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.