Video by Welwyn22
For those of you who, like me, have been caught miscounting taps before boarding Link Light Rail or Sounder, Sound Transit is going to make the system more user-friendly. Per ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason, a change to the “tap off” tone, to make it unique from the “tap on” tone, is in the works. However, there is no timeline yet for when the change will happen. The change is in the work queue for ST’s information technology vendor.
It will still be possible to forget to tap at all, and get warned and given a $124 citation even if you have a monthly pass covering the highest possible fare for the ride. State law sets the minimum fine.
Nor is there any plan to deal with the regressiveness of the flat $124 ticket. That fine still seems out of proportion for riders with limited financial means who have already paid $36 for a monthly Regional Reduced Fare Permit ORCA pass or $54 for a youth or LIFT monthly pass. Even high school students with free unlimited monthly passes on a youth ORCA card could be cited. I got to talk briefly with a fare enforcement officer, and he confirmed that even students with passes that are free to the student get warned and could get the $124 citation.
The state sets the minimum fine (which is slightly more than enough to cover court administrative costs when the fine actually gets paid), but Sound Transit could choose to increase the number of warnings for riders in different fare groups, or at least do so for full passholders or some groups of reduced-fare riders, or simply honor full passes.
Sound Transit’s argument about making sure to get its fair share of revenue split from passes and multiple rides with a transfer is weak when one considers that lots of riders (this author included) tap on for a train, and then end up catching a bus that comes first, in which case Sound Transit gets revenue for a ride it did not provide if the rider fails to cancel the train tap-on. [ST spokesperson Bruce Gray offered a correction. However, he did not specify how much time has to elapse after tapping on for Link or Sounder before a “tap off” is automatically performed to the account, preventing a bus tap-on from cancelling the ride.]
Per Reason, ST does not keep statistics for how many monthly passholders get warnings or citations for mis-tapping or failure to tap. But ST will still be able to see if recorded “fare evasion” goes down year-over-year after the tones become unique.
With Metro getting ready to have fare enforcement on all its 3rd Ave buses starting in fall 2019 and Community Transit getting ready to roll out a second SWIFT line next year, it may be time for the three agencies to take a fresh look at the impact of dishonoring passes. Basically, their theory goes, they get a little bit more revenue for their agency from the pass (a point on which this author is skeptical). However, it also reduces the incentive to get the pass. So, Transit as a whole may lose money. It certainly will if it loses the passenger. This is a case of transit agencies hurting each other, and the customers, by not Acting As One. A mutual de-escalation agreement may be in order.
In related good news, ST is slowly but surely improving the diversity of its Fare Enforcement Unit. Per Reason, the breakdown for the Fare Enforcement Officers is:
13 White, 2 Asian, 2 Hispanic, 2 Hispanic, 5 Black
5 Females, 17 Males
The FEO Supervisors and Manager are:
4 White, 1 Black
2 Females, 3 Males
ST has limited control over the hiring practices of its FEO contractor, Securitas.
Neither state law nor Sound Transit’s Board-approved policy require ST to dishonor passes when the passenger mis-taps or fails to tap. That’s actually determined at the level of staff rules. While ST’s fare enforcement practices are not yet at the level of best ethical business practices, Sound Transit is clearly trying not to be tone-deaf to fare enforcement issues.