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.”