Fare enforcers boarding a RapidRide bus in Downtown Seattle (photo by Bruce Englehardt)

This post is part one of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part Two, Part Three

Patrick Burke got on a RapidRide E bus at Third and Pike one evening with a transfer in his backpack. At least, he thought it was in his backpack, until he tried to get it out for a fare enforcement check. Usually, Burke puts his transfers in the same pocket in his bag. This time, it wasn’t in the usual place.

Burke had seen the fare enforcement officers (FEOs) get on at the next stop, and started digging around in his other pockets for the slip of paper when they started checking passengers for proof of payment. When one of the officers got to Burke, he still hadn’t found it. Burke was still searching for the ticket when the other officer completed his check of the rest of the bus. The second officer approached Burke and his partner.

“He comes to the back [of the bus] and gets this immediate attitude,” Burke says. “Saying I was wasting their time, and that I was playing games with them. And I said, ‘No, sir, I was just looking for my transfer.’ I even pointed at the pocket. ‘I typically have it in this pocket but I just got back from a very document-heavy meeting, and I just misplaced it. I’m looking for it.’”

The rest of the passengers got off the bus at the next stop, leaving Burke alone with the fare enforcement officers and driver. Burke still hadn’t found the transfer a few stops later.

“They were starting to get puffy chest, and I didn’t understand what was going on. They started to say that, if I didn’t start cooperating with them, that they would have to call the sheriff.”

Burke finally found the transfer and showed it to the officers. The officer who initially approached Burke went to the front of the bus, but the other officer continued to stand near Burke.

“He just gave me this staredown,” Burke says. “The second one stood right by me and stared me down until we got to the very last stop. They got off the bus, and he did this, like, two finger eye thing, and he does it back at me, like, ‘I’m watching you.’”

Over the course of 2018, transit leaders and advocates have begun to question the effectiveness, usefulness, and fairness of that fare enforcement regime. Metro rolled out fare enforcement operations in 2010, at the same time that it introduced RapidRide lines. Initially, Metro adopted the same fare enforcement policy that Sound Transit developed with the launch of Central Link in 2009.

A King County audit said it “cannot determine whether its model of fare enforcement makes sense, in terms of costs and outcomes, or identify ways to improve it.” The report also found that:

    • The 2009 fare enforcement model cost $1.7 million per year, including court costs.
    • Officers checked about 300,000 riders per year—1.4 percent of RapidRide’s ridership.
    • Each $124 citation issued cost $435 worth of resources to issue, though Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer emphasized that operational expenses were not “focused solely” on citations.
  • RapidRide fare evasion rate is much lower than the fare evasion rate in 31 U.S. transit systems, but “although a link between evasion and fare enforcement is often assumed, the relationship is actually not clear.”

In response to the findings, Metro revised its fare enforcement policy, with help from transit advocates and social justice groups, over the summer.

Sound Transit has so far stuck with the original policy, though members of the agency’s board of elected officials have indicated their interest in reforms. Revenue collection covers a portion of operating costs: for Link, the budget plans for 40% cost recovery through fares. According to Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason, September 2018 revenue very nearly matched that projection.

In 2017, the agency collected about $90 million in fares, or about 4 percent of its overall revenue. Overall security operations cost $60 million that year, a figure that includes internal costs and contracted local law enforcement. Internal security and safety, which includes fare enforcement operations, security, and law enforcement support, cost $21 million, or roughly one third of the operating budget.

The mission of any transit agency is to get as many people as possible on board, to where they need to go. At its essence, fare enforcement’s job contradicts that mission: its purpose is to keep people who won’t or can’t pay fare off trains and buses.

That contradiction is trouble for low-income riders. Transit is crucial for working class people, or people in poverty, but it’s exactly those groups that are most likely to try to dodge fares. At the end of a paycheck, low-income riders might need to choose between food or transit, but they might then need to ride the bus to a faraway grocery store.

The choice can become more than a hassle: impeding low-income riders’ access to high quality transit makes poverty harder to escape. If reliable, frequent transit isn’t available, arriving on time to work becomes difficult—which can get a worker fired. Delays are especially costly for working parents: many child care programs have punitive, compounding fees if children aren’t picked up on time at the end of the day.

A citation from fare enforcement can also kick off a financial crisis for low-income riders. That dovetails with a growing body of scholarship and reporting that demonstrates that even the smallest legal fees and fines can spark a financial crisis for people in poverty.

Aaron Hill got a citation from fare enforcement officers on the Rapid Ride D line. He was homeless at the time. Hill had only a few dollars, so he didn’t pay his fare. The officers fined Hill and gave him a formal citation. Hill didn’t pay the initial fine, because he already owed creditors other outstanding debts, and couldn’t pay.  

“I was working for a while at the Millionaires’ Club, saving up all my money for an apartment,” Hill says. “I’d been saving up my money in a Wells Fargo bank account for a while, and I had about $1,600. I get this email notice: ‘your bank account is now at zero.’ I went down to the bank, and I find out that there’s a court order. Some creditor seized my bank account.” 

“So now I have literally no money whatsoever. For a homeless person, you’re already at the lowest of the low, and you’re just going to pile on another headache—it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Hill was saving for an apartment, but when his bank account was garnished he ran out of money. With no funds, and an already low credit score further damaged by the fare enforcement fee’s move to collections, Hill struggled to find a landlord that would rent him an apartment. Hill says the financial crisis also worsened his existing mental health problems.

Hill’s experience is not unusual. According to the auditor’s report, “people experiencing homelessness or housing instability received nearly 25 percent of citations between 2015 and 2017” on RapidRide buses.

In part two, we’ll look at how fare enforcement intersects with racial bias.

This post has been corrected: the April 2018 report was prepared by the King County Auditor, not Metro.

109 Replies to “How fare enforcement stops can compound poverty and homelessness”

  1. The problem is definitely real, but it’s not clear what solution the author is advocating for? Should we just not enforce RapidRide/Link fares at all? If a policy to not enforce fares is public records, then many people who can easily afford the fares won’t pay, either. Or (worse), is he advocating for eliminating proof-of-payment systems in favor of old-fashioned pay-as-you-enter, significantly slowing the bus down, in the process?

    Perhaps a reasonable compromise could be to waive fare evasion tickets for people that can demonstrate that they have no money?

    1. Based on the above scenario, one thing that needs to be done is that the fare enforcement officers need to be trained so that they don’t act as if they are apprehending heinous criminals when they stop someone for a fare check. And to apologize for their behavior if the person stopped actually turns out to have their pass or transfer, even if it took awhile to find it.

      1. No, nothing needs to be done. They are already well-trained and professional. The above “puffed-out chest and staring me down” FEO story is just that, a story. I’ve seen or been on the receiving end of dozens of FEO encounters, and each and every one have been courteous and polite. Even the one’s where a passenger can’t come up with money or proof of payment. I can’t say the same about how some passengers treat the FEO’s, though.

      2. Pat, I am not white, I am WHITE! I’m a MAGA hat wearing, Dori Monson-listening, Kemper Freeman-admiring, Tim Eyman initiative-signing, Police-loving, Chick-fil-A-eating, Brett-Kavanaugh-supporting American.

    2. Taking a step back, here’s what’s missing in this discussion. As it very likely is among the City Council. A sense of a situation about which nothing can be done. Whose best cure is to find out what can.

      For transit right now, We first have to determine how many of people taking shelter on buses are able to start work immediately. Because at every transit-related place in Seattle, there is doubtless plenty to do.

      Starting with helping transit personnel in any way, from keeping the bus clean to giving information and directions to emergency communication.I imagine many people who don’t have a home still have a cell phone. In every group anywhere, somebody knows first aid.

      And also how to speak languages other than English. Transit can have staff organize and direct these people. And by way of wages….any transit pass they need, all their meals, and whatever living quarters can be found for them.

      It should not take more than a week to determine how many people are able to do work in any form. Including caring for the people who can’t. So at least transit has a good idea of actual operating condition of the group we’re talking about.

      While formulating plans to treat this whole population dislocation as the long-term emergency it’s obviously devolving into. Exactly as if we’d had an earthquake just a shade stronger than the last one. Is anybody reading this in the National Guard? Because this is the level of emergency that could be theirs to handle.

      Call it whatever. But for “Branding”….I think calling it an Exercise will be a strong persuasion and incentive to get into action.

      Mark Dublin

  2. The rules are well known. You pay to ride.

    The more people try to help people, the more things get worse. It’s pretty easy to see that. Taking personal responsibility is missing, and without that, we’re never going to end homelessness.

    1. You’re right, we should punish people for being poor. That’ll teach them to not be poor. How dare they have the audacity to feed themselves *and* try to get to work.

      1. Didn’t you know? All it takes is a good hearty tug on the bootstraps. Obviously these lazy moochers aren’t tugging hard enough. Or maybe they just don’t have boots.

    2. Almost all homelessness is NOT the fault of the homeless:

      http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/the-catastrophe-of-homelessness/faqs-and-myths/#3

      The UK’s experience with social spending shows that the more you try to help people, the better they tend to get:

      https://washingtonmonthly.com/2016/07/28/tackling-child-poverty-in-the-u-s-lessons-from-the-u-k/

      Thanks to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spending on social welfare, the UK cut child poverty in half.

      1. And Finland and other countries. People point to Johnson’s War On Poverty and say it didn’t work, but if you look at the reasons people remained poor or got poor later, it’s because they were either excluded from large parts of the programs or the support was inadequate. That’s as ridiculous as saying that we built 10,000 new housing units so that should cure the housing shortage and homelessness and we’re not spending any more, but then 100,000 people come or get born. It’s false to say it failed because they wasted the money or it’s the people’s fault for not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. There’s been long-term discrimination, structural changes in the economy that eliminated low-education family-wage jobs, policies that allowed shareholders and CEOs to grab the entire benefit of productivity improvements, and steeply rising housing prices because of restrictive zoning and other policies. Countries that put people first end up with more successful citizens and a lower rate of anti-social behavior. Countries and states that support only part of the population and throw away those not of the dominant race, religion, and idology, and sometimes even actively kick them for not being more successful have more problems.

    3. “The rules are well known. You pay to ride.”

      Is that the right policy for public transit though? A common mobility service is something everybody should have access to. If you make it into “Only those who can afford to ride, can ride” then you’re making it like a private business like BMW dealers or McDonald’s. We have libraries so that people don’t have to buy every book, and they are fully funded by taxes so there is no income barrier. And some of these problems are like the case above, a lost transfer or a mistap at the ORCA reader (even if the person has a monthly pass).

      That’s a whole other problem with the current fare policies. It’s not uncommon on Link to see somebody tap and it makes its error sound but the person doesn’t realize something is wrong and go down to the train. At first I tried to tell them “Your tap may not have registered” but they don’t understand it or don’t take it seriously or think I’m being a pedantic busybody so now I keep silent, but I wonder if they’ll fail a fare check in a few minutes. I can’t see the screen from my distance so I don’t know whether it said card not read or simply that their balance is low or pass is about to expire (as it does to me every month on the last two days). Of course this gets into the lack of distinct tones for tap in, tap out, fatal error, and informational message: there’s one sound for the first two and another sound for the second two. But these people don’t even recognize the error signal when it does happen. They’re probably occasional riders or visitors, and there’s a lot the former and an endless trickle of the latter. This is why turnstyles are more user-friendly than proof of payment.

      1. Mike, fact is that the “Tap-Sound” system is completely useless. Same with reading the screens. At rush hour, there’s no way to identity where any single “beep” came from or what it meant.

        Even when clean, which they’re usually not, screens are often unreadable. But worst thing of all is how badly stopping to verify blocks the traffic flow at the time is needs most to be clear.

        Mentioned a few frames below what fare system should do. Make purchase of the card Proof of Payment. Which inspector’s reader verifies. Let taps become just a voluntary courtesy to indicate passenger flow at different points in the system.

        It’s ‘way past time for a show-down over the real reason a missed tap is treated like theft. At its inception, Sound Transit’s whole reason for existence was to get interagency divisions out of passengers’ way.

        A matter for the accounting department to work out. Precisely so that like any skillfully create SEAM, these divisions stay our of our passengers’ sight, mind, and wallet.

        Not a duty attached to an abusive fine in the very name of these divisions. I can’t believe how little forceful public objection there’ been over all these years. My guess is that most fines are paid by two groups:

        Passengers too rich to care and give ST automatic withdrawal, and passengers too beaten to fight back. Any stats appreciated, though.

        Where are the Transit Passengers’ Union and Nikita Oliver? You’re not going to let an escaped prosecutor- who’s also on the Sound Transit Board- be the Mayor again, are you, Counselor?

        Mark Dublin

  3. So what’s the solution? Income based fines? Not enforcing fares? (This already happens on non-rapid ride buses, so wouldn’t be a big change).

    Homelessness is not going away anytime soon, so they might as well just make it free and save the administrative expense of bothering with the citations. The plus side, ridership would go up. The down side, probably less pleasant buses during cold and rainy seasons.

    1. Income based fines would be a nice start- make it so that people will feel the sting, but not so much that they can’t pay it. It’s the same thing that Finland does with their traffic tickets.

      Rolling out ORCA LIFT to a Sound Transit wide area would also be good.

      1. The entire state should shift to income-based fines. State lege could do this.

        Having a sane fare system would help too. San Diego’s system is probably the best: you have either a one-ride ticket, a day pass, or a pass which is valid for longer. No fooling around looking for transfers or tapping in or out or anything.

    2. Some have advocated for ending fares entirely. If there were a financially and politically stable replacement revenue source, that could fund the increased demand for service, I’d be in that camp in a heartbeat. Fare collection costs go way beyond the cost of issuing citations. The quality of your ride is reduced by fare collection every time the bus stops, and someone holds up the bus while paying their fare.

      Sans an actual statement from Metro about the total costs of fare collection (bus platform hours needed for dwelling, cash handling, fare enforcement, etc), it is hard to know what the true net fare revenue is. Gross fare revenue is a political tool, not a useful measuring stick. Net fare revenue will be significantly less, but Metro ought to man up and make that figure public. Or rather, the county council ought to request that figure.

      1. How about picking battles properly? First by separating the riders who have paid their monthly subscription but failed to tap properly. The intent with paying monthly is crystal clear – you have paid.
        How about ensuring that the gun reader the FEO uses notes that monthly payment and does not ding the rider for mistapping?

      2. Picking battles is no fun if I’m losing at the battle I picked. Besides, the people being zapped by ST’s unethical refusal to accept clear and obvious proof of payment are probably not the people this post is concerned about.

    3. It’s a dilemma. If you eliminate inspections, some people will ride for free even though they can afford it, and conservatives will point to them and say the agency is wasting money by not enforcing fares, and people saying that passengers pay on other routes but not on RapidRide. Only Metro can tell us what the fare recovery of RapidRide is vs similar routes like the 40 and 120. But if you have inspections, then you have the current problems. I can’t think of a complete solution besides making transit free. Or some sophisticated fare policy that I’m not smart enough to come up with.

  4. There’s no consensus how we want to treat this issue. Some people look at fare evasion the same as you would treat a person who shoplifted a can of soda or candy bar from a grocery store – arrest and prosecution. Others, a parking ticket (many citations until real action is taken). Still others, a library book being overdue (nice notices a few weeks after the due date and no real attempt to collect on fines until they exceed a certain threshold). Until there is a consensus from elected officials all this is premature.

    1. Seattle Public Library has talked this year about eliminating overdue fines, and may have done it already. The argument is the same: that the poor can’t afford fines so it’s treating people unequally. There might be a secondary argument that the poor are busy going to work and trying to make ends meet and dealing with the hassles of being poor in this society, and that’s why it’s difficult for them to return books on time.

      Seattle used to have a week’s grace before fines started, while KCLS where I grew up never had that. So when Seattle had that grace I only made a moderate effort to return books by the due date, but now that it’s 10c/day or whatever I return them on time even though i can easily afford the fine.

      I am concerned about people keeping books forever if they eliminate the fine, and that may divert books I want to read.

      1. Should be easy one for you, Mike. Start specializing in books like everything ever written about History and you’ll always have reading matter.
        ****************************************************
        “When the Mississippi Ran Backwards” by Jay Feldman
        https://www.amazon.com/When-Mississippi-Ran-Backwards-Earthquakes/dp/0743242793.

        1811. Monster earthquake sinks everything on the river except a steamboat, whose captain’s eighteen year old wife is about to have a baby. Also touches off an Indian uprising that touches off the War of 1812.
        ********************************************************************
        https://www.amazon.com/Berlin-Baghdad-Express-Ottoman-Empire-Germanys/dp/0674064321

        WWI. Kaiser Wilhelm decides to become the leader of the Muslim world, and also build a railroad form Berlin to the Persian Gulf. To get even with his English cousins for being mean to him. I would’ve.

        ******************************************************************

        https://www.amazon.com/Lunatic-Express-Discovering-Dangerous-Trains-ebook/dp/B0036S4CE8

        American journalist decides to travel all the way around the world on the transportation available to the most people.

        Ferries that sink with all two thousand hands, buses that fall off mountains, and commuter rail in Mumbai that has its own morgue. Somebody newsfake that into ST-3 schedule next October.

        Memorable Stakeholders’ Meeting!!!! Though nothing as horrible as last leg of the trip: Greyhound from San Francisco to New York City.

        *************************************************

        Because here’s the key. Anything in the History section will be there longer the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That really did pioneer a lot of street rail.

        Because average library patron would rather get killed in every battle since Cain killed Abel than read anything about History. You can also take all the other books you really like and hide them in there too.

        You don’t think the librarians will ever touch those stacks, do you? Though they doubtless have a lot of STAKEHOLDERs’ meetings!

        Mark

      2. I have been reading some history. I realized my education was really lacking in that area, with no international history except American wars until 12th grade, and one year of Western Civilization in college. Last year I found a book on French history and found its treatment of the Middle Ages quite illuminating. Recently I realized I know almost nothing about the Spanish Civil War and the rise, actions, and fall of Franco and Mussolini, so that will probably be next. Because they have suddenly become relevant to the American experience.

      3. It’s important, yes. The reason Franco hung on for so long is that he resolutely refused to get involved in foreign wars — despite all the other fascists like Hitler and Mussolini asking him to.

        I don’t think we’re at risk of a Franco right now.

  5. I generally think obsessing about fare payment is a waste of time. Occasional lapses like lost transfer slips or mis-tapped Orca cards happen to everyone and only warnings should be given for the first few times in a rolling annual period. I wouldn’t object to a free Orca card with a few dollars on it or a free transfer slip with this happens.

    I do see occasional riders who appear to ignore fare rules deliberately and repeatedly. They need to be dealt with.

    As for homelessness, the transit system should not be the refuge. A transit service has to be maintained at a certain level of cleanliness to prevent spread of disease. Public health is also an important consideration.

    Nuancing these things has to be done in the field on a day-to-day basis. A FEO (and a bus driver is sort of a FEO too) has to be given some guidance and leeway just like a police officer. The rules must be written to reflect the situations encountered in the field and not to be hard and fast — and agencies should routinely talk with drivers to monitor and adapt these things.

    Otherwise, I feel rather unqualified on how to weigh in on these situations. Unless I’m encountering this issue on a daily basis, I’m not qualified to nuance it. The most I can say is that I think it’s outrageous to make FEO’s be either too strict or too lenient.

    1. Patrick Burke’s story highlights the troubles with trying to even issue official warnings. FEOs face verbal abuse and arguments over many of their requests to get a record of someone who failed to pay. I know I gave the FEO a hard time when he refused to honor my clear and obvious proof of payment. And the recipients of said warnings think twice about whether to continue riding, especially when they did everything they could, and still mis-tapped.

      Saying that that is the first among __ warnings over a period of __ months might reduce tensions. I think Metro moved a little in that direction. The original procedure of having no warnings was a powder keg of a conversation.

    2. “As for homelessness, the transit system should not be the refuge.”

      Right, there should be universal housing. But that’s a longer-term issue than we can deal with here.

      And homeless people don’t just ride a bus for a warm place to sit. A lot of times they’re actually traveling to somewhere, including places that might eventually help the get out of homelessness.

  6. I got some hard bark on me, but I gotta admit, that first story got to me. He had trouble finding his transfer ticket. Then he found it.

    It’s hard to continue to support FEO’s when you hear stories like this.

    1. While the first story of the misplaced transfer ended without any infraction, the second story about the perosn whose savings were depleted was more concerning. I don’t see how draining someone’s meager savings is a net positive to society.

      1. Homeless while working at the “Millionaires Club”. Too perfect. If we was able to hide his money as easily as the patrons at that club, maybe he would’ve been ok.

      2. It doesn’t say the transit agency drained his bank account, just “some creditor”. That’s probably a private collection agency for a corporation that believes its only duty is maximizing shareholder value.

    2. barman, you might want to bing Millionair Club Charity. It’s not that kind of club. You won’t find Thurston Howell lll there. BTW, one question I had about his story is that the Millionair Club gives out free transit tickets to the people who work there. He said he only had a couple of dollars on him so he didn’t pay his fare. Where were his transit tickets?

      1. Where does it say the Millionair Club gives workers transit tickets? Does it give them enough round-trip tickets for every day they work? The social-service agencies that give out tickets doin’t give out that many per person, just a few at a time.

  7. I think what fuels a lot of the anti-homelessness/anti-poors backlash in Seattle is the sense that the rules don’t apply to the homeless. “I gotta pay and that bum gets a free ride?” “He can park his RV for 5 months straight and I get a parking ticket for 5 extra minutes?” It strikes some (many? most?) people as unfair, and what really riles people up more than the feeling they’ve been treated unfairly?

    I’d think the best solution is significantly expanding the number of transfers for social service agencies, expanding LIFT, and then enforcing the payment rules even more (maybe drop or graduate the fines after warnings though). Then everyone is “paying” when they board the bus (nevermind the source of funds) for the appearance of fairness, no one gets riled up, and life goes on, with more homeless and poor engaged with services or benefits.

    1. Do they think that person should walk instead, or not have access to things?

      ORCA LIFT works for low-income people that have a few hundred dollars per month and have to stretch it. It doesn’t work for people who only have a dollar or two at a time, sometimes enough for a one-way bus fare but often not. It also doesn’t work for people who come to Seattle for a few months and then move on, or people who don’t have the ID and income documents to prove their residency and income, etc. That’s where we need something other than just an expanded ORCA LIFT.

      1. The blatant “I’m not paying” crowd should mostly be forced to walk. I see them all the time getting on the 8 at CHS and then exiting at 15th. This is clearly walkable for most of the able-bodied 20-50 old vagrant fare evaders (especially if the weather isn’t life threatening). Heck, I sometimes use the bus/streetcar out of laziness, but that’s not a constitutionally protected right.

      2. Do they think that person should walk instead, or not have access to things?
        I think you glossed over the part where social service agencies (to be clear: homeless services) should have significantly more transfers/passes to hand out.

        The idea is just that there’d be an appearance that everyone pays when they board.

        Although I could come around to the idea that all transit should just go fareless and we just pay higher taxes… if someone can solve the rolling homeless shelter problem that the fare-free zone had.

  8. We’re already spending a ton of money on homelessness, it wouldn’t cost that much to hand out a bunch of transit passes to the homeless relief organizations. We can’t have people riding the buses around all day but we can target the people who need the help.

    The whole “Make public transportation free!!!” thing doesn’t help anyone, it’s obviously not realistic anytime soon.

    1. A few transit agencies, albeit smaller ones, give N-month passes through human service agencies. The single-ride tickets and the accompanying undead paper transfers are a PITA for the agencies, the passenger having to acquire another ticket/pass the next day, and everyone else on the bus, albeit better than nothing.

    2. Seattle is now giving a free transit pass to all public school students, so there could be a similar program for the homeless/very low income. But school families have addresses and can receive standard forms and send them in all at the same time. Homeless people would need to be able to get a pass whenever they get into the situation.

      1. That’s why human service agencies, many of which serve homeless clients, need to be able to give out these free passes (hopefully on ORCA, but I’d also be fine with monthly passes that have the owner’s name and are easy to see when they expire, which, unfortunately, might only be accepted on Metro if they aren’t an ORCA pass).

        It doesn’t cover everyone who falls into homelessness. It covers more than are being covered now. There is no need to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this case.

    1. I certainly sympathize for both the family’s loss, and for BART having a target on its back “Free government money.”

      I doubt a diner can be sued for allowing someone who they don’t know has a violent criminal record to sit down and have a cup of coffee, and then shoots other people in the diner.

      It is tragic. It is not BART’s fault the guy got paroled, and not BART’s fault he happened to be on one of the vast majority of train trips that don’t get checked, when his mental illness triggered his violence.

      Speaking of which, we have lots of mentally ill riders. Should we deny them access to transit, or let them use transit and try to work their way into a better place where their mental illness can be mitigated?

  9. Just make it free like you would a public bench. Find other sources of revenue. People riding transit are doing society a favor contrary to driving a car which is a tremendous burden for govt subsidized by those that don’t drive or own cars.

    Fare enforcement is the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine.

    1. Metro’s operating budget is ca. $1 billion a year. Just making it suddenly free will immediately mean less service due to the funding decrease, and more ridership demand that will overwhelm the available service, which already runs pretty tight during peak hours.

      There has to be alternative revenue sources to cover increasing service costs. Find that funding source, and I’m with you.

    2. Also, there are neighborhood lobbying efforts against public benches. Something to do with wanting the riff raff to hang out in someone else’s neighborhood.

  10. This is the problem with America today: The hyper rich expect that they can live by a different set of rules, and the poor and homeless expect that they can live by a different set of rules.

    But the rule of law? Disappearing across the country, from the Oval Office to the local homeless camps.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have sympathy for the less fortunate, but I don’ have sympathy for the less fortunate who don’t try hard. There are programs to help the poor with the cost or transportation. They should be used. And anyone who gets caught attempting to cheat the system should just admit it and hope for leniency from either from the FEO or the courts.

    And if you get caught by a FEO, remember the wise words of Brendan Behan, “There is no human situation so miserable that it cannot be made worse by the presence of a policeman.” So treat the FEO with respect, don’t berate them, and don’t blame them for your poverty or your negligence. Usually the outcome will be better.

    Everyone should follow the rules. Either take advantage of assistance up front, or hope for a good outcome in the courts, but don’t screw up and then not show up. That just makes things worse.

    1. Amen to that. I saw a FEO interaction the other day on Link, and it really highlights the entitlement some people feel about not having to comply with anything, since apparently they’re too special to follow any rules. First off, all three people involved were POC, so there was no bias, at least in any obvious way. Anyway, the officers approached the individual (the only non-payer on the train), and asked for PoP, and upon not getting any, they asked the rider to comply with their request to stand up and depart the train at CHS. The dude sort of freaked out and started yelling at the FEOs using all sort of vulgarities, which certainly didn’t help his case. I didn’t see the resolution, but I hope it ended with the fare evader having a really bad day because the guy was a huge jerk. Society should not subsidize the anti-social…the social contract should be “be kind, try hard, and if you fail we’ll pick you back up” not “be an arse and expect everyone else to pay for your bad decision making”.

      1. Ya, i’ve seen similar situations myself. There is nothing like taking a simple issue and escalating it to the point that the tasers come out.

    2. This is the problem with America today: The hyper rich expect that they can live by a different set of rules, and the poor and homeless expect that they can live by a different set of rules.

      Seriously? That is the problem with America today?

      Here I was thinking the big problem was the disparity of income in this country. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent*. That is the kind of wealth disparity that have lead to revolutions. Not like ours (which many historians have called a civil war) but nasty ones (like the French or Russian). If anything, the relative civility of the poor is striking. The vast majority of homeless people simply try and muddle along. They live in their cars, or with friends and sleep on the floor. They take their kids to school, and deal with the mounds of paperwork necessary to provide them with food or services (failing at times, as hunger is a major problem in this country that inflicts many with homes as well as the homeless). Agencies are overwhelmed, of course, which means that those who have their act together — who are sober, hard working people — get less help because the ones that are worse off take so much time to deal with. Those are the people that a lot of people think of when they think “homeless”. The wino sleeping on the street. The woman pushing the shopping cart around the neighborhood. Those numbers have increased dramatically over the years as well (thanks to Ronald Reagan) and if they seem to play by a different set or rules, you are right, they do. That is because many just don’t care anymore. They will walk across Aurora or Lake City Way, not the least bit worried about getting hit. They don’t care about going to jail, because jail would at least provide a nice meal. Of course the courts don’t want to put them in jail, because the jails are full of folks who smoked a joint or did some coke while being black.

      The problem you mention is a minor one, and simply a symptom of the disparity of income and a decimated social support system. It is a small problem, really, just one of the more obvious examples of a dysfunctional country that has been going downhill since 1980. Extreme right wing Republicans have gained power (in Congress, the White House, the courts, in state legislatures and mansions) and the results have been predictable. Call it a Mexican economy (as my friend did the day Reagan was elected) or a return to the gilded age — America is still a long ways from the center, and that is the problem. Except for progress on civil rights, the U. S. is to the right of Eisenhower, and has been for over a generation.

      * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States — Lots of interesting and depressing data in there, including this: https://tinyurl.com/yb97exwz

      1. Well, billionaire Nick Hanauer has been warning about a French Revolution scenario for years. The “Patriotic Millionaires” organization has been trying to fight the Republican kleptocrats. But we haven’t managed to defeat these modern-day Lord Liverpool types (google “Peterboro Massacre”) yet.

  11. Seems like moving to a no cash system and providing subsidized or free orca cards would fix most of the issues here while still providing a fair system.

  12. Would a time-based free fare system help? Things like:

    – A homeless and poverty assistance fair with a four or six hour window of free fares to and from event sites?

    – A two-hour period of free fares in the middle of the day?

    – A longer period of free fares one or two days a week?

    Time-based strategies would seem to offer the easiest implementation to give mobility choices to those that are unable to work.

    Another strategy: free or reduced shuttle bus overlays! That would attract the short trips so longer-distance bus travel would move faster. I could see them working on Capitol Hill or First Hill or on Rainier Ave or in the U-District. LA has lots of these short-haul free or reduced fare services.

    1. Al S, I don’t think you understand SJW’s and Kshama Sawant-types and what they ultimatley want. Your proposals don’t go far enough by a long ways. Think extreme, then think even more extreme, then you’ll be getting close.

      1. If you want to prevent Bolshevik Revolution types from winning, you have to support New Deal FDR types.

        If you support right-wingers who act like the Tsars or King Louis, you WILL get the Bolshevik Revolution. History is clear.

    2. We’d have to start with what people’s mobility needs are, and design a system that facilitates that. That’s the proper role of government. Off the top of my head, a renewable three-month pass might be a feasible strategy. The is an existing free downtown circulator bus that replaced the Ride Free Area and connects Pioneer Square to the hospitals and various downtown services. It runs weekdays daytime, and I guess it’s effective for that, since those are the hours many services are open. But it doesn’t address evening or weekend mobility. So any kind of “free certain hours” policy would have the same limitations. And any kind of “free two days a week” policy would have similar limitations.

      If you want to pursue this approach it would be best to start with an assessment of what kinds of homeless people exist and what their different travel needs are. Because a wino shuttling around downtown has different needs that somebody who has to get to work five days a week evening shift (like that Millionair person?), or somebody who has children and has to go various places at different times to take care of their children’s needs.

      1. I can see two separate issues: Low income riders and homeless riders. Their needs and concerns are different!

        I’d agree that an approach needs a good assessment and a good understanding of the objectives. I’m just putting the general idea out there because most transit demand and supply occurs at peak hours, and that’s where the greatest expense of running a transit system is. The incremental cost of something like some midday free rides isn’t very much in the transit operations expense list of things. In fact, the incremental cost of midday service is probably only about 10 to 20 percent of total costs depending on how it’s assumed and incrementally calculated — and the farebox recover loss would likely be comparable if not less, depending on how the program is structured.

      2. So we’d also need to look at how many low-income and homeless [1] people currently use the system at peak hours and how many potentially might. My guess is the number is very small for the morning peak and still small for the afternoon peak, based on my memory of trips on the E, where I think peak trips are packed with commuters and the very poor are mostly at other times. But I’m not sure about that.

        [1] I’m not sure if you’re defining “homeless” as a very-low-income level or strictly as people without long-term housing. The two overlap but aren’t exactly the same. And the stereotypical “visible homeless person” is yet a third thing that overlaps but not completely.

  13. “The mission of any transit agency is to get as many people as possible on board, to where they need to go.”

    I disagree with that statement. It may be true for some agencies, but it rarely is. Like most public services, there are multiple goals, some of which work a cross-purposes or compete for limited resources.

    The mission of a transit agency may not even be mobility, broadly defined. For example, often transit investments are for economic development, whether is a streetcar to revitalize a business district, a light rail line to redevelop a brownfield site, or high speed rail line to connect small towns to big job centers.

    Or perhaps the goal of a transit agency is to reduce carbon emissions – that includes boosting ridership, but it also may include compromises that involve deliver more expensive, lower polluting services. For example, a significant part of the Move Seattle investment includes electrifying several of the Rapid Ride lines that would otherwise be diesel buses. This investment will have negligible impact on mobility, but there is general consensus that KCM should be moving towards an all electric fleet.

    When the goal is mobility, the goal isn’t necessarily ridership. The best example of this is the trade-off between coverage and ridership. One of many think pieces on this: https://humantransit.org/2018/02/basics-the-ridership-coverage-tradeoff.html

    Further, often specialized service is intended to service a particular market, such as an express service for airport riders or a free bus loops that serve tourist, that might have relatively low ridership but is valued for other reasons. A great example is paratransit, which generally has very low ridership but is seen as an essential public service.

    Finally, fares themselves are use to either encourage or discourage ridership. Most HCT system have peak-time surcharges, which are intended to nudge some riders away from during transit during peak period to free up capacity for those with less time flexibility.

    1. Jarrett Walker defines the purpose of transit is access to places. The goal is not directly to maximize boardings, but to take people to where they want/need to be when the want/need to be there. All people have these needs, and when people are concentrated in a city, the city (government and residents together) should do it in some organized and efficient way rather than just leaving everybody to find their own car or bicycle. So both rich and poor people have a common need for mobility, and a fare system that leaves people out is sub-optimal. So if transit is not free it probably needs a sliding scale on fares, with the poorest getting 100% subsidies.

      “The mission of a transit agency may not even be mobility, broadly defined. For example, often transit investments are for economic development, whether is a streetcar to revitalize a business district, a light rail line to redevelop a brownfield site, or high speed rail line to connect small towns to big job centers. Or perhaps the goal of a transit agency is to reduce carbon emissions.”

      Those are all false goals or secondary goals. If an agency is not focused on access to places (or some similar definition), it’s failing on its primary responsibility, and the city is not offering universal mobility. That puts a drag on the city’s economy (because people can’t get to jobs or shopping, or spend a disproportionate amount on cars (which also cause ancillary problems like slow buses and excessive parking spaces and climate degradation), and take a toll on health (because people can’t get to medical appointments, family, cultural activities, and recreation). Transit designed to spur economic development often fails to do that, or the new neighborhood has all cars and garages, or another neighborhood is left out with an infrequent bus that ends early. As for carbon reduction, an agency can reach 100% carbon reduction by not operating their buses or trains at all.

  14. Thanks for doing this, Peter. Been promising something my own from the LINK side. On my screen as we speak. Over the years, I’ve had one fare embarrassment on RapidRide. Couldn’t find my ORCA card.

    Inspectors were very polite to me. We got off the bus and I kept searching for the card. The inspectors were trying their best to calm me down,

    I finally found the card, and got on next bus. Was off the charts mad at myself- point of pride to carry my ORCA card. But inspectors couldn’t be faulted. Being over sixty, wearing nice clothes and above all, glasses …….much privilege over hair color that’s grey.

    And on LINK, two other contacts on same subject, with really important difference. Headed for Angle Lake,”Tapped On” as per every posted rule. As I did about forty minutes later at Columbia City. But forgetting to “Tap Off” made my “Tap On” same fare evasion charge as willful theft of service.

    Since LINK started service, two warnings, several years apart. After, GK, carrying a fully paid up monthly pass since before ORCA was invented. By the calendar, I’m out of jeopardy now. But between me and every elected official you mention, serious score to settle.

    I don’t take a ruined ride lightly. Especially over the Transit Industry’s Prime unforgivable. Well, on LINK they do wear Starfleet uniforms, don’t they?

    Most of the $124 doesn’t go to transit at all. I’ve always seen LINK as something of mine from its beginning. I’m willing to reimburse cost of a mistake. But not to the Superior Court to make me “An Example to Others.” Because as originally intended, ORCA itself gives us a fair and easy solution.

    Monthly pre-payment can give everybody an income-adjusted plastic card wired to an account. Proof of payment can be an inspector’s card-reader report that the account exists. Card-tap itself should be a courtesy to the system. Enforced by hundreds of loud public scoldings from lady passengers eight years old.

    But now for the good stuff, Peter. Let’s learn how much damage is being inflicted on both innocent cooperative passengers and transit operations by ST’s desperate need to assure every one of ST’s separate agencies that they’ll each get their own share of fare revenue down to their every separate penny.

    Regional Transit campaign promised an “integrated” fare system. Boris Karloff told his makeup team “INTEGRIERT”, meaning stitches, scars, and neck-bolts. Since there really are “Some Sings Dot Mankind Vas Never Meant to Know…” you want to tell us anyhow or should I do it? Lunchtime. Lighting, thunder, funeral music. Owoooooooo and out.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Sometimes I gloss over Mark’s comments, but I will never not appreciate that he refuses to drop the tap off problem with unlimited passes, which is something that probably seems so minor and asinine to everyone here and too confusing to understand to anyone that doesn’t ride daily (like Sound Transit board members)– until you find yourself in that exact situation, holding an unlimited pass in your hand and being given a warning for evading far… and then it suddenly becomes so crystal clear that it is a dumb policy, so contrary to common sense, such a waste of time, and incredibly infuriating.

      It’s been over 12 months and I’m still pissed off about it as well!

      1. It is so obvious the people that run Sound Transit don’t use it – lots of dumb things like this that any transit rider with half a brain would have known was a bad idea. Like this, and oh, stairs in stations.

      2. Tap on, Tap off. What is so hard to understand?

        Doesn’t matter what type of card you have, just Tap on, Tap off. And know where your card is.

      3. And more than one of us have gotten fined or our picture taken even though we’re dilligent fare-payers and give the agencies a lot of money and ridership.

        “Tap on, Tap off. What is so hard to understand?”

        It’s new to people who are unfamiliar with it. Ours has a particularly strict set of rules, including tap off which doesn’t exist in many systems. The reader gives the same beep for tap on and tap off, so that if you forget to tap off your next tap on is registered as a tap off and if you don’t notice this and get on a train you’re considered a criminal — even if you have a monthly pass. Which is exactly the problem that caught up Mark. The ORCA readers aren’t always in front of you — sometimes they’re on the side or behind you — so there’s no visible reminder. I’ve forgotten to tap off at Beacon Hill Station and Kent Sounder Station because the readers weren’t visible. Some of the “Fare Paid Zone” signs are high up so you don’t see them if you’re not looking up. Tapping can fail for several reasons, and you have to look at the screen and understand the message to recognize this, while many people just listen to the sound and don’t recognize that the second kind of beep means an error or an expiring-soon/low-balance message. In short, they’re going after customers rather than fixing the designs of their systems so that people will do the right thing by default.

      4. @Mike Orr,

        Yes, life is hard, but life is easier if you remember to tap on, tap off.

        Anyone who rides the system a lot should know this. And they should know where the readers are

        Yes, I would support more ORCA readers and a different tap off tone, but the lack of such enhanced features doesn’t absolve anyone of their personal responsibility.

      5. Or the absolute stupid situation where the rapid-ride only ORCA reader is next to the streetcar only ORCA reader, with only a side sticker to define them. You tapped on the wrong one, at night, and you say f— it, I’m boarding.

      6. Lazarus,

        It is the most frequent riders who are the most likely to mis-tap. These are the riders transit can least afford to lose by scaring them off transit. Have you never been given a warning for mis-tapping?

        Is it not clear to you that if you have a valid ORCA transfer, or valid pass, that you have performed clear and obvious proof of payment (if only to the “wrong” agency)?

        And that every time an FEO stops to issue a wrongful warning, someone else is sneaking off the train from the mid-section?

      7. @Just Some Guy,

        It’s been several years since it happened to me. I haven’t let it go. I’m still wanting to know who wrote this policy that violates a plain reading of state law regarding showing proof of payment.

        …because I keep hearing about it happening to frequent rider after frequent rider, all of whom Sound Transit can’t afford to lose as passengers or political allies; and I’ve heard off some passholders even being issue fines. The courts should throw the book at Sound Transit over those fines.

    2. The people here do know this and they do know where the readers are, but even we get caught up in this more than you’d expect. So essentially nobody can do it perfectly. And if you look at the total mistakes people make in their lives, mistapping is much more frequent than anything else. That suggests something is wrong in the design of the system. More reader sounds would help, better reader location and positioning would help, and one of my favorites, a narrow doorway looking like a pseudo turnstyle with the reader facing you and easier for non-short people to see the message at eye level would make a big difference.

  15. Two things:
    Unless and until HOV lane enforcement nears 100% at all hours of the day, KCM and ST should not be “doing” fare enforcement.
    Get rid of paper transfers

    1. Just stand at 3rd & Pine and watch the RapidRides load.
      Tell me what percentage of people have either tapped on pre-boarding, or line up to pay at the front.
      Yeah, it may take you some time, but take 20/30 minutes around 3:00pm to 5:00pm, and watch. You will see there are an awful lot of ‘passengers’ who do not pay, and most of them are not obviously homeless.
      There needs to be a pre-boarding payment requirement – NYC subway turnstile, Japanese Railways ticketing, some method. Till then, the enforcement teams are what we get. Just increasing ridership with disregard for fare collection is IMO, a dubious goal.

      1. Installing and maintaining turnstiles is a pretty big expense, probably more than they lose via fare evasion. Are you asking Metro to make itself worse off financially just to stick it to the fare cheats?

      2. “Tell me what percentage of people have either tapped on pre-boarding, or line up to pay at the front.”

        If they have a paper transfer they don’t have to do either one. If they payed cash on a previous RapidRide, their receipt is the same as a paper transfer.

      3. All of the systems I have used with turnstiles also have staff at the turnstiles. This would vastly increase the cost of operating proof of payment systems.

  16. If we are serious about encouraging public transit and reducing congestion and pollution then public transit should be free. The increased ‘subsidy’ would still pale in comparison to the subsidy motorists enjoy to use our zero-usage-fee roads. It would also be a significantly more efficient and equitable use of our tax dollars in terms of increasing overall city mobility than another highway project or adaptive signals or any other waste of money spent to increase SOV capacity.

    However, thanks to the power of the auto lobby and ‘merican car culture free is not politically tenable. There is no reason to be overly punitive but the FEOs do still serve an important purpose. The FEOs keep the most dangerous and disturbing passengers in check. Disturbing, threatening behavior from fellow passengers, whether real or imagined, is a real deterrent to many who might otherwise ride transit. Letting the poorest ride free is fine. Driving other fare-paying passengers back into their SOVs is not.

    I think the embarrassment and hassle of dealing with FEOs is more than enough to deter the vast majority of free riders. A fee really isn’t necessary if we have a policy of requiring you to get off the bus if you don’t have the fare. The FEO can even provide a transfer ticket which you can use… on the next bus. The inconvenience of waiting for the next bus and embarrassment of being marched off in front of the other passengers is more than enough punishment. If you are really so poor that you couldn’t afford the fare you aren’t thrown into an inescapable debt spiral but if you can swing the fare the risk of repeating such an experience should be more than enough to compel compliance.

    1. “If we are serious about encouraging public transit and reducing congestion and pollution then public transit should be free.”

      I agree but it’s a long-term goal given our current political climate. There’s a lot of things the state should do including basic funding for transit and regional metropolitan transit that are related to this, but it will take a different majority in the legislature and public mindset before it happens.

      “I think the embarrassment and hassle of dealing with FEOs is more than enough to deter the vast majority of free riders.”

      It also deters paying riders. It can make them feel nervous and stressed, especially since you can’t tell by looking at your ORCA card whether it shows the trip registered. And if you ride every day then tapping becomes unconscious and you can’t remember consciously whether you did or not today because you were thinking of something else. All that causes a sense of anxiety and makes riding transit less desirable.

      1. Oh please, I often do that (“did I tap on?”) and while it causes a moment of freak-out, I just exit the train and go upstairs to check my validity. Actually, early on at UWS, I did that, and when I exited the train, the FEO asked to see my ORCA thinking (I assume) I was evading their soon-to-enter screening. Luckily, I had tapped on, so it wasn’t an issue. I just don’t think the threat of embarrassment, and the associated stress, are a big enough deal to end enforcement and the good it does. My gosh, that’s more of a general life problem than a transit problem…the (near) perfection of Japanese society, and to some degree Swedish, is almost completely driven by the fear of embarrassment and shame. We need more of that, not less.

      2. “I just exit the train and go upstairs to check my validity.”

        You exit the train or go upstairs from the platform to check and come back? And then you’ve spent three minutes and missed that train and have to wait five or seven minutes for the next one? That’s an adequate policy solution for a common occurrence? Most of the time if I go up I’ll find that I did tap, so the main net result of checking is to miss my train.

    2. For every person that gets belligerent when fare-checked there are several people who get caught in the categories above — can’t find their transfer, thought they tapped but it didn’t register, forgot to tap — and accept their fate without causing problems. We can’t let the problems of the few make us ignore the problems for the many; it’s unfair to them.

  17. Free transit becomes unusable transit. I swear the people advocating for such lunacy never ride a late night 8 or equivalent. It encourages extremely anti-social behavior, and makes the dodgy character to normal person ratio, at the very least, uncomfortable. People that have to pay even a very little don’t cause problems.

    A quick comparison of my 11pm rides on Link and the 8 certainly make a strong case for fare enforcement. The two user experiences can range from relaxed comfort to menacing dystopia.

    Should the homeless be allowed to steal any day-to-day items they want? That’s pretty much the argument being made by some. I’m a very center-left person, and will always fight off any attempt to give transit use away for free…heck, even in liberal Sweden (where I did study abroad), there’s zero tolerance for fare theft.

    1. Tallinn, Estonia, has free transit for residents (in the form of a city-paid pass). A few other cities are moving toward free transit as a way to reduce driving and meet their climate goals, cope with traffic congestion, or extend mobility to the poor. In Estonia and other cities that have tried it, the ridership increase is only 5-10%, not doubling or tripling, and there’s no significant increase in anti-social behavior. Of course, Europe is a different environment than the US, and they don’t have so many anti-social homeless people in the first place because they give them mental-health services and housing and/or a basic income. So we’d have to make adjustments here. Still, the idea shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and ignoring potential benefits of it.

      1. High shame/embarrassment potential places where people just inherently follow the rules to avoid any unpleasantness can have free things. The US is most definitely not that. It’s a top/down problem. If you don’t recognize all the negative ways you alter the immediate environment around you to the detriment of others, then free social spaces won’t work. Ride the subway in Stockholm/Tokyo, and you’ll see everyone doing everything they possibly can to make their sensual footprint as tiny as possible (noise, smells, space occupying, and even eye contact)…if you close your eyes you’d think you were alone most of the time.

      2. Yeah, do the folks that point out Europe as an example know that they actually enforce rules there? Homeless people don’t get run of the transit or the streets. They have to get help or move along. All the places that everyone admires their systems – yeah they make people pay.

      3. Oh, come on. Japanese culture highly values fitting in and saving face so I won’t argue with that, although I wouldn’t call it a society based on shame and fear (how horrible that would be; you’d be walking on eggs your whole life). But Sweden? Probably no more shame oriented than the rest of Europe and maybe slightly more than the US. It’s more like if you have a garden with desired plants and maybe some undesired weeds and critters. Sweden’s policies come from an attitude of “We’re all Swedes so let’s work together to help everybody because that will ultimately benefit us.” That’s the same as investing in people, or treating everybody like desired plants: you water them and they grow. Sweden also experienced WWII in their own country like the rest of Europe, and wanted to make sure it never happens again. Then there was the oil crisis in the 1970s: that convinced European countries to become more self-sustainable on transportation and to invest in more efficient forms and not leave people out.

        The US is different, but why and how? And does that mean we can do nothing and there’s no hope? The US basically treats some people like undesired weeds to be cleaned away. There are both long- and short-term reasons for this. The biggest long-term reason was slavery and the attitude of treating people like property, and the lingering effects of if one generation is discriminated against, the next generation doesn’t have many assets to start from. Gun policies and the shooting rate have something to do with this. Then in the 20th Century came Ayn Rand’s “Greed is good, alturism is destructive.” That gave an excuse to those who were out for number 1 anyway. And the Anti-New Dealers, who always opposed Roosevelt’s programs, and since Reagan have gotten more power to whittle away at them.

        So with the background of longstanding support for inequality and opposition to programs to lift everybody up, there’s only so much we can do. But we can do something. And some of the hinderances are artificial, from voter suppression and gerrymandering, which give those who support inequality a larger vote than others. In time this will be eliminated and a new balance will emerge. It happened once after the Depression and WWII, so it can happen again, although it seems less likely at the moment.

      4. About Sweden and Japan, I was being a little flippant about the fear of shame and embarrassment thing, but my main point is valid: places where people naturally follow the rules are generally better places. However, part of the reason they follow rules is to avoid embarrassment.

        In Japan, this is definitely true, but in Sweden it stems from a very ingrained sense that “I am no better than anyone else, and deserve no more or less than my neighbor”, or lagom, meaning just enough is the best amount. This tranlates to being a generally responsible citizen. In the US too many people are out for maximizing their own privilege, whether that’s not paying their transit fare or their taxes. And there’s definitely a correlation between fare dodgers and antisocial behavior, just as there probably is with tax cheats.

        Lacking cultural taboos, if the penalty part of the equation was more costly (time, effort, embarrassment, hassle) many problems would evaporate.

    2. If the FEOs were allowed to do their job properly, which simply entails determining if somebody has paid their fare or not, everything would work out. People argue with the FEOs because they know that if they throw a big enough fit, they’ll get left alone. Arguments over the validity of an infraction are best left to the judicial branch of our government.

      1. Does the FEO’s job have to involve giving minimum $124 fines for tiny infractions or oversights that cost the agency at most 3% of that? If someone got a $124 fine for stealing a candy bar or overparking an hour or got 20 years for breaking a window we’d say that’s extremely excessive and disproportionate. So why is it OK for transit fare checks?

      2. Transit fares are required for all people who use it and that’s how equal treatment works under the law. If a person wants to argue how unfair or unjust they think a fine is, they can a) argue before a court or b) don’t get a fine in the first place.

        The fact that it’s fairly easy to throw a tantrum in front of bus operator to avoid paying a fare has become acceptable because the general population has accepted it. Once people find out that’s no longer the case, they will adjust their behavior.

        I have been questioning the fairness of our civil fine structure for a long time and it certainly seems like some change would help balance things out. But that’s something for courts and lawmakers and voters to tackle, not LEOs. I don’t think anybody wants our police officers making street-level decisions on the morality of laws and which ones they will and won’t enforce.

    3. Your argument makes no sense. The Metro 8 has 100% fare enforcement. People can’t board without paying.

      Link, on the other hand, has a lax system. I can take my chances, and probably get away without paying.

      Yet, according to your anecdotal experience, the 8 is more of a problem than a typical train. There are plenty of public transportation systems with gates that have a lot of big security problems (New York comes to mind). I see no correlation between fare enforcement and criminal mischief.

      At best, you seem to be confusing fare enforcement with additional security. Maybe Link is safer because they have more security guards, who double as fare enforcers. Fine. But simply adding random security guards on the 8 would achieve the same thing. Or not, because the 8 is a bus, and it is pretty easy to hop off at the next stop when cops get on. That is a lot harder when you have a long distance between stops, as Link does (and you can’t just start walking easily towards your destination).

      1. The 8 fare enforcement is only as good as the gatekeepers, or drivers in this case. And, they are terrible at it as far as I can tell, basically just waving people on who say they won’t, or can’t pay. There is no risk for cheats on the 8, while Link offers some deterrent in the form of a potential citation.

  18. I see this as just one of the countless ways society starts to function worse as inequality deteriorates. One of the foundations of an eqalitarian democracy is that more or less everyone has to operate in the same way. As inequality increases, every system that is built on that assumption starts to break down, leading to an entrenchment of the class system through the enforcement of punitive measures on the poor or, at best, a growing divergence of lived experience of people as a result of variable enforcement of rules and benefits.

  19. As a former security guard, I find the story appalling. These guys seem to forget that the people who pay the fare are customers. When they found out that the customer really had paid his fare, they should have apologized. Maybe a little “sorry, dude, just trying to do my job”. But no — instead they doubled down after he had produce his fare.

    All of this suggests that these dicks fare officers are simply in the wrong business. Protect a closed site (like I did) and you can hassle all the homeless you want. Tell them to move along and find someplace else to sleep. Call them names, give them the stink eye, laugh at them (they have all heard worse). Or (crazy thought) they could actually have a little empathy and just explain the situation and folks will understand. (I also worked for a brief time at the Millionaire Club — there but for the grace of God, as my mom always used to say).

    The point is, heavy-handed fare enforcement is ridiculous. Good God, we still allow transfers, which means people scam the system every day (https://www.facebook.com/WeeklySeattleBusTransferPage/). Yet Metro doesn’t stop it, because they have bigger things to worry about.

    That should be the case here. They should take a Walmart security attitude. Walmart is well aware that people pilfer their goods a lot. But they don’t freak out about it. Mainly they want to provide just enough deterrence to discourage the masses from cheating.

    At a minimum, that means lowering the fee, or at least having it start small and go up every time you have a violation. The first fee should be five dollars. Eventually it could go up to $124, but not right away. There is some evidence that enforcement isn’t even needed — that you’ll have the same number of cheaters regardless of how likely you are to get caught. But a fee that keeps getting bigger will discourage the handful of scofflaws from feeling like they are better off just paying the occasional fee, rather than bus fare. In general, though, the recommendations from Transportation Choices make sense (https://transportationchoices.org/improving-fare-enforcement-can-advance-transit-equity).

    One other thing worth noting, in defense of fare enforcers in general (although not these pair). These are security guards, which means they can assist if things get nasty. As we move towards a proof of payment system, this could help everyone. There are buses right now that are “pay as you enter”, yet have security problems (hooligans messing with people). Having well trained security guards who know how to deescalate a tense situation, while providing better safety would be a huge bonus. These pair should probably get the training necessary to provide better service, or perhaps a different job.

    1. Dropping the ORCA fee to $2 and rounding cash fares up to a flat $3 would pay for itself by eliminating the transfer of the day BS. Temporary low income cards should be available on the spot at all social service offices instead of separate offices.

  20. This guy sounds like an idiot. Be ready before you board! All this rooting around is unfair to those of us who have paid. He should be banned from Metro

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