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

After the release of the King County Auditor’s report, Metro revised its fare enforcement policies over the summer. Elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, have asked Sound Transit to consider similar changes.

Metro’s new policy, which was developed in consultation with social justice and transit groups including the Transit Riders’ Union, Puget Sound Sage, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica, makes significant changes to the penalties of fare enforcement infractions, according to a King County press release:

Under the new program, infractions for second violations initially would be set at $50 or lower.  Fines paid within 30 days could be further reduced by half.

Customers could resolve fare infractions through non-monetary options, such as:

  • Performing community service at a nonprofit organization
  • If eligible, enrolling into the ORCA LIFT reduced-fare program

Individuals who do not resolve their infraction within 90 days and are ticketed again for riding without valid proof of payment would be suspended from Metro service for 30 days.

Jessica Ramirez of Puget Sound Sage gives the county credit for its proactive approach with fare enforcement. Ramirez and other people involved in the discussions say that county officials took social justice issues seriously while drafting the new policy.

“They have done such an amazing job at adapting the language and policy that we’ve championed,” Ramirez says.

Ramirez points out that Metro’s planned RapidRide expansion in diverse South King County will bring more communities of color into contact with fare enforcement officers. That could make racial bias issues a more significant problem, though the bulk of fare enforcement takes place on 3rd Avenue in Seattle. Ramirez says that Puget Sound Sage continues to advocate for even less fare enforcement.

“We don’t believe that any policing should be happening on our bus systems. While we understand the agencies’ need and desire for people to pay for the bus, we don’t believe in a system where people are going to policed based on many different biases.”

Sound Transit’s elected leadership has started to push the agency to make changes. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, a Sound Transit board member, has proposed bringing changes like Metro’s to ST.

When the Sound Transit board renewed Securitas’s contract on October 25, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan also voiced support for more rigorous deescalation and use of force training for deputies and FEOs.

“We know that a number of the times that there’s fare evasion or use of force,” Durkan said, “it can be people that are experiencing crisis, people experiencing homelessness, and it’s really important that we have very strong crisis intervention and deescalation policies in place in the training.”

Ken Cummins, Sound Transit’s director of security, said he agreed with Durkan’s sentiments.

As the Metro audit points out, fare enforcement does not, as far as anyone has yet been able to tell, actually cause fare evasion to go down. In practice, as Durkan suggested, fare enforcement’s most measurable effects are on vulnerable people like Aaron Hill.

Hill says that his fare enforcement citation was one of the factors that kept him sleeping on the street. He says the money he was fined could have been spent on a deposit for an apartment.

For Hill, his fare enforcement citation felt like piling on, when he was already at a low point in his life.

“All this,” Hill says, “over two bucks and seventy five cents.”

This the final post of a three part series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. (Links to Part One and Part Two.)

36 Replies to “How transit agencies are reforming fare enforcement (Part 3 of 3)”

  1. “All this,” Hill says, “over two bucks and seventy five cents.”

    Exactly. Pay like a law abiding citizen and you wouldn’t have the headache of dealing with tickets and fees. It’s a pretty simple solution. There needs to be consequences for actions, that’s how people learn responsibility.

    I do like the idea of “paying off a ticket” with community service, although they should limit which non-profits can be used. I think picking up garbage would go a long way to helping everyone, including those who are doing it.

    1. Sometimes people can’t even afford $2.75, unfortunately. So people can’t always afford to strictly obey the law.

      1. Having money in a savings account somewhere he might not be able to easily get to and is saving for the future anyways is not the same as having cash on hand to get on the bus/put on a card.

      2. Right, and the prepaid nature of e-purses is also problematic. Dude may be able to afford a trip today, but not enough to put the $5 minimum on the card, or a more realistic $10 or $20 to avoid going to the TVM every day. Especially considering that outside Seattle there are entire cities with no TVM or only one.

      3. Sometimes, the problem with fares isn’t so much coming up with the money, but for someone who doesn’t have an Orca card to come up with the cash in the proper denomination.

        Once, I was all set to ride the bus out of Montreal airport, when I realized that I had only U.S. currency on me, and paying $3.25 into a farebox which only took Canadian money was going to be a real pain. ATM’s weren’t an option because they only dispense 20’s, and if I’m going to spend $20 on a $3.75 bus fare, I may as well just use my credit card and ride a taxi. Nor were there any retail stores around that could give me change (they were all behind the security partition, which I had already exited). And, of course, the notion of a machine in their airport that could accept credit cards and dispense bus farecards was unthinkable.

        That left the currency exchange center as the only option, but they charge a $10 service fee per transaction, which seemed very steep when all you need is just $3.25 for bus fare. Eventually, I decided to ask a person in line, who was exchanging hundreds of U.S. dollars, if I could throw in an extra $10 U.S., so that our transactions could be batched together, avoiding the additional service fee. I was half expecting the person behind the counter to intervene and say that wasn’t allowed, but they did it. I walked away with exact change to cover the bus, just in time to align with the bus’s 30-minute-frequency schedule.

        Thankfully, the Link ticket machines take credit cards, so foreigners visiting Seattle don’t have this problem.

    2. There are people who have only two or three dollars at a time. So either they can’t pay the fare, or they can only pay one way and not a round trip, or they can just barely pay the fare but then they’d have to forego something major like food or medical supplies. ORCA LIFT doesn’t cover this situation because it assumes a higher income baseline, people who can pay $1.50 every trip. So we either transport them for free or they can’t get around or have to walk. That gets into the purpose of transit. It’s not a commodity like a taxi that only the middle class can use and its purpose is to make money for the taxi company and driver. The purpose of transit is to benefit the city by ensuring that everybody can get around to where they need to go, so that we can have a healthy economy and healthy citizenry (which indirectly helps the economy too). There are several possible funding models, but the most common one is users paying a fare covering a proportion of the expenses. That’s not how libraries work. With libraries, everybody funds it via taxes and it’s free to users. So while fares and fines may be necessary for now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the ideal model long term, and transit is not a luxury like a movie ticket.

      To some extent the city’s design itself necessitates more transit use or driving, because we’ve moved away from the layout of universal mixed use and putting most of the everyday necessities within walking distance. In Donald Shoup’s books about walking he said he moved to a small town or rural area where nevertheless the children’s school is across the street and a store is within in walking distance. That’s very unusual and hard to find, and I’d say he got a rare deal. But why is it rare? It didn’t use to be. I spent some time on Vashon Island growing up. Vashon has only one village about 2×5 blocks, and maybe a supermarket elsewhere. The only other businesses are a few scattered individual ones, like a bookstore in the middle of nowhere. The rest of it is all residential. And I wouldn’t expect Shoup’s situation on an island so small and rural, except right in the village. But down at the south end in Burton there’s a prewar building saying “Post Office” or “General Store” or such. (I haven’t been there for years so I don’t remember exactly/) It looks like potential Shroup block. Except the store never seems to be open; it looks like it closed down years earlier and is now empty or a house. So not a Shroup node now, even if it might have been in the past. And zero non-houses around it, not even buildings that look like they might have been shops. (Of course you don’t know because all businesses used to look like houses before they became architecturally distinct. But in that building’s era they were already starting to look distinct.) The point is that the lack of Shoup nodes now is what makes transit/driving a full-time necessity rather than for a minority of trips. That makes transit more necessary, and makes it more necessary to make transit affordable even to those who can pay little or nothing.

    3. Will give you one better, Toby. Hire so many people who wouldn’t be homeless and jobless if they hadn’t got ethno-econometrically cleansed out of places like Ballard, and hire them to both fix elevators creaking like a crushed tin can at the Airport, and half the escalators on Link every day.

      A job where a worker pays car tabs to temporarily drive their car to work and then rides the system his taxes helped create. And donates the car to National Public Radio to help the Koch Brothers deliver the ten Planet Stockmarket slots in average liberal’s listening day.

      Problem is that unless he immediately starts listening to right wing talk radio, he’ll end up with so much worthless stock he’ll have to wear a formal dress barrel to take it to nearest mortgage company and buy a house in Medina with it.


  2. Individuals who do not resolve their infraction within 90 days and are ticketed again for riding without valid proof of payment would be suspended from Metro service for 30 days.

    Considering that Metro is a public service, would this rule last even a second if challenged in court?

    1. How do you even enforce “suspending from Metro service?” It is one thing if you’re going to kick people off Rapid Ride if fare enforcement catches them during this period, but there’s nothing stopping the person from riding non-Rapid Ride Metro routes. Social justice is a good thing, but whatever results in the end still has to be *enforceable*!

      More and more a free fare policy (on local busses) is looking like the best policy….

      1. It’s a legal thing. If the person doesn’t get into trouble, then it doesn’t matter. But if they do, then they can also be accused of trespassing. It happens with retail stores all the time. If someone gets caught trespassing three times, the store bans them. If they do it again, it isn’t just theft, it is burglary.

        At least that is my understanding. I’m not a lawyer, but I ran across this exact situation when I sat on a jury. A guy was repeatedly stealing meat, and the last time he did it, he was accused of the more serious crime.

      2. It’s the same thing as being suspended for vandalizing or harassing people. Metro can do it, and the courts recognize it at least some of the time. The pedestrian bridge across MLK and Rainier is owned by Metro, and it has at various times threatened to suspend people from the bridge for misbehaving there. That prompted the recipient to say in a newspaper article, “How are we supposed to cross the street then?” The nearest surface crossings are a block away, so somewhat out of the way.

      3. Sounds like it is more a secondary offense kind of situation. However….doesn’t that expose people to even more legal issues than they would be exposed to in, say, Link’s system? (Just playing the Devil’s advocate here.)

      4. “Suspend people from the bridge,” Mike? Sounds a bit drastic…. ;-)

        (sorry, can’t help it, Friday afternoon!)

      5. I read it in the paper. There was only that little bit of information so I don’t know how common it is.

      1. Ross, does very small number of people actually fined in 2016 hold the same over all the years Link has been running? Wouldn’t make me hate the policy and the thinking behind it any less. Though, very bad thought: Did that just apply to RapidRide and not apply to the DSTT?

        Could maybe take a more relaxed approach like threatening to yield my public comment time to Alex Tsimerman. Put the gold-plated Kalashnikov back in your last-of-the-arctic -fox-fur coat, Claudia. He’s honoring you by calling you a fascist because Mussolini famously promised to the Get The Trains Running On Time!

        Fact he didn’t gives our system even more Continental styling credit.Which the Breda fleet consummately proved! OK. Just invent a little furry teddy-bear to keep the Seat Hog company. And call it the “Tapmunk” And sit one on top of every reader, pointing to the screen with a little plastic tear in its eye, pleading for compliance.


    1. Plus, governments often come back years later with debt collection agencies and charge interest, so these big fines can be very bad for poor people…

  3. The problems faced by people with low income are real and all possible help should be provided to ensure nobody is unable to use transit because it is not affordable. That said, these are issues that go beyond the scope of transit agencies. Considering the funding challenges faced by Metro in the past, any subsidies should be outside of the 0.9% sales tax + bus fares + any other sources of Metro. Ideally, King county or the state should reimburse Metro for any low income fare discounts / free passes so that the basic purpose of providing bus services is not underfunded.

    1. The fare doesn’t really pay the cost of the service; it pays only 25-30% of the cost. So several lost fares can name a significant hole in the operations budget, but it’s not as much as it appears.

  4. Exactly… I don’t think it is just to have policies in place that unfairly target oppressed communities. However, expecting everyone to pay a set fare is not the fault of the transit agencies, and it’s not their job to provide human services or address racial discrimination in our society. If we don’t think it’s fair and just as a community to expect people to pay $2.75 to ride the bus, then we need to look at way to more widely implement programs like ORCA LIFT and/or reduce fares by providing additional funding to transit agencies.

    1. Don’t think transit policy in this area is in anyway targeted to oppress the poor. But I do think that transit is one of best public means to help people stop being poor. Story that at a socialite gathering, famous non-poor playwright George Bernard Shaw was approached by a lady admirer who said:

      “Oh, Sir George, it’s so wonderful how much you love the poor!” Response: “Madam, I HATE the poor and look forward to their speedy elimination!” Isn’t Metro presently having to cancel runs for lack of drivers? And for first time since I left Seattle, seeing permanent graffiti tile walls and dented elevator panels.

      So fair argument that transit can increase revenue by employing people at good wages, so they can buy their own ORCA cards. And dumping that garbage about being nailed for $124 for a wrong-tap. That will then go to transit in fares and taxes, instead of Superior Court overwhelmed with Grand Theft Barrel cases.


  5. “As the Metro audit points out, fare enforcement does not, as far as anyone has yet been able to tell, actually cause fare evasion to go down.”

    Then why bother with it?!!!!!! Also understand that fine money doesn’t go to transit anyhow, but to Superior Court. Good to see it go to the positive things mentioned. Starting with the Court not having to bother with something that wastes their time while not saving transit any money.

    Reason is that, as should be bold-face Seattle Times headline and some words from
    Senator Bob Hasegawa: Because Sound Transit feels compelled to fine passengers in the name of enforcing Distance – Basement and Revenue Apportionment Which original plan for regional transit was to supposed to eliminate. Is somebody on the ORCA division of ST accounting nine years late for work?

    Also another Thing That Mankind Was Never Meant to Know (OW! the wolf just bit me!) One can buy Fare Evasion insurance from LINK called an All-Day paper pass. Whose possession really is Proof of Payment and lets you use whole Link system for a stair master All Day. Without a word of warning or a penny’s worth of fine.

    Reason Link doesn’t need to make an example out of you over this one one is that all the revenue goes to Link. If it had to be shared among agencies….like Fare Inspectors who hate this crap more than I do…are supposed to indicate in formal Chicago CTA :”Just tap-on, ride the train, tap off and nobody gets hurt.”

    Because, same as my relative who’s a a lawyer with personal acquaintance of problem has noticed- the total moronicity of fining somebody for missing an Offtap (penalty mentioned noplace) which turns an innocent tiny mistake into Fare Evasion. And punished as such.

    Am I right that Fare Inspector’s reader see amount of time you’ve got left? So since your On-tap gives you two hours of tap-free travel….SO LONG AS YOU DON’T TAP ON! (Also universally unmentioned.)

    How come after nine years of slander, false accusation, and wasted operating time, neither our Fairness in Fares division, the Transit Passenger’s Union, The Seattle Times, Senators Bob Hasegawa and Steve O’ban, Nikki Oliver, or Almost Live said classic Halloween “Boo!” about this?

    My only guess is that only people actually fined are either too poor search the camps for, or too rich to mind just shipping in their pants so the court can shake the change out of their pockets. Close? Meantime:


    2. IS TOO!

    So paragraph 2 shows a one phone call remedy for the whole problem : For everything income, age-related, or educationally reduced fare- give all applicants an ORCA card loaded with a monthly pass. Just before you electronically change the rest of our cards to do the same.

    So Been There, About to Do That, and Let’s get our last All-Day paper tickets just as a “Time Stamp.” And go get lunch. Empire Cafe in Columbia City will be great now that you won’t get an Evasion ticket for wrong-tap with an hour left on your ORCA pass. Same as mine.

    Mark Dublin

    1. There is an argument that a nominal fare is worthwhile even if it’s barely enforced, because employer bulk passes are based on a percent of the nominal fare, so if you reduce the standard fare to 50c or eliminate it, you lose the bulk-purchase revenue too. Of course that raises the question of whether employers should be coerced into buying bulk passes in the first place, rather than replacing it with a more general tax. Because the argument for universal healthcare is that it shouldn’t be an employer’s burden, especially since their foreign competitors don’t have that burden. So maybe transit should be considered the same way? But there are people who think employers should purchase bulk passes, or in other words take responsibility for their employees’ transportation footprint (especially because it’s partly to level the playing field with the parking subsdies the companies are providing to drivers). I’m not sure where I stand on employer passes, but in any case if you want them then you have to have a nominal fare to base it in.

  6. Great article STB. Nice work.

    Sounds like folks have implemented, or are looking into some common sense improvements in this part of our transit system. Good to see.

  7. This seems like much ado about nothing. Just stop enforcing fares, like they do on regular Metro buses. Every person who has been in town more than a month knows you can ride the bus for free.

    1. The problem is that fares do make up some of Metro’s budget, so stopping fare enforcement might cost more money then it saves.

  8. That’s Shakespeare, not George Bernard Shaw. But knowest thou not that the myriads of scoundrels and varlets who believe it their Almighty-given right to pile our streets with the vile droppings of their wagons far outnumber those who prudently ride the many-wheeled carriages that their hosts’ taxes provide to them for not so much as a halfpenny? Zounds.

    But hark! That pathetic grinding noise in our vertical containment foretells that we shall remain in its confines for all eternity! Unfold thy shiny many-keyed message-deliverer and plead with the formidable Mitzy the Sheriff of Kingcountyham to lock in sturdy iron the haughty malefactors that purchased these trifles!

    And while thou art so engaged, Cleopatra, convey that if thou receievest a single additional message that thy expected wait time is fifteen minutes of Eternity, thou shalt by the swiftest coach within the confines of this beset Area of Service dispatch thy remaining viper in their general direction.

    Because the petty pace of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow shall loseth us our positions at the Theater of Acts. The Leavings of of a Male Bovine!

    Marcus Dublinious

  9. It seems to me as though the effect of fare enforcement is somewhat binary; without it you get one fare evasion rate, and with it, you get a lower evasion rate. But once you have visible fare enforcement, adding more will have little effect on the evasion rate.

  10. It’s interesting that these social justice groups calling for less fare enforcement never bring up the subject of less farebox revenue due to fare evasion. They seem to only care about making sure that people who purposely do not pay their fare face little to no penalty. And the penalty of banning someone from Metro for 30 days seems rather easy to flout. I doubt all drivers have photographic memory, if the subject being banned has their photo shown to drivers. And it’s not like you can’t enter on rear doors using RR lines so that ban is pathetic.

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