablo,

      Just because she may make $124+ in half a day doesn’t make her point—that the current appeals process is a hardship for anyone living outside of Shoreline and especially for those who don’t make much and/or are transit dependent—she raises any less valid.

      Why does it bother you that someone who doesn’t meet your definition of transit dependent is raising these issues? If you actually care about helping people who are transit dependent or who don’t make $124 in a half day, you should be cheering on anyone not from that demographic when they acknowledge difficulties they may not face but might be faced by those less fortunate.

      Let’s work in the same direction, folks.

  6. To be fair, if it’s really a matter of $124 vs. the hassle of getting to the courthouse by bus, the money at stake is high enough to make a rental car or Lyft/Uber a reasonable option. From southeast Seattle, you could probably do it with Zipcar for around $30/round trip, or at least take Car2Go to the edge of the home area (~$10-12, each way), then ride the 346 a couple of miles to complete the trip. Not cheap, but still way cheaper than $124, at least assuming you’re sure the ticket will actually get dismissed for your effort.

    Nevertheless, the general principle of needing to dispute transit-related tickets in a transit-unfriendly place is crazy. As is punishing passholders who have already paid for their ride for accidentally failing to tap.

  7. Okay, before I make any comments, I need to know how this fine came about in the first place?

    Thanks.

    1. The implication was that Erica has a pre-paid monthly pass but failed to tap it properly before boarding. There is a lot left unsaid though: what circumstance precipitated the tap failure; what happened to the prescribed warning?

      1. If that’s the case, this is absurd she’s being fined as she paid for the monthly ridership privilege and just didn’t tap. I can think of good reasons to request tapping on & off to monitor ridership but it shouldn’t be seen as fare evasion.

      2. I had a monthly pass and failed to tap because I was running for the train at the Columbia City station. The monthly pass was for the correct fare, which, at the time, was $2.25 from CC to downtown.

      3. Oh My Goodness.

        I am irked and offer my sympathy that you got fined for doing your duty just because you didn’t tap on or off. Having a monthly pass should be the exact same as tapping on and off.

        Madness.

      4. Some time back, I watched a horde of passengers go down the stairs at King Street Station to the Sounder platform. There must have been a stream of about 100 or so of them, but I only heard the ORCA reader at the top of the stairs “boop” about 7 or 8 times.

        So, the failure to “boop” when using a monthly pass might be a far more common problem than realized.

        The problem that there is just the one card reader at the top of the stairs may contribute to this.

        How many other places in the world use the proof of payment ticket system, while requiring monthly pass holders of any type to go through the fare payment system? Obviously, those places that use turnstyles or faregates have to operate that way. However, the proof of payment ticket system is supposed to be simple and easy to use, and as far as I know common wisdom has it that proof of payment systems are just that: you prove that you have paid. This is the only system that I can think of that requires that you prove you paid twice.

        I’m also wondering: if they have this byzantine system for figuring out how to split up a $3 transit fare, which requires that everyone tap in and tap out, do they have an equally byzantine system for figuring out how to split up Erica’s $124 fine?

      5. “This is the only system that I can think of that requires that you prove you paid twice.”

        Good description, Glenn. I hope STB can use that as part of the campaign to bring sanity to Seattle’s fare payment.

    2. The particular incident doesn’t matter, and Erica wouldn’t have written the article if it were just an isolated case (“I gave up”, implying it was the last straw). The problem is that thousands of people are getting ticketed or intimidated after they’ve already given the transit agencies money. Even Brent got a warning last week. The agencies need to think about the effects of alienating even their best customers and strongest advocates.

      1. I agree as to, “The problem is that thousands of people are getting ticketed or intimidated after they’ve already given the transit agencies money. Even Brent got a warning last week. The agencies need to think about the effects of alienating even their best customers and strongest advocates.” We need transit agencies to treat us as customers not users to just do things to.

        I still think the incident matters, respectfully.

      2. For the record, it has been about a year since I got my warning. There are commenters here who ride Link more often than I do, including Mark Dublin, who has received two warnings, over a year apart.

        Also, FWIW, I am still a supporter of Link’s and Sounder’s proof-of-payment system. Roving security, who happen to be checking fares while doing its rounds, is more useful than platoons stationed at turnstiles.

        I just don’t think it was good customer service to accuse me of theft (when I had a pass that covered the highest possible fare) and threaten to fine me if I double-tapped again. I seriously considered lowering my pass value since I found out getting the highest pass value afforded me no protection against fines. A simple “please remember to tap and not double-tap” would have sufficed. And then a real fare evader slipped out the door while the FOE was busy taking my ID, lecturing me, and accusing me (even though he had already acknowledged I had a monthly pass).

        The one-year time-lapse rule works in favor of infrequent riders and intentional fare evaders, and against frequent riders who refuse to become obsessive-compulsive about reading split-second messages on the ORCA reader every time they tap. There aren’t enough readers for every rider to tap thrice to reassure themselves their ORCA is in the “permit to travel” state.

        If ST wants to get a greater share of the fare revenue distribution, changing the tap-off and cancel sounds to be different would be more effective than keystone arguing with their most frequent customers (and reduce FOE harassment of visually-challenged riders).

        As for the distribution of cases, making both citation challengers and ST police have to take a trip to Shoreline is a clear case of government working against itself. Certainly, the county council could dictate that fare infraction cases be heard within a few blocks of the county’s transit hub.

      3. Brent, you need to make this your own blog. Page Two or hopefully if you/Martin can Page One.

        This is anger-inducing. We charge fares in the Seattle area for two reasons: One so riders are customers paying into the system and two to keep vermin off.

      4. I’ve already written my peace on honoring the passes. I would disagree that the purpose of fares is to keep any particular group of riders off the bus.

        We have gone to great lengths to provide those who cannot afford to pay to be able to nonetheless have access to transit: ORCA Lift, free bus tickets, the downtown free cirtulator, route 99, the Kent Shoppers’ Shuttle.

        People do occasionally get kicked off the bus. Mostly, it is waking riders up to let them know the bus has reached its terminus. Occasionally, it is for bad behavior. I’ve seen punks removed from the bus ostensibly for refusing to pay, but the police were summoned only after they refused the operator’s request to quiet down and respect the other passengers on the bus.

        Link is charting new territory with citing, banning, and arresting riders solely for not paying. Such measures should not be taken lightly, and certainly not against people who clearly paid.

      5. Absolute agreement with your thoughts, except to say I don’t want on my mass transit experience somebody who is a threat to themselves or others. The general right wing view when it comes to fares is the cliche “skin in the game” and to get the homeless to stop using mass transit as a shelter.

        I wish a certain Island Transit Boardmember, first name Rick, last name Hannold, wouldn’t say the latter so much…………………………….. unintentionally hurts heavily the former.

      6. I don’t know anyone who, given the choice between a non-moving shelter (relative to the ground) and seats on a moving bus, would choose the bus. Every time the “roving shelter” argument is trotted out, it is an admission that civilization has done a poor job at land use planning.

  8. Faregates – both along the Link stations AND at Sounder stations – sounds like a great idea. Just like Washington DC, San Francisco, Barcelona, Madrid, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and probably dozens (hundreds?) of other cities. It works extremely well elsewhere, so why not implement it here?

    As for where to pay your ticket, why aren’t ALL of the courts in the geographical middle of the county, which would happen to be Renton/Burien, if you exclude the unpopulated mountain/foothills area? Or at least downtown Seattle, which is the transportation hub of the county? Shoreline is the suburban, residential, northwest corner of the county. If I get stopped by Sound Transit enforcement in Auburn, I have to travel 40 miles if I want to contest the ticket? Seriously? That’s a 1 to 2 hour drive depending on traffic. It would literally take all day to get there on transit. As always, south King gets screwed.

    1. To answer your first paragraph question, because Fare gates are *ridiculously* more expensive.

      ST doesn’t even have the revenue to fully complete every project that voters approved in ST2 because they lost more than 30% of their ENTIRE revenue for the ENTIRE ST2 program because of tax revenue and other sources lost during the recession that they will never be able to recoup.

      On top of millions and millions of dollars to install (you can’t just put up gates at stations, you have to enclose and block access to the ENTIRE LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM – from the airport down to Federal Way, into Seattle, from Seattle all the way to Bellevue and Redmond and beyond, from Seattle up to U Dist, to Northgate, To Lynnwood, and eventually Everett. You literally need fencing and security absolutely everywhere) you also have to commit to the costs of enclosing every piece of light rail that will be further built out in the future adding significantly to all future project costs, PLUS you have to actually maintain the system including the electronics, the actual turnstiles themselves, and all components.

      PLUS you STILL have to hire security (arguably, faaaar more than the current number of FE officers) in order to actually police the system for invaders, ticket-check for turnstile jumpers, and to monitor and guard the entire extent of the system for any breaches or evaders who jump in elsewhere than just at station turnstiles so that you didn’t just spend millions and millions of dollars to create a system that people can still easily evade.

      Seriously, this doesn’t work out financially even a tiny tiny bit. Unless someone has an idea of where ST is going to get multiple millions of BRAND NEW DOLLARS for design and planning, construction and installation, permanent maintenance, and hugely increased security staff costs (Are YOU voting to pay a large new tax either locally or to increase the availability of state or federal grant funds? Because there is absolutely no additional money in either of those sources now), this idea is an absolute, unquestionable, non-starter.

      1. Vancouver spent more than $100m to add faregates at its SkyTrain stations, and they would be more infeasible here in Seattle where there are surface stations. Some riders would be tempted to walk in the trackbed to bypass the gates.

      2. And at least the last time I was there (MLK weekend), they still hadn’t been rendered functional.

      3. Vancouver spent $100 million on gates for 53 stations. Including in that cost a number of station/headhouse rehabs significantly more extensive than what would be needed to secure our street-level platforms.

        As you might have noticed, we have only 15 stations to rehab and all of 5 under construction, most of them way oversized and with obvious places to formalize thresholds. We will also never come close to the pass-through volumes that Vancouver’s busiest stops must handle.

        Furthermore, you might have noticed that we just spent many 100s of millions on a trolley that
        will barely be able to move, and 100s of millions more on a Bellevue tunnel that will actually push the station further from anywhere useful.

        So it isn’t about money at all. It’s about a total indifference to the experience of law-abiding, flesh-and-blood transit patrons.

      4. About our oversized stations with obvious places to formalize thresholds for fare gates:

        ST again went half and half with their stations on MLK—producing a predictably lackluster result—, providing neither good station access/integration with the surrounding neighborhood nor using the resultant high degree of access control to install fare gates. By placing stations in the middle of a virtual highway, presenting a 400+ foot wall at each station to the street/sidewalk (consequently, much of the activity takes place on the inside of the blocks, like in the Safeway lot next to Othello), restricting user access to the ends, ensuring everyone has to cross said highway to reach the station while people on the interior of blocks adjacent to stations have to walk ~400 extra feet to reach the spot right in front of them, any chance for good access and integration was destroyed.

        Without fare gates, the access sacrifice is completely in vain.

      5. Seriously. Any suggestion that our street-level Link stops aren’t fundamentally access-controlled is just bunk. Every time I use them, I can’t believe how freaking far it is from the street corner to the platform proper. There were full-on tri-level subway stations back home where all the trains stopped fewer steps from the street corner.

        So let’s all stop pretending that we built this. That has different merits and demerits, but it isn’t remotely like Link.

    2. I’m a Shoreline resident. The bus service has always been spotty up here. Reliable, infrequent and slow.

      However, there are some morning express buses that drop off at the freeway exit and 175th. 175th is a short pleasant walk on tree lined streets to the courthouse.

      It’s unclear why one would go to northgate to transfer and then bumble along at that time in the morning. If I recall right, the 301 in the morning is an express to 175th via the freeway.

      Because it’s a morning express, it would be long bumble ride back, unless you want to hang out in Shoreline for most of the day.

      1. If you use Google transit, the fastest options it finds from King Street Station are typically transfers at Northgate. It also suggests the E, but it says the fastest is 41 -> 346.

      2. There are only three northbound 301 trips, all of which originate at 4th and jackson betwen 7 and 8 am. If the time of the trial, hearing, browbeating, or whatever is 11 am, it’s not really the best solution. I’d chose to walk from the E line I think but I am an able-bodied person who isn’t old. It’s just not a good location for anyone who doesn’t have a car.

    3. Jewels,

      Um-er, you ARE aware that the majority of the Link system will soon be in the air or underground, right? Right now there are five underground stations (no ID isn’t actually “under” the ground, but you can’t walk up to the platform, so it might as well be), four elevated stations and five at-grade stations. Hey! The majority of Link station platforms are already inaccessible to walking approach. Every one of those separated stations has escalator, elevator and stair access from some sort of mezzanine which can be partitioned like the Market Street stations into unpaid and fare paid areas with gates between them.

      You don’t need to “fence off” the portions of the system that are elevated or tunnelled, nor do you need to fence the parts which are at-grade. The trains take care of the fare-enforcement for you.

      SPLAT! no freerider!

      The other five, plus the three to be added in Bellevue can be patrolled by inspectors at a modest cost.

    4. South King County doesn’t always get screwed! Seattleites who used to be able to go downtown for voter-related matters now have to go all the way to Renton.

      1. I live in north Seattle and had to take a Zipcar to Renton in 2013 because KC Elections didn’t think the signature on my ballot was my signature. So annoying.

    5. So, millions of dollars for gates, or nothing to change the fare policy. It may be out of ST’s hands after the citation is signed, but it’s ST’s choice whether to issue the citation.

    1. But by the laws of Murphy, that hearing will be held exactly one hour prior to your transit hearing, and at the courthouse geographically farthest from it.

    2. Yes, but that’s a long civil rights case. It’s worth getting a class action together to challenge it, but it’s gonna be a multi-year mess.

      1. (The fact that the courthouse is located waaaaay out of the way for the vast majority of Sound Transit related cases, when they could all be done at the *nearest* courthouse downtown, is the sort of thing which raises civil rights issues.)

      2. Someone who is Title VI protected (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American) who has received a ticket should at least make a Title VI complaint to the Federal Transit Administration. It is a disparate impact for transit riders to go somewhere far away from the transit system, inaccessible by rail. This will force the agency to respond in their next Triennial Rivew and could jeopardize federal funds.

  9. how about pseudo fare gates like what we have at the airport station?

    I know they are for stopping luggage carts, but even some metal bars shaped like a ticket gate with stand alone card readers would help more than large empty hallways with card readers tucked away to the side.

    Making the paid zone clear to riders would do loads to help this problem.

  10. If you have a valid pass on the card there should no fine or at the very least a greatly reduced one. The current system is punitive and extractive.

  11. The enhanced “virtual fare gate” concept would be validators in line with the path of walking, followed by an electronic beeper similar to the shoplifting detectors at stores for people who didn’t tap. Then deploy fare inspectors as usual. Make all fares on the fare card, with a lowered $2 fee for the ORCA.

    With actual fare gates you get into NFPA 130 life safety issues, which says that you have to have something that does not require special tools or knowledge (i.e. a swing door) in any fare gate array.

  12. FYI, someone should do a FOIA to see how many people actually challenge tickets written by FEO’s, ASAP. TTYL.

  13. If they can use RFID for a car going 60mph across a bridge, why can’t they make ORCA cards work the same, so as soon as I get on with it, it clocks me in or out.

    I got a warning once because I forgot to run my card at the station.

    1. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work, because not every Orca card that you carry onto the system should get debited. I’ve got two cards, one sponsored by my employer with a pass, and another with E-purse for visitors. If I have both in my pocket when I ride Link – maybe because I’m meeting someone at the airport – I definitely don’t want the E-purse to be charged. But how can the system tell whether the card’s in my other pocket, versus in the pocket of someone else walking next to me?

  14. I’m sorry but what’s stuck in my head now are all the signs and the advertising campaign asking “Did you remember to Boop?”

  15. We can start by changing the rules of engagement so that FEO’s, rather than being an adversarial law enforcement object of fear, instead, work to encourage compliance. For example, FEO’s carry around a card reader, why not allow it to accept a fare payment tap? Are we so fixated on getting that $124 in fine revenue versus simply enforcing compliance?

    I understand that given the multi-agency nature of ORCA, it is important that it be tapped regardless of whether its a pass or not so that revenue can be fairly divided among agencies.

  16. The base of this problem is that Link was built without the ridership to warrant proper fare collection. But the County and other government entities have found a new revenue source; none of which goes to transit. Big Brother.

    Just paid a $216 ticket for expired tabs. Don’t drive the vehicle often as I take the bus to work. Could have asked for a court date, burned vacation time, and likely got it reduced. But besides my lost income I cost the county more than they would reduce the ticket in the cost of running the silly court. Just paided up as I was at fault. But they used to send out email notices when tabs were due but stopped. Yes, I should check and be responsible. But it’s pretty obvious the change was just to generate more income from infractions. Your government at work… to make us all criminals. Serve the public; HA!

    1. I’m pretty sure they still send the email notices, you should check to make sure your contact info is up to date. I’m almost certain I got one a couple of months ago.

  17. @ Mike Orr For a mere 3 miles (between Seattle city limits and the county line in the north), they should just make it a single zone. The time it takes the drivers to change the ORCA readers back and forth isn’t worth the difference, and I’m certain that some people get charged for two zones where they’re traveling one zone, and I’ve seen the driver forget to switch it back to two zones, charging the subsequent two-zone riders with a one-zone fare. At least on Sound Transit buses, switching this is very quick, I don’t know why theirs is so much better. It’s interesting that the off-board readers are set at one-zone, for on the buses themselves, it’s two-zones. Still, I believe that Metro’s fare enforcement folks can only write you a warning, unlike Sound Transit’s, who won legislative approval to write tickets last year.
    @Alex I agree, the locations for the ORCA readers are odd. There also isn’t anything directing people to “Tap to Pay Here,” or similar. I wonder this at Bellevue Transit Center, where they’re an island in the middle of a sea of concrete; in the downtown bus tunnel, where they are discretely up against a wall; and any other surface station, where they tend to be at the end of the island and perpendicular to the bus, none with any signage such as I suggested. And, the last time I was at Sea-Tac Link station, I saw no indication of tapping – booping as I just learned it’s called – either when boarding or when exiting, doing both unique to light rail. This is a system in dire need of overhaul, ideally with some of you on the committee that comes up with the policies (vs. board members, who are isolated from the perils of riding the systems they oversee).
    A single transit agency – or a single oversight agency (of all of the other transit agencies) – could be the solution, as in either case there could be a single set of fare policies instead of several.

    Back in Minnesota, a debate is raging over a report that an estimated $1.5 million per year is lost in fare evasion. In Los Angeles, the number is even higher. Fare evaders are a clever bunch. Some say they can’t afford the fare, but I wonder about this having been solicited for bus fare many times, in all cases from latte-holding, cellphone-using folks like this who always have a pack of cigarettes in their shirt pockets. In other words, it’s a problem with their priorities.

  18. Last time I looked, the ferry system was using turnstyles at the Colman Dock. They manage to get there rush hour pedestrians thru a small set of gates.

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