Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Sound Transit is pushing ahead with fare enforcement reform. At last week’s Board meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff announced that the agency has formed a working group that will study changes to the existing fare enforcement process. He updated a Board committee on the goals of the working group in comments at a meeting yesterday.

“[We] convene[d] a cross-functional group to review the agency’s approach to fare enforcement, and evaluate opportunities to further enhance our program with an emphasis on our core values of customer focus, safety, inclusion, and respect,” Rogoff said on Thursday, at a meeting of the Board’s operations and rider experience committee.

As we’ve covered at length, a criminal justice approach to fare enforcement can have dramatic negative impacts on vulnerable groups of people, like the homeless and people of color.

After a King County Metro auditor report highlighted those problems in 2018, Metro separated its fare enforcement regime from the criminal justice system. Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Joe McDermott helped design the program with their council colleagues, working closely with social justice organizations like Puget Sound Sage and the Transit Riders’ Union.

Balducci, McDermott, the social justice coalition, and City of Seattle officials Jenny Durkan and Rob Johnson have all pushed Rogoff to rework fare enforcement operations. The working group represents progress.

“We’re really quite proud of the work we’ve done at King County on fare enforcement, because the impact of criminalizing fare evasion—it’s unclear that that policy actually increases fare compliance. And we know that it has some negative downstream impacts,” Balducci said.

“There are… fundamental questions, and you’ve identified one of them,” Rogoff said in reply to Balducci. “What are we getting out of, in terms of compliance, by the so-called criminalization of [fare evasion.] …But also to make sure that we have what is currently a high level of fare compliance. There are other cities with open systems that don’t have that record, and one city in particular I won’t name where things have really deteriorated. I know we don’t want to go there. So we need to have the discussion and figure out what the right mix is.”

Balducci pointed out that “about 70 percent” of Metro fare enforcement cases that went to court and resulted in fines eventually were sent to collections.

“So the court process wasn’t adding a whole lot of value, truthfully,” Balducci said. “And it’s always very interesting to me that the fee, the fine, for fare avoidance is over twice the amount of a parking ticket. So park your car illegally, and block a space on the city streets, and we’ll charge you $54, but step on a bus without having tapped on correctly …and you’ll get a $124 fine, I believe. So there’s definitely work to be done.”

The mystery city Rogoff alluded to might have been New York. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) attributed a recent spike in fare evasion, and a concurrent drop in farebox collection, to a decision by New York prosecutors to stop pursuing fare evasion charges in 2017.

However, the King County audit that spurred the local discussion about fare evasion concluded that, “although a link between evasion and fare enforcement is often assumed, the relationship is actually not clear.”

At yesterday’s meeting, Rogoff said that Sound Transit and Metro will brief the King County Council’s mobility and environment committee on fare enforcement on April 16, at the request of Council and Board member Dave Upthegrove.

“I expect to have an update, as well as a follow-on discussion, in [the Sound Transit operations] committee in the coming weeks about the progress of this review of our fare enforcement efforts,” Rogoff said.

78 Replies to “Sound Transit rethinking fare enforcement”

  1. You know, it would be cheaper to just stop paying fare enforcement officers than having meeting after meeting to figure out how to make it ok for fare evasion for certain people. Seriously, how much time are these groups spending wringing their hands over this and having meeting after meeting. Just stop enforcing fares if it is such a travesty.

    1. It’s welfare for the criminal justice industrial complex. The whole thing is a racket. It costs more to put homeless people in jail than it would it just pay their rent.

      1. I totally agree with you on that point. Sometimes people just get really upset and feel its unfair that some people are expected to pqy while others are or could be not held to the same standard, without being understanding of maybe what that persons life who cant pay is like.

    2. It’s not just homeless people, it’s the working poor. Many of them have housing but they’re paying 50% or more of their income for it, and a sudden medical expense or job loss or unexpected bill could push them into homelessness. That’s why they’re miserly with their money, and even the ORCA LIFT discount can be a stretch for them.

  2. Once we quit enforcing fares how many people will pay?

    The people got rid of the free ride zone, looks like this will replace it. Because no-one can claim enforcement is targeted at any one group, the usual cries of racial discrimination don’t work, so the only other way to deal with the number of folks busted is to get rid of the law itself.

    It’s really simple. The law breakers don’t like it.

      1. I’m saying that when everyone on the bus is checked, nobody can claim they were checked because of their status.

    1. The poll tax wasn’t necessarily administered in a discriminatory way. But the impact had a clear demographic disproportionality. This isn’t much different, except that the poll tax didn’t fund anything particularly useful. Credit to King County for finally getting rid of the mail ballot poll tax last year, and the Legislature for finally following suit.

      If demographics intent is involved in deciding fare policy, the FTA would look askance at that.

    2. >> Once we quit enforcing fares how many people will pay?

      Roughly the same number that pay now. There is no evidence that tougher enforcement leads to more fare avoidance.

      1. Huh? Of course we shouldn’t expect tougher fare enforcement to lead to more fare avoidance.

      2. People with employer passes have already paid. Others will keep getting monthly passes out of a sense of civic duty. Some people will keep buying tickets for the same reason, or because they don’t want to be caught breaking the law even if there are no more regular inspections. Visitors won’t know there are no inspectors.

        What bothers me is they won’t look at the more fundamental issue. Proof-of-payment is bad design. There should be turnstyles or at least narrow doorways that connote “You are entering a fare-paid area” rather than wide-open hallways that look like a public walkway.

      3. Your last paragraph is spot on, Mike, as has been discussed many times here before (and will again). There’s no real reason not to do this when the readers are moved, and while not eliminating fare avoidance, will certainly add at least some revenue through people who now honestly forgot.

        I do think that removal of fare enforcement (or reminders) will in time lead to more people just saying “why should I pay? These other people aren’t.” It sounds as though NYC might be having this issue, and we see it in other areas of life. Anyone who regularly walks around downtown, or really anywhere built-up, knows that there is no traffic enforcement at intersections and so we see cars blocking the box and bus lanes and bikes screaming through crosswalks full of pedestrians. Even random enforcement would stop some people from pulling out in front of a bus with no time to get through the intersection.

        Fare enforcement – in concert with better reminders to tap on/off at fare-paid areas, a simplified fare and pass structure, and increased access to low-income passes – should still exist even if in greatly reduced forms. The general public would not feel “ripped off” by paying, transit would be perceived to be a utility with a value, and we could concentrate on helping people who honestly need the help. I’d like to see funds put towards more locations to get reduced-fare ORCAs throughout the ST region (hell, more places to get the things in general!).

      4. There’s no evidence that a publicly announced policy of no enforcement of the laws results in people paying when they don’t have to.

      5. Has there been a study which concluded that a stated policy of no fare enforcement has had no impact on fare avoidance.

        if so, can someone share it. I am genuinely interested.

      6. There’s probably no study saying that there’s no increase in fare avoidance when you eliminate inspectors. But that only matters if collecting $2.75 from everybody is the primary goal. That’s just one goal among several. The inspectors themselves are an expense, and the inspectors are displacing the cost of installing turnstyles. Metro and ST have a fare evasion rate of around 3%, which is already low, and they say it’s less expensive than installing turnstyles.

        If fare evasion rises significantly after inspectors are eliminated, then the counties (directly for Metro, indirectly for ST) would have to raise the issue with the public of supplemental funding. That could be a tax increase. Or it could be an appeal to civic-minded people to buy passes and pay the fare anyway. The latter might raise some money, even if not a lot. Passes would be more practical, as people would make the decision once a month and see it as a monthly expense, rather than making the decision every time they ride and “it’s so easy” to sluff it off. We should make more use of passes anyway, meaning encouraging all cash riders to get day passes or weekly passes. That’s what some agencies do and it minimizes cash payments even further. The trick is that the day pass must be priced at twice the single fare so that people will use them even for just one round trip, and they’ll get them even if they’re not sure they’ll use the return trip. Weekly passes should be priced at around four round trips. Metro used to have weekend-only day passes. Now there’s some kind of day pass you can get but it’s obscure and most people don’t know about it, and it costs something like $12 because it’s trying to cover the cost of the most expensive Sounder round-trip. Link has day tickets priced at a round trip, so that’s a step in the right direction.

      7. Turnstiles are not the answer, just visit any city with them and see people climbing over them. BART has turnstiles and still has fare enforcement officers because turnstile jumping is so rampant.

    3. “Decriminalized” does not mean the same as the fare isn’t enforced. Based on the text and comparison to parking tickets, it means they are bringing enforcement in line with parking tickets and other infractions rather than making it part of the court system.

  3. I do expect a drop from about 4% to about 3% fare evasion this year just as a result of the double-beep for tap-off. Balducci seems to get it that tapping incorrectly has been a problem. Honoring passes that clearly cover the cost of the trip (and making a Business Rule at the ORCA pod so that all agencies agree to a statistical back-end fix rather than a passenger-humiliation approach for mis-tappers) should be a lot cheaper than installing fare gates.

    I would like to point out to the King County Councilfolk, though, that ST is not the agency through which to handle distribution of free passes for the homeless. That is done by the counties. Metro has stuck to day passes, which force a lot of inconvenience on recipients. N-month passes distributed through human service agencies was kept out of the surveys on how to improve access to transit, with some involved having been given a line that it was in the works anyway. I’ve seen and heard nothing that it is. I get the feeling that updating transit access plans at the county level has gone the way of Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan, Climate Action Plan, and Complete Streets Plan.

    Credit is due to Mayor Durkan for treating transit like a social service, but it also needs to be treated as a preferred alternative for people getting around — after walking and biking, which have much lower carbon emissions.

    That said, one elephant in the living room is the thread-bare paper transfers. For those who have the whole collection, it gives them a lifetime free pass on Metro, but they aren’t accepted by other agencies, including Sound Transit. Metro is the rogue agency that gives out paper transfers at the front-door of buses while a passenger fumbles cash and change. I’m more annoyed by the latter aspect than the former, as the latter impacts the travel time every time a ride the bus.

    So, if Mayor Durkan does not want to give transit priority over private automobile access, even on 3rd Ave, there is something that can be done to move buses faster everywhere: Raise the Metro cash fare to an even $3. Then use any extra revenue to fund an N-month pass program through human service agencies, and/or to lower the youth/LIFT fare to match the RRFP fare, and/or get rid of the youth card fee, and/or convert the highest-in-the-nation $5 smart card fee into $5 of e-purse when someone buys a new card.

    1. If none of this gets Mayor Durkan’s attention, consider that a lot of SOVs are made to wait behind buses while riders fumble cash and change. The Chamber of Commerce has an interest in speeding up fare transactions at the front of buses.

  4. One easy start will be to exempt from fare evasion charges those of us who have, with the purchase of a monthly pass, already paid Sound Transit every conceivable cent we’ll ever owe it for the rest of the month. Once that transaction is concluded, the system has my money and should act accordingly.

    Whatever else I do with the card in the way of tap sequence should be considered a matter of internal accounting, a very far call from the criminal justice system. Wrong “tap” sequence should at worst bring a friendly reminder from on inspector, who’s got my proof of payment in his or her hand. Create a sad-eyed little creature called a “tapmunk” to illustrate real gravity of my offense.

    In point of fact, since my original “tap” entitles me to two hours of transportation, usual tap mistake would not register against me at all if I didn’t tap the card anywhere for that amount of time. I could spend the morning using the system’s every access point for a stair-master, so long as I minded my watch. I’m being fined for an unnecessary “tap on.” Which illustrated instructions mandate, fare inspector and all.

    Maybe I’ve missed something over months of absence, but I don’t think clear details of my offense as to how the needless “tap” turns a major law-abiding gesture into an offense are posted anywhere- which I think speaks to Sound Transit’s attachment to something this counterintuitive:

    The fare system itself is so complicated that its full description would require Sistine Chapel ceiling treatment for a complete explanation. Ken Cummins’ able defense notes at least once the amount of “RCW” language that complete disclosure will require.

    Call them subareas or separate agencies, the very existence of our regional transit system should provide more than one mechanism to assure that my fare money gets apportioned fairly throughout the system. Hard to feature Nordstrom’s calling me a thief for a mistimed card-swipe at one of its own registers.

    Judging by every passenger reaction I’ve ever seen to being “tap-trapped”, I think one complication in finding a fair remedy is that punishment does not stem from inability to pay, but from raising a complication in the system’s ability to direct money we already have paid for our every single ride.

    I’m surprised that no wealthy person who can afford a dust-up with the law has gone public with defense not that “I can’t afford to pay!” But that “First of the month I already did. Just look at my card!” Whatever courts decide, hopefully at painful embarrassment to Sound Transit, the Agency is not going to come away from this one looking any better than it deserves.

    Mr. Rogoff, Ken Cummins is a good man whose talents deserve better use. You’ve personally got both the job title and the phone connections to unspring the “tap trap” before lunch. And the “pull” to shift the embarrassment over recalcitrant internal fare apportionment onto whatever divisions think they’re served by harassing me and the rest of your most dutiful fare payers.

    We’ve already paid you. Leave Ken to deal summarily with somebody who hasn’t.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Just to be clear, ST has produced no RCW section that requires it to ignore clear-and-obvious proof of payment. I’ve asked a few times. They’ve tried, but none of the RCW sections they’ve cited actually do that.

      1. +1000000

        Welcome back, Mark! Please don’t forget to tap off when leaving the STB site. ;-)

  5. Last week I was riding a 4 from Queen Anne to downtown and fare enforcement got on at Bell St. to check everyone. I found it kind of off-putting that they did that on a bus that is pay on entry (I know they’re doing all-door boarding downtown, but we hadn’t gotten there yet).

    1. They have to do something with their time while getting back to the off-board payment zone. I much prefer they do it in the periphery than where the buses are most crush-loaded.

      Still, I was at a southbound stop just north of Benaroya earlier this week, saw all the signage about off-board payment, but couldn’t fine an ORCA reader to tap. The sign listing the routes stopping there looked really make-shift, resembling the constituency hanging out there. If you want the people on the buses to the poorer neighborhoods to pay, you have to provide a way to pay. And so, cash and change fumbling at the front door was the process there, at a major stop on 3rd Ave.

      1. The thing is they did they check really quick and got off at Virginia. Are they trying to maximize how many buses they can hit on the way back? And if it felt weird to me as a white dude, how is it going to for someone from an over-policed community?

      2. By sign I assume you mean the new map of bus stops. I like the one at 3rd & Pine and think it’s a great enhancement to the system. While the map design has room for improvement, it tells you where all the 3rd Avenue routes stop at. Sometimes I’ve wondered where routes I rarely use like the 70 stops and gone to the wrong stop. (E.g., I assumed it stopped at Virginia where all Union, Pike, and Pine routes merge, but it didn’t, it turned somewhere earlier. But with the may I could have seen right away which stop to go to.)

        The stops without ORCA readers are supposed to have human boarding assistants. However, I’ve never seen one. Maybe they’re only there peak hours. If that’s the case, Metro should have told us. I’ve also had mixed results with drivers opening the back doors for boarding. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. I mainly ride downtown in the late morning and weekends and the AM peak, so I haven’t seen what it’s like in the traditional peak, whether drivers are more likely to open the back doors then.

    2. I thought all-door boarding was extended on Third all the way to Denny? I normally walk, but the handful of times I’ve boarded a bus at Cedar the driver opened all doors, I tapped on at the sidewalk reader and boarded a rear door. Fare enforcement actually boarded each of the buses I was on as well and were off by the next stop – small sample size, but still. I think all the stops on Third between Stewart and Denny are also RapidRide stops and so have off-board readers.

  6. I am somewhat confident Rogoff will do something for optics only, but will not actually change the reality of ST security/fare enforcement. The ST people are really proud of there high marks on customer satisfaction and perceived safety. People who argue for no fare controls on transit are really wishing for a dystopian voyage of the damned. ST’s approach to fare enforcement is one big reason why riding on their services is generally pleasant…with relatively few dodgy characters. Most of you are probably riding between Redmond and Bellevue during the midday?, or maybe the Vashon Island routes? If the “no enforcement” people on this blog actually used, say the 8, after 10pm (like I do) you’d be praying for more enforcement of all types. It’s crazy…not every time, maybe not even the majority of the time, but enough. People should ask themselves “would my grandmother be comfortable sitting here right now?” to be honest about things.

    Plus, the way ST does enforcement, there is no bias…it’s standardized and everyone gets looked at. There’s only bias if you think ANY type of enforcement is biased…and if that’s the case, why have any laws or rules for anything? I don’t even care what the fare is, but there needs to be something transactional that basically says “hey, I’m on board now, and I’m not going to cause any problems.” Heck, 50 cents would do that, but whatever the amount it needs to be enforced, or there’s no point.

    1. I ride the F Line every single time I use transit. It’s how I get anywhere. I’m often on it very late at night, and I very much doubt the 8 is much worse than what I see (especially since I used to ride the 10 downtown from Cap Hill then as well and bar the one time someone decided it would be a good idea to break dance while the cab was in motion, it wasn’t much different from what I see now). I’m a white girl. The only time I’ve felt threatened on that bus was when conceited white males were yelling at me for perceived slights.

      And no neither of my grandmothers would be comfortable sitting on the buses but that’s because my grandparents were all virulently racist. They wouldn’t be happy with me either.

      The bias is in how people are treated. I saw a white guy on Link who feigned forgetting how to tap two days ago, he got a nice jocular conversation and smiles from one of the officers. The disheveled black person two weeks prior? All three standing around them with arms crossed while they were interrogated. They had a day pass, but it was buried and they were stared at the whole time then given gruff responses when they produced the ticket.

    2. Agree, it is pleasant to ride Sound Transit because they have security and frequent fare enforcement. Just go to Portland to see the opposite hands off approach, no one pays, the trains are filthy, theres crime on the trains, etc.

      I, along with a growing number of others, am so sick of the criminal worshipping in this town that always has some victimization excuse for why some standard common sense law is somehow “unjust” or discriminatory and therefore should not be enforced.

    3. it is pleasant to ride Sound Transit because they have security and frequent fare”enforcement.”

      That’s not the only difference between ST and Metro. ST has more of a middle-class clientele in general, both because of where the routes go and the fact that they’re express routes, and for some reason more middle-class riders choose Link and more working-class riders choose Metro when there’s a parallel bus route and the fare is the same as Link. (Link is less expensive than Metro up to Westlake-Rainier Beach, the same as Metro up to UW-Rainier Beach, and more expensive beyond that.) Fare enforcement is only one factor in that, and probably a small factor.

      I’ve never seen a dirty MAX train, although I’m only in Portland occasionally. Do you have a fare-evasion percentage for MAX?

  7. Ugh, I mean “proud of THEIR high marks” I apologize for the poor grammar/editing.

  8. It’s time to have full fare control on LINK and more roving enforcement on the bus. I ride the bus 3-4X per week and each and every time I ride I see fare evaders or a la Phoenix “trespassers” as noted above, in case you missed it:

    Focus on the small crimes, the report above nabbed 8 outstanding warrants in 1 hour, I put the Over/under on a given day in Seattle at 16.

    Many of the individuals that don’t pay are homeless, but not all and they often cause issues on the bus. Why can’t the agencies implement an auto tally of evasion or a manual button the driver can tick; then analyze the data based on location and time of day and focus on that or if you have 5+ fare evaders on a bus, dispatch and check that bus.

    And I never see the driver question anyone unless they inquire while boarding and then allowed; however the one time I had a low balance and no cash on me – I was interrogated by the driver, even though I loaded funds on my card that morning, but it did not update. It’s high time to round up the scofflaws and keep them in jail for the other crimes they have committed; of course this is moot if there is no jail space.

    1. You’re advocating for Broken Window-style policing, which has been repeatedly proven to be racially biased.

      1. …claimed by extreme activists who think everything is racially biased and that arresting criminals is offensive to criminals.

      2. There’s disagreement on how effective the Broken Window theory is. Proponents say it decreased crime; opponents say crime was decreasing anyway in that era. The crime rate was much higher in the 1970s through early 90s, then went down dramatically all over the country. There are various theories for this, such as the elimination of lead in gasoline, the legaliation of abortion, the peak of crack cocaine in the early 90s. etc. More community policing, meaning policemen trying to engage with neighborhoods rather than just arresting people, also has a proven benefit and was implemented in several cities in that era. The opponents also point out that broken-window arrests, like all arrests and incarcerations in the US, disproportionally affect minorities, that even when whites and minorities have the same crime level, minorities are arrested and jailed several times more. It’s theoretically possible to separate broken-windows policing from a biased legal system, but the US has not achieved that yet, so implementing a broken-windows policy inevitably leads to more disproportionate arrests.

  9. How about we just eliminate fares entirely? Everyone pays a comparatively small amount more in taxes to cover the revenue lost from no farebox (minus all the costs of administrating fare collection, enforcement, and service hours lost due to waiting for passengers to pay), and BAM! Suddenly you have a faster, more efficient system with much higher ridership.

    Someone try to convince me this isn’t the optimum solution.

    1. Fares are about 30% of Metro’s operating revenue, so eliminating fares means cutting service by 30%. Taxes can’t be raised to make this up because we’re already at the legal limit and the political will to allow transit taxes to rise further to fund free fares isn’t there.

      And, even if politics were willing to allow more transit taxes, it would benefit people more to spend that additional money on more service, rather than fare elimination.

      Free fares make sense for small, rural systems, where the fare revenue is negligible anyway, and often covers little more than the administration overhead of collecting it, but for big cities, it just doesn’t make sense.

    2. Sam, I think good comparison would be with drinking water, which is nicer reading than per flush coin input on a toilet. Or even better, public education. The service we’re buying ourselves with our up-front tax money to my mind more already pays for itself in an improved quality of life in all quarters.

      But Mike and Scott, sincerely thank you for the kind thoughts. Long separation owes to personal circumstances not of my own choosing, which are hopefully temporary. Please rest assured I value Seattle Transit Blog with same part of my make-up that also values the fine transit system we’ve all helped create, and are constantly creating, from some very unlikely beginnings.

      Just by being who and what we are, all of us, we already repay a major part of everything our presence and participation cost anybody.

      Mark Dublin

    3. We’ve been discussing free transit more frequently in recent months as a few more European cities have started it or planned to start it. Fares cover 30% of Metro’s operating costs, so eliminating fares is the same thing as increasing the subsidy 30%. There’s no mystery about that figure: the county explicitly set the fare window at 20-30% as a “fair” fare, and when it reaches the top of the window the county raises the fare. asdf2 is right that we can’t eliminate fares immediately because Metro is bursting at the seams and leaving low-hanging fruit unfulfilled, and it has two unfunded expansion plans pending. But we can make it a long-term goal if we want to. We’re already seeing a whittling down: there’s now a low-income fare, Seattle is giving free passes to all public-school students, etc. The question is where to stop and whether to go all the way. Like a heating system, you can insulate your house or turn the thermostat down and you’ll use less energy, but only if you build a passivhaus can you eliminate the header entirely. Likewise, we’d have to go to 100% free or 100% off-board payment before we can eliminate the fareboxes.

      Agencies that have tried free fares fall into two categories. One, a few urban transit-oriented cities in Europe. Two, small towns and rural areas. Some American college towns and rural areas have free transit, because total ridership is so low that the amount they’d raise in fares wouldn’t cover much more than the cost of collection. Island Transit (Whidbey Island) is free.

      Going to the cities, Tallinn, Estonia, has had free fares for residents for a decade. That’s “for residents”: the city buys them unlimited passes. Visitors and commuters still pay fares. The results have been that ridership has increased a modest 10%, and it has replaced more walking and biking than driving. Those may or may not be net positives depending on your goals, but they’re not a panacea.

      Last year a couple other cities in southern Europe (in France and somewhere if I recall) announced plans for eliminating fares. Their reason is to combat air pollution and meet their carbon-reduction targets, Air pollution triggers asthma and other expensive health problems, so it’s reasonable to say that a small transit subsidy is more cost-effective than high medical bills and loss of productivity. But the fact that Tallin’s example and the introduction of electric scooters in several cities has led to more diversion from walking and biking than from driving, suggests that it may not reduce driving in the eco-minded cities either.

      American cities are significantly different from European cities, so some of the effects of free transit may be different. Europe has a larger social-safety net, so they don’t have tens of thousands of homeless people in cities, many with untreated mental-health conditions. So the issue of “smelly belligerent homeless people crowding buses all day” isn’t as significant. And European cities have comprehensive transit to all parts of the city and suburbs, so they’re already meeting that need. American cities still don’t have a basic level of transit that would allow 50% of the population to avoid driving even if they wanted to. So we need to focus on transit expansion first, and clean up the low-hanging fruit of missing transit-priority lanes so buses don’t get stuck behind cars, before we make free fares top priority.

      Third, the question of what practical difference free fares would make is also complicated, and it may make less difference than it appears. The two biggest advantages would that very low-income people would be able to ride without having to resort to humiliating tricks, and it would shrink dwell time at stops and eliminate farebox expenses. Shorter dwell time would allow a bus to do more runs per day, which would increase frequency “for free”. But a lot of cash-paying has already been eliminated by the spread of ORCA cards and employer passes. Cash payment is already down to something like 25-50%, although it varies widely between routes. Commuter routes are almost all non-cash, whereas routes in lower-income areas are almost all cash (as I’ve observed in Kent, although that was a few years ago so maybe it’s decreased).

      Then, what monetary benefit do free fares have to riders, and how much does it increase ridership? All except low-income people can afford the fare. I get a $99 monthly pass, priced at 44 trips ($2.75), but I actually make over 100 trips per month, bringing my net fare down to around $1.25. So making my fare free would eliminate that $99 cost, which is a reasonable amount to pay for transportation and much less than I’d pay if I had a car or used Uber-like services.

      So how much would people ride more with free fares? I wouldn’t ride more at all because I already ride the maximum amount I want. Everybody with monthly passes or employer passes does that. The precarious tap situation on Link makes some people psychologically anxious that they might forget to tap and get cited by an inspector, but it probably doesn’t reduce train usage more than a little bit. People who pay cash find it a minor inconvenience to put it in the farebox and have exact change, but they’re probably riding anyway. Then there’s people who can afford to pay but don’t carry cash and don’t have ORCA cards. I know several of those, and they drive everywhere, and whenever I convince them to take transit with me I have to pay for them because they don’t have cash. So those are the people who don’t consider buses because they don’t have cash. Many of them would drive even if transit were free. But a few might take transit more.

  10. Here is how fares should work. Pay the proper fare or so not ride. If you do not pay you are nothing more than a thief. There should be punishment for fare thieves that make it so it is truly punitive.

    1. Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons for riding without paying, independent of one’s personal finances, mostly due to the friction involved in collecting the fares.

      Imagine you’re boarding a bus late a night and realize only then that you’re Orca card is out of money, and you’re wallet is out of cash. Due to the antiquated Orca system, there is no way to add money to it using a credit card, in a way that the bus to take you home right now will accept.

      If you were in that situation, what would you do? Would you get off the bus, visit an ATM, and ride the next bus (which might not come for a full hour later, plus, since buses don’t give change, you’d end up paying $20 for a one-way fare)? Would you get off the bus and call a Lyft/Uber, even if the ride that was supposed to cost $2.75 ends up being $20-30? Or, would you apologize to the driver and ask to be let on? As a general law-abiding citizen, I would probably do the latter, and I’m sure most of you would too.

      Another example: imagine you’re running to catch the last Link train of the night, your Orca card is out of money, there’s a line for the vending machines that you weren’t expecting, and the train is coming in two minutes so, if you wait in it, you’ll probably miss the train. Would you refill the card, or would you run down and catch the train without paying? Again, I’m sure, if push came to shove, most of you would do the latter.

      It is cases like these, which is why we have warnings for first offenses. If somebody is in a situation like the above one-time, we can cut them some slack. It’s when people ride without paying everytime that it’s necessary to lay down the law and say “no”.

      1. I have been in all of the above situations. I have been in other types of situations where I could no thg pay. What did I do. I did not ride. I got off even after the driver said it was ok. The driver has no business saying that. It is still stealing. I will not steal. I once had to wait hours for the next transit ride because I forgot my fare.

      2. For stuff like this, the balance on the Compass Card in Vancouver is allowed to go negative up to the purchase price of the card. I imagine adding this coding change to ORCA would be difficult due to the lack of support from the vendor, but for ORCA II it might be worth examining.

      1. Hey, I am a Baptist. I am sick of seeing people ride transit and not pay. I am tired of seeing people with money not pay. I am tired of seeing the same people keep riding and not paying.

        “The Inquisition, let’s begin. The inquisition look out sin.”

      2. Um, er, ah, Matty, “The Inquisition” was run by the Catholics, not the Baptists. Though having grown up in Okrahoma I am well aware that the Baptists are extremely jealous that the Catholics had all the fun.

      3. I know all about the Inquisition. I was just saying that they would have gone after me because I am a Baptist.

    2. Transportation is not a luxury like a big TV or a movie ticket. It’s a basic necessity so that people can get to work and the grocery store and other errands. The entire community benefits if people can make their optimal number of trips, because it’s people working that generates jobs and tax revenue and fulfills the city’s needs. And going to the store and medical appointments and visiting relatives and attending cultural activities improves people’s health and automomy: that also benefits the city. So transportation is a basic city responsibility like the fire department, libraries, parks, and electricity, and whether to charge a usage fee is a secondary issue. What’s the difference between legitimately riding free and theft? It’s not paying the cost of service, it’s an arbitrary decision by the county council. It’s just not right to say, “We won’t ensure you can afford a minimum set of basic needs, and we won’t give you transportation either, so you should walk six hours a day instead, and if you get on a bus without paying, we’ll fine you and throw you in jail.”

    3. The real luxury is driving. That has a huge amount of negative externalities, much more than the $2.75 difference between paying and not paying a bus fare. So comprehensive transit should be provided as a basic service, and we should assure that everyone can afford to use it and has easy enough access to get the proper card if necessary. If they want to drive instead, then that’s their problem and they can pay the full cost of it including compensating everybody else for its negative externalities. The problem is that even though ORCA LIFT exists, it’s still too expensive for some people. And you have to go down to a certain office on a weekday with certain kinds of ID to get a discount card or youth card. Low-income workers often can’t take time off to go down to that office during working hours. And people who are here short-term don’t qualify for it.

  11. “a criminal justice approach to fare enforcement can have dramatic negative impacts on vulnerable groups of people, like the homeless and people of color. ”
    As a person of color I take great offense to this. You’re grouping skin color and poverty in the same basket, while also asserting that only people of color evade fares. Typical white liberal complex.
    As a long time reader of STB I am deeply disappointed.

    1. If you bothered to exercise your comprehension and read the evidence a little further you’d see that the point of that sentence is not that people of color evade more, but that the laws are enforced more upon them than against non-poc and middle class or greater income people.

      1. First of all, the fact that an income level and a grouping of races are used in the same sentence is a bad start. The term “People of color” bothers me enough already because of how much of a blanket term it is and what social economic implication it is associated with. The law is not anymore enforced onboard Link and Sounder upon “people of color” than it is on “greater income people” as if skin color is a direct indication of success and wealth. (How the wealthy better navigate the justice system is another discussion)
        I’m sure you and many at STB has the best intentions discussing subjects like these, but such use of these terms only perpetuate stereotypes instead of fixing them. Myself and my friends who happen to be successful and not white at the same time (What?!) are tired of being labeled a victim or a burden. The casual use of terms like “people of color” needs to stop, especially when it’s used interchangeably with “low income”.

      2. I’m also a person of color. And guess what? Never have I ever, not even once, felt being “targeted” due to my skin color when fare enforcement came to check my ORCA. (I mean, how do you “target” anyone when you check everybody’s fare?)

        And you know what I’m sick and tired of? Certain members of society acting as if we (people of color) were the perpetual victims of society that couldn’t stand on our own without receiving special treatment because we are somehow incapable of following the same set of rules that everyone is expected to follow in a civilized society.

      3. TGC/Cheng

        It’s obvious that you guys are Asian. Probably East Asian, with well-paying professional jobs, and you’ve internalized the model-minority idea that you guys are “honorary white people.” I know this because I used to hold this exact reactionary AF position.

        As another East Asian professional, kindly shut up. 1, it’s not about you personally, and 2, the greatest trick white people ever played was convincing people like us that we have more in common with them than with other racial minorities. It’s easy to assume that just because you and everyone you know has a prestigious college degree and a great salary in tech/finance/consulting that all Asian-Americans are like that, but that’s bullshit. So spare us the faux outrage.

      4. Pat
        Making assumptions of race based on income and political opinions? That’s the definition of racism.
        Seriously? I spent half my life growing up in China and Japan. Paying to ride a train is not a “white people idea” identifying with races and feeding into social stereotypes such as yours IS a “white people idea”.
        By labeling us as “minorities” and “victims” and “people of color” white people (white liberals to be more specific) are dividing us. And I don’t see how paying for a service you use is the “greatest trick white People ever played”

        But at the same time, I do want to see your perspective. What leads you to believe that I am wrong and you are right? This is not sarcasm, this is genuine.

      5. >Making assumptions of race based on income and political opinions? That’s the definition of racism.
        More like, as an Asian guy myself, I have felt these very things you are feeling and could spot an “honorary white person” a mile away. It’s not like my assumption was wrong, right?

        There has been a lot of ink spilled over the model minority myth. I’ll leave it to you to read some of it. My interpretation of it is, people like us, well-educated, assimilated, i.e. the most successful examples of Asian-Americanness, shouldn’t attempt to erase the experiences of less-fortunate Asian-Americans when we attempt to remove ourselves from the “people of color” label. The experiences of people like us is a world away from say, uneducated first-generation immigrants, or specific ethnic groups like the Hmong, whose educational and socioeconomic outcomes are far worse than ours. So yes, as a guy who speaks unaccented English, I’ve never felt targeted for my race, but maybe the elderly Vietnamese woman who doesn’t speak English very well has been hassled by fare enforcement simply because she didn’t understand what the inspector was asking for. Stuff like that. Just because everyone on the train gets checked doesn’t mean that there’s no opportunity for racial bias. Inspectors have some discretion as to whether or not to issue a citation or just let them off with a warning, which can introduce their personal biases.

        Personally, I’m pretty torn about the whole fare enforcement thing. On the one hand, I do agree that people should pay their fares. Stuff like the Facebook groups that post today’s Metro transfer color and letter irk me. And from a purely utilitarian standpoint, roving fare inspectors are cheaper than turnstiles and arguably more effective. But 1, there’s the issue of racial disparities, and 2, I think you’d have to agree that it’s pretty ridiculous that a fine for fare evasion is over twice the cost of a parking ticket.

        And dude, Asians were at several points in the past century violently expelled from cities, prohibited from owning property, prohibited from marrying who we wanted to, prohibited from certain types of jobs, sent to internment camps, prohibited from immigrating to this country, prohibited from buying into specific neighborhoods, etc. There’s a great exhibit on redlining at the Wing Luke Museum right now – highly recommend checking it out. Even now, when we nominally have equal rights and have filled up the country’s elite universities for decades, we’re still underrepresented in government and in corporate leadership, the very institutions that these elite colleges were supposed to feed into. How do you look at all this and say, “Yeah, white America has my best interests at heart?”

      6. Pat

        I’m glad our conversation took a productive and civil turn. And I think you deserve the credit for it.
        I agree with about 90% of what you’re saying. Absolutely, Asians are still the victim of racial bias on a daily basis. The elderly Vietnamese lady story you gave is an excellent example. This is why it enrages me that people routinely assume that Asians are better off by definition, and as a result there is so much bias against Asians in the college admission process.
        I am a first generation, so I suppose it’s difficult for me to grasp the historical context, but the fact that I’ve basically showed up to a new county to start a new life, and I am automatically labeled a “person of color” can get old real fast.
        The term “People of Color” is literally “Colored People” backwards. It’s just as racist and a gross generalization as the original term was when it was used casually until the 70s. The term still embodies the stereotype that anybody who’s not white automatically is a victim of society who needs to be saved, and frankly it’s gotten to the point where it’s doing more harm than good. In the article and this comment section, the term “PoC” is used almost interchangeably with “Low income”, and that hurts us more than it helps us.

        I am just as torn as you are regarding Fare Endorsement. Probably the best thing to do is to take the Eastern Asian approach of installing infrastructure to make it difficult to evade fares in the first place. This would eliminate those who simply forget to tap their ORCA card. If you’re caught though, they will call the police. Shop lifting is a crime and so is fare evasion. Decriminalizing is unfortunately not the answer.

        Regarding your final comment, I never believed that “White America has my best interest at heart”. If anything by perpetuating racial stereotypes through their rhetoric White America is hurting us. This includes white liberals who are speaking and acting with the best intentions. The moment we stop seeing humans as individuals with their own unique background and sets of circumstances, and instead view them by the color of their skin, everybody loses. This is how the use of the term “People of Color” perpetuates racism.

      7. There are historic differences in how various ethnic minority groups in the US have been treated by the government.

        One of the most glaring is the history of reparations. Those who lost property and/or were interred by the US government (for being perceived to be of Japanese origin) during World War II did get paid reparations for the theft and the internment. (That didn’t, of course, in any way, make it right to have done.)

        Those freed from slavery during and after the Civil War got no such reparations.

        There are plenty of other examples on a smaller scale, such as Seattle’s Indian Exclusion Act. When the Duwamish Tribe finally won in court for having never received payment for the land under the terms of the Treaty of Elliott Bay, their reparation checks were basically enough to buy a trip to the grocery store.

        The existence of plenty of anecdotes where white government employees treated a person of color with professionalism hardly erases the past and continuing existence of institutional racism. We still have zoning laws in Seattle that were created to keep various ethnic groups from moving into certain parts of town. HALA side-stepped addressing that after predominately-white neighborhood groups screamed a lot.

        At least Mayor Durkan found a way to address the appearance and actuality of different parts of town receiving more than their share of bike investment: Cancel all the bike lanes.

  12. I am so happy to see the Fare Enforcement Officers when I ride the train. They are always so nice and helpful. Thank you for all you do!

  13. There are enough stations with mezzanines and difficult entries that entrance and exit turnstiles would be effective. Husky Stadium, Capitol Hill, Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square, International District, Beacon Hill, TIB, Airport and Angle Lake all have platforms at a different level than the street. The entrances to and exits from them can be turnstiled.

    Stadium, SoDo, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach can not be completely excluded because people can access them by crossing the tracks. But at the worst you’d have people riding with fares between Rainier Beach and Stadium. They couldn’t ride into downtown, because they’d have to have tapped in somewhere in order for the tap out to release the turnstile.

    If you don’t mind aesthetics, put the exclusion cages in. And if you REALLY care, have FEO’s ride between Rainier Beach and Stadium.

    In this way Link can maintain its peaceful, clean rider environment while most riders will never see a Fare Enforcement Officer.

    This is a good reason for ST to rebuild the at-grade SoDo station as an elevated facility if the Red Line station is elevated.

    1. And, as far as I know, the only stations yet to be built with at-grade access will be 124th and 132nd in Bellevue. Everything else will be elevated or subterranean.

      Use turnstiles. That’s what real transit systems do. Seattle is not Edmonton where everyone aspires to be Dudley DoRight. “Open” systems eventually degrade until you have the unpleasantness on MAX.

    2. “Stadium, SoDo, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach can not be completely excluded”

      Those are the stations that least need turnstyles because they already have a narrow access point that’s like a doorway, with a pair of highly-visible ORCA readers you can’t miss on both sides of the walkway. The problem with the other stations is not that the patform is at a different level but that it’s like a wide-open room going into them, and some escalators have highly-visible ORCA readers but then the elevator doesn’t or the reader is off to the side or behind you. That’s the biggest thing that has to be improved. Yes, some people will still walk through without paying, but it will feel like jumping a turnstyle rather than a big open room. And people walking across the tracks to avoid paying is such a minimal issue that it’s not worth dwelling on. They can just as easily jump the turnstyle. And if would be preferable if they did, so they won’t get hit by a train.

      1. Being on a different level is not a problem so far as fare enforcement goes. It’s obviously less convenient for riders, but it makes it possible to exclude everyone who does not go through a turnstile. Yes, yes, there are always the jumpers, but as you yourself have said, turnstiles are a really clear demand “Pay your fare!”.

        Especially since it’s distance-based and people have to “tap-off”, Link should be fully turnstiled.

        The buses are a harder issue.

    3. Visit BART or the Paris Metro, turnstiles do nothing, they still have FEOs because of rampant turnstile jumping.

    4. They have security expenses but not necessarily roving inspectors. The FEO system we have only works because everybody has some kind of receipt for payment. If you go through a turnstyle and it doesn’t give you a receipt, there’s nothing to show.

    5. You can still put them in at-grade stations (although as Mike says there are already fairly obvious access points where you would tap at those stations); just place a fare enforcement officer at those few stations rather than on the trains. It’s pretty obvious if you cross/walk up the tracks what you are doing and the FEO can take action as required. They can also act as security, public assistance, etc.

      Several months ago one of the open threads had a story about future BRT in Surrey, BC. The system used actual stations and the renderings of these stations in the article clearly showed fare gates despite them being at grade.

      The point of the turnstiles or fare gates is not to prevent fare jumping – those people will do that anyway – it’s to collect the additional income from people who forget to tap as well as creating a clear idea of you now being in the transit system. If you think that it’s to make people pay who had no intention of doing so you are missing the point. (For an agency like ST that is so overwhelmingly concerned with where each nickel collected is supposed to go, it has the additional benefit of picking up all of the people who forget to tap out or who just won’t do it because they have a pass – when I used Capitol Hill daily, this was generally more than half of any group I exited with.)

  14. In Las Vegas it,s strictly no fare no ride ! Veterans ride Half off fare ( $1) you can’t bring your garbage in a cart and smelly clothes or if you stint your not riding ! The Buses don’t smell like dead animals and bus drivers are not wimps when comes to safety of passengers ….your drunk your not riding as with Seattle metro all these rules are broken ! Seattle Sucks and we are moving out !

    1. If we had universal housing, there wouldn’t be smelly people carrying their posessions in shopping carts because they’d have homes to put their posessions in and showers and toilets to use, and they’d hang out at home rather than in parks and buses. Some cities are more draconian than others. That doesn’t mean we should imitate the most draconian ones.

      Metro lets you use a transfer unlimited for 2-4 hours and give it to somebody if you’re not going to use it all. Some cities allow transfers only in one direction, and Vancouver has signs at its Skytrain exits sternly telling people that sharing transfers is illegal and they should put them in the box if they’re not personally transferring again. Just because Vancouver has that rule doesn’t mean Seattle should.

      There are issues with unclean or belligerent non-paying riders, but we need to think larger than just “no pay, no transportation”. We need to address all the issues.

      1. Unless something’s changed in the last few years, Metro transfers are expressly “not transferable to other riders” (though that item on the long list of “Conditions of Use” is only visible if you get a transfer torn below the 5pm line).

        Of course this is completely unenforceable, and a bit absurd given that standard passes are expressly transferable and there’s no substantive difference between a transfer and a pass as far as the question “have you paid your fare?” is concerned.

      2. The Metro transfers I got said on the back that they were transferable. I hAven’t used transfers since ORCA was introduced except when I pay a zone surcharge which is rare, so I don’t know if that has changed.

    2. If someone is drunk, I’d much rather have them ride the bus than get behind the wheel of a car.

      1. No…shinola. ;-)

        But hey, they can move to Vegas where they apparently will stop the bus and wait for law enforcement to pick up fare evaders. I have it on good authority that there are no drunk people in that town.

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