Sound Transit is in the process of reviewing its fare enforcement policies, per a presentation last Thursday.

However, the single most impactful element of that process is still not on their radar. Sound Transit fare enforcement officers are directed to warn, and then fine (after repeat infractions) passengers who possess passes that cover the highest possible cost of a train trip for their payer category, or have tapped on to other services within the previous two hours that have at least as high a fare as the highest Link fare for their payer category, if the passenger failed to tap on for the ride.

Section 4.0 of Sound Transit’s Standard Operating Procedure for Fare Enforcement states:

This includes students who have received “free” passes from their school district. Students who got free passes from Seattle Public Schools who mess up once on tapping will be subject to the same treatment that students who tried to ride for free the first day of school before getting their passes issued. According to ST policy, it doesn’t matter that they have clear-and-obvious evidence with them that the trip is pre-paid.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Title 81, Chapter 112, Section 220 states in part:

(1) Persons traveling on facilities operated by an authority shall pay the fare established by the authority and shall produce proof of payment in accordance with the terms of use established by the authority. Such persons shall produce proof of payment when requested by a person designated to monitor fare payment. The required manner of producing proof of payment specified in the terms of use established by the authority may [emphasis added] include, but is not limited to, requiring a person using an electronic fare payment card to validate the card by presenting the card to an electronic card reader before or upon entering a public transportation vehicle or a restricted fare paid area.

In other words, state law allows, but does not require, Sound Transit to consider missed tapping while in possession of clear-and-obvious proof of pre-payment as an infraction. The Sound Transit Board has authority to set policy to accept clear-and-obvious proof of payment from a rider who pre-paid but failed to tap on.

The crime being committed here is not failure to pay, but failure to pay the correct transit agency. Sound Transit is worried that King County Metro will get more ORCA revenue than Sound Transit thinks Metro should get. But the cost to each passenger doesn’t change regardless of whether they tapped on. In some cases, like someone who has a monthly pass and only rides Link, they aren’t even paying the wrong agency, but are still subject to warnings and fines.

Multiple inquiries to Sound Transit have gotten a consistent answer that Sound Transit does not even track how many passengers are getting warned and cited while in possession of clear-and-obvious proof of prepayment.

A first step would be for Sound Transit to recognize this category of infractions, and then have Fare Enforcement Officers (FEOs) start tracking how many of the passengers they check fall in this category. That shouldn’t even require Board action, but the Board could take action to mandate it.

Once the extent of the problem becomes more clear, then ST can come to the ORCA Pod with a proposal for how to fix the ORCA revenue-split formula to account for missed tappings while in possession of clear-and-obvious proof-of-prepayment. Once the formula is fixed, FEOs could simply give gentle reminders to pre-payers who forgot to tap, and count how often it happens.

67 Replies to “Sound Transit still not tracking how many passengers with clear-and-obvious proof of payment are getting warnings and citations”

  1. I would expect this to be a lot less of a problem, now that buses are out of the downtown tunnel. From my experience, the bus->train transfer in the tunnel was a high risk for forgetting to tap because you don’t walk right by the Orca reader, like you do when you enter the tunnel normally. The one time I got caught for not tapping, it was because not this.

    1. The time I got my warning it was for double-tapping in the tunnel. So between the end of joint ops and the relatively new double-beep on tap-off, incidences should naturally be more rare. We don’t have a full year’s data from either event yet to see if what ST considers fare evasion has dropped permanently.

    2. I don’t remember off the top of my head how frequently spaced they are, but there are platform-level ORCA readers in the DSTT (and only the DSTT) for this reason (and only this reason), so a same-platform bus to train transfer doesn’t require you to run up a (broken) escalator to tap your card. Given that a train and a bus could never “race” each other in the tunnel in the same direction, and that after exiting the bus, a train cannot enter the tunnel until the back bumper of the bus leaves the station block (and then there is the slowing down and 20 second dwell time), there should always be time (even in the tightest transfers) to go to the nearest reader and tap.

      So it’s not exactly clear to me that you don’t walk by a reader. You might not walk by a reader, but they are on the platform, so if you do much walking around the platform to find an area where there is a smaller crowd of people waiting, you’re more likely than not to pass a reader. They could have placed maybe one extra reader right at the front, and another at about the place where the back door of most buses drop people off, and that would be the only way I think they could have improved it. But the buses are gone, so it’s moot. And the platform-level ORCA readers will be going away at some point as well, which will cause some other problems (lots of people are going to forget to tap at the mezzanine because they are used to tapping at the platform).

      1. At the readers on the mezzanine are way out of the way in some cases. It blows my mind that someone would be them anywhere other than right at the top (or bottom) or the stairs/escalator.

      2. Station design is poor in this regard. Readers should be used, possibly in concert with other “barriers,” to create a clear demarcation between fare-paid and unpaid sections (think where you would see turnstiles in other systems, or what is done at Sea-Tac). This not only would create an impossible-to-miss reminder, it would make fare enforcement zones crystal clear.

        While understanding that there are some stations or entrances that make this more challenging – say the few that have direct elevator access to platforms instead of mezzanines – single readers could be employed there. Best design practice would also leave the vending machines on the unpaid side of the barrier but as these are not turnstiles one could still walk back to tap if necessary. This is not optimal, however, and keeping the vending machines outside of the fare paid area will always be preferable.

  2. The current system is stupid. It is a waste of time for riders to tap and untap if they have an unlimited card. It is a waste of time for enforcers to write tickets if they forget to do that.

    There are better ways to handle joint operations. The easiest would be to just negotiate with the various agencies. Each agency gets a certain percentage of the money from unlimited ORCA cards. This would actually make it easier for each agency, as they would know ahead of time how much money they would get from that pot. The negotiations would be based on statistical analysis, which would be fairly easy. They are checking peoples ORCA cards by hand anyway — it wouldn’t be too hard to figure it out.

    1. “It is a waste of time for riders to tap and untap if they have an unlimited card.”

      But weren’t you just arguing for a separate monorail ORCA payment line, because tapping is quick and easy? You were just arguing for ORCA readers at monorail stations. How can tapping be both quick and easy, and difficult and burdensome at the same time?

      1. I never said it was “difficult and burdensome”. I said it was a waste of time.

        I also never wrote that it was “quick and easy” to tap. I wrote that it was quicker and easier than standing in line. It is even quicker and easier to just walk on the train. The monorail could go to that type of payment system, and if they did, the same approach would apply. Those with unlimited ORCA cards would not have to tap.

        So, just to review here:

        Hardest — Stand in line.
        Easier — Tap.
        Easiest — Walk right on.

        This is a relatively small side issue. The big burden is writing tickets and paying for them.

      2. a comment on “waste of time”…
        I recently returned from Mexico City and I took Link back home. In Mexico City any ride on any public transit vehicle is astonishingly simple: 5 pesos, pay as you enter and don’t worry about tapping off. On that night, my Link train was pretty full and the fare enforcement crew came onboard at TIBS. Numerous riders, mostly foreign visitor with limited English skills (or skills debilitated by a long flight and jet lag) were out of compliance with ST regulations and they were given polite warnings in English by the fare enforcers. But I doubt that any of the people warned were able to understand the warnings. The instructions at Seattle-Tacoma INTERNATIONAL Airport ticket machines are printed only in English. Nevertheless, the warnings will be recorded, processed and stored in the ST database for a year. Maybe if ST could do a better job of providing fare information in languages other than English at our INTERNATIONAL airport, the fare enforcement crew wouldn’t have to waste their time and effort dealing with technical violations by well-meaning visitors who simply don’t understand the picayune regulations of ST.

      3. The real issue is that the mix of three major transit agencies and some seriously poor choices and pettiness have combined to make the Seattle transit system, and especially link via Orca, pretty much the worst fare system I have encountered (and I used to work for a transit agency, so I have been on both ends of this). The current fare system wastes resources, encourages discrimination (and is arguably outright discriminatory), blocks innovation, and discourages ridership. (I haven’t gotten back on after I got my warning for not tapping the right number of times on a day I was traveling with kids, new to the link system and frazzled. Even some free passes were not enough to get me back on after that experience.)

        If you look to the north or south, there is one system wit consistent and fair rules and those systems have even made efforts to simplify further in recent years. Metro has tried to follow that trend here, but with their limited sway, the whole picture remains a discouraging mess. When you add some other growing pains, it’s a wonder people still really like transit here.

        I would love to see an inquiry on whether the current fare practices constitute discrimination, not because I want to stick it to them but because I think they need a kick in the pants to change their practice, simplify and unify fares, and stop nickel and diming passengers.

    2. No, it really isn’t a waste of time where the readers are placed well. Many (probably most) transit systems have turnstiles where everyone, including pass holders, must tap in order to enter. These systems work fine, and many of them handle WAY more riders than Link.

      I really wish we had turnstiles. But in any case people should just follow the rules. It isn’t hard. People who don’t display an astonishing amount of arrogance, selfishness, and lack of basic decency and civility.

      1. This post is not about fare evaders. It is about people who have followed the rules to the best of their ability, and still end up getting treated like criminals by the FEOs. I don’t blame the FEOs. They are doing the job they’ve been told do to. I blame the policy-setters on the ST Board for not being detail-oriented enough to realize that, after a decade of ORCA, ST still can’t discern who is and isn’t evading fares.

        Nor do I think the Board, collectively, is arrogant, selfish, or lacking in basic decency and civility. I’ve just come to the conclusion that, by sheer dumb luck, nobody on the Board has been given The Speech by the FEOs, and so nobody on the Board is aware the problem exists. So, I am raising the issue at a higher level than buried in a comment thread. Mark Dublin has raised the issue in person to the Board several times.

        Nor am I raising this out of the blue. Sound Transit has just started a review of its fare enforcement processes.

        That review ought to start with the initial encounter between passengers and FEOs, and all the ways that can go wrong (language barriers, discrimination, escalation to violence, just getting the determination flat-out wrong, etc).

        Some of us are privileged to be able to pay the fine, or go to court and have the judge throw the book at ST, should it come to that. The thought has crossed my mind that I would be doing a service to lots of riders who are transit-dependent, and not able to pay the fines, if I to go through the process, go out of my way to get fined while in possession of my monthly pass (also something I’m privileged to get from my employer), and then proceed to beat ST in court. My non-profit employer might even give me an award for going through the process.

        But ST is going through the review, and I am a man of patience, even after 10 years of waiting for this simple policy fix. If kids with “free” passes come forward and say they’ve been given The Speech while they have their passes, my patience may run out much more quickly.

      2. No, it really isn’t a waste of time where the readers are placed well.

        Totally irrelevant. It is a wast of time, because it is unnecessary. It doesn’t matter if the readers are right in front of my nose. It doesn’t matter if all I need to do is raise my hand. It is still a waste, if I have a monthly pass.

        But yeah, there are practical ramifications. There are times when they are crowded. This means everyone has to spend extra time. It means that ST has to buy more readers. It isn’t a huge hassle. It isn’t a huge expense. That’s not the point. It is unnecessary, and a waste.

      3. STB readers are among the most diligent about tapping every time, and and going back upstairs if we don’t remember whether we did, and even giving donations to the agencies (buy buying a monthly pass even if we’ll be out of town a week or two, putting a large bill in the farebox, in other cities buying a daypass we may not fully use, etc.) Yet still most of us have probably forgotten to tap a few times a year, or intended to tap on but it registered as a tap off, or misunderstood the machine’s beep and didn’t see the message. Some of us have gotten warned and some have had to pay the fine or take a day to go to court to contest it. If this is happening with the most diligent riders who make significant efforts to always tap, then it’s a systemic problem, not just “people should follow the rules”.

        The biggest problem is the readers not being in the line of sight. The surface stations are the best: they have a double-file entrance with a pair of readers right in front of you. That’s almost as good as a turnstyle. Other stations have the readers in all sorts of odd places. I’ve forgotten to tap off at Beacon Hill because the readers are behind you when you exit the elevators, and at Kent Sounder because the reader wasn’t visible. It’s impossible to concentrate 24 hours a day: brains don’t work that way. They wander and think about your upcoming event or something else, and that’s when people need the reader right at eye level in their walking path to remind them to tap.

  3. All right, Sound Transit. You’re breaking at least the spirit of a decades-old campaign promise of a seamless fare system in order to save yourself your duty to apportion fare money.

    You’ve also got a slob of a records-keeping system that doesn’t even tell you how often you fine a paid-up pass-holder like a thief. Degree I’m proud of Sound Transit indicates how much you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    We’ve got a dutifully regular public commenter named Alex Tsimerman who starts his every statement with an emphatic Nazi salute to the Sound Transit Board.

    Fact you don’t have sheriff’s deputies remove him says less about your commitment to free speech than to your complete lack of respect for yourselves and your civilized meeting-attendance. But will give Alex credit for an example.

    The way you feel about being called Nazi gangsters is exactly the way I feel about being called a fare-evader for a tiny, harmless, and easily repairable mistake in an atmosphere guaranteed to destroy concentration. Namely rush-hour crowds pushing you past the “reader.”

    Ruining a simple system that should be nothing but convenient, fair, and appealing. ST, you’ve got a month’s worth of my money in your pocket. If I don’t take a single ride, you don’t have to give me a penny back. Like the Trump administration says about its own corruption, “Live With It!”

    Survival-wise, with your agency’s fate on the ballot, you might want to be really careful about admitting that as a governmental entity you don’t even really exist. But rather persist in being an assemblage of five year olds arguing over your fare share of the stale M&M’s.

    Lately I’ve been offering a “meme” (did I get that right?) of a publicity campaign creating a furry little litter-mate for the “Seat-Hog” in the poster about proper luggage-storage. “Tappy the Tapmunk,” in a fuzzy fare inspector’s uniform. Forget to “tap off” and she’ll cry. Sell stuffed examples of her at outlets. And use her to convey future behavior messages.

    And meantime, pray really, really hard that the deciding voter on I-976 isn’t a paid-up passholder whom you just called a thief for mis-tapping on his or her way to the drop-box.

    Mark Dublin

    1. In fairness to ST, Alex tends to exhibit this behavior toward most of the government bodies he addresses.

      1. Think I read that one governing body threw him out for defined period of time. But one reason I’d like to see Alex get some correction is that I think he and I share some old-country extraction.

        Which in itself means that from experience he ought to know be expected to know Paul Roberts from Viktor Oban or Vladimir Putin. Whatever else is the matter with him, he’s not showing any signs of radioactive pill ingestion.

        But to me, this really is a rights issue. Have been told on authority I respect that his predictable presence and performance are intimidating people whose testimony is really is important from showing up at all.

        Including people I think the Board needs to hear on easy and necessary changes in ORCA card policy. In addition to much badly-needed else.


    2. Why does Mr Ts deserve more than one line of comment once a year? His demands are incoherent and don’t affect ST’s policies or transit on the ground.

    3. “rush-hour crowds pushing you past the ‘reader.’”

      What in the world are you talking about? Until last week I rode Link every weekday during both rush hours and these crowds “pushing you past the reader” do not exist. Not once have I been pushed past a reader.

      “an atmosphere guaranteed to destroy concentration”

      That’s your excuse? Are you a child? You break the rules because you can’t control yourself and blame others for pushing you past the reader. I have never failed to tap the reader. Never. It isn’t hard. In fact, there have been plenty of times where I have been thinking about other things and didn’t notice myself tapping the reader and became worried that I didn’t do it because I couldn’t remember doing it, and yet every single time it turns out I did tap the reader. You know why? Because it’s second nature. I don’t even need to think about it. If you weren’t so busy making excuses you mind find it become second nature for you as well.

      1. What you mean is, you have never been caught or and don’t admit to having caught yourself failing to correctly tap the reader, or noticed that the reader didn’t record your tap, or been caught “evading fare” because of a system error. Lucky you. Also lucky you that you aren’t the sort of person deliberately targeted by enforcement. And lucky you that you speak the language well and understand the directions for how to use the card really only written in small print in somewhat out of the way locations. Good for you that you don’t have to work so hard or so long but what you always have your wits about you getting on and off transit, and congratulations on not possessing a disability that makes either remembering the multi step process for when, where, and how to tap on, off and refill cards a difficult task or a physical disability that makes accessing card readers harder. Oh, and good thing you are not an ACTUAL CHILD targeted by a transit agency for using transit to get to school when you had reason to think having a student ID was enough or later, when the multi step process doesn’t work for you and you get stuck with a fine AND don’t have the life experience to stand up to bullies in uniform and assert your rights.

        Yes, child of privilege and luck, your experience does not, in fact, reflect the way the system works in practice for many people every day. None of use does everything right every time. I’m sure I have written “mind” instead of “might” at least once too, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t actually hit every tap too.

        Also, I’m not sure I would be yelling that my understanding of a system is just barely better than that of a child, but you do you.

      2. FWIW, There have been a few times the FEOs stared at my ORCA, thought a few seconds, and finally decided to move on. I tend to believe I’ve messed up the taps more than just the one time I got The Speech.

      3. Charles – no, what I mean is I have never not done it. How can you not notice that the reader didn’t register your tap? There is a clear sound it makes when you tap and it displays lights. So unless you are blind and deaf, you have no excuse.

        Also, this nonsense about people being targeted for fare enforcement is ridiculous. Every single time I have seen fare enforcement officers on the train they have started at the ends and checked every single person on the train. Every single one (including me). They aren’t targeting anyone.

        You are making a lot of assumptions about me that you have no basis for making. You have no idea how hard or long I work, for example.

        I don’t see how having a physical disability that makes accessing readers harder is an excuse. If I had such a disability and couldn’t access the card reader at a grocery store, would that give me license to take whatever I want and leave the store without paying? Obviously if that is an issue on Link it should be fixed immediately, but it doesn’t give those with a disability a right to use the system without paying unless Link specifically says that is okay.

      4. “there have been plenty of times where I have been thinking about other things and didn’t notice myself tapping the reader and became worried that I didn’t do it because I couldn’t remember doing it, and yet every single time it turns out I did tap the reader.”

        So you do recognize that minds wander. This is exactly what happens to me, although occasionally I find I didn’t tap.

        “what I mean is I have never not done it.”

        That’s an illogical assumption. You don’t know whether you did every time unless you checked it with a scanner every time. Maybe you didn’t some days and there was no inspector on those trips.

        “How can you not notice that the reader didn’t register your tap?”

        The point is you don’t see the reader at all! It’s not in your line of sight; it’s off to the side or in some other corner or behind you.

        “There is a clear sound it makes when you tap and it displays lights.”

        It has become less of a problem now that the tapoff sound is different from the tapon sound. For years they were identical (the tapon beep).

        And I regularly see people who don’t recognize the error beep and think it’s OK. And many, many people don’t look at the message. That’s partly because the machines aren’t at eye level, so people in a hurry just listen for the beep and don’t stop to look down at the message.

        “How can you not notice that the reader didn’t register your tap?

  4. Always hate for any word of mine to be the last one, especially on something this important. Crucial as it is to finally call a spade a bloody shovel.

    Question we need to be discussing is how to get that policy changed. One response I received in response to an inquiry to Sound Transit a year or so back told me “The policy is not going to change.”

    Wasn’t asking it to. Like diapers, policies generally don’t change their little selves no matter how bad they smell. From all I can make out, and would welcome any correction, this decision’s up to the Sound Transit Board.

    One way Sound Transit Blog can help is if when it’s On Topic, or during open comment, pass-holders who’ve really been forced to pay same fine as thieves should be encouraged to write it. Could we get a posting consisting of a one-sentence request for victims to answer with a comment?

    After these literal years of futility, very tempting to approach Mike Lindblom or somebody else from The Seattle Times to take this one up. Or one of the rightward TV stations. Or state legislators, even though Bob Hasegawa is too pro-Bernie to be on the right. But for something I care this much about, what I’m seeking is recovery, not murder.

    Does anybody live in the district of a Sound Transit Board member who might be inclined to sponsor the unbelievably minuscule change I’m advocating?

    Mark Dublin

    1. They aren’t fining you for being a thief. They are fining you for breaking the rules. It would be great if they starting fining more people that break the other rules (like having animals not in containers on the train, listening to music without headphones, etc.), which happens all the time.

      1. When I got The Speech, the FEO did specifically accuse me of attempted theft, even after I asked him whether it showed whether I have a monthly pass, and he said the reader did indeed show the pass. I also asked him whether it showed I have an active transfer from a previous train ride, and he said yes. But he still persisted to say that I could be attempting theft anyway through my tapping off before getting on that train. I wish I had a camera to show the puzzled looks on the faces of the passengers around me. The FEO got my picture, but made himself look like an utter fool in front of all those passengers.

        Some of STs rules are poorly-though-out. Who knew?

        Btw, service animals are allowed to be outside carriers.

      2. ST considers it theft. The argument is you haven’t paid until you tap. With passes this gets ridiculous because ST will get the same amount of money whether you tap every time or not. My monthly pass is $99 and I tap at least 250 times a month (not counting Link tapouts). Most of that is on Metro; maybe 10% is on Link (because Link doesn’t yet go to U-District, Roosevelt, Nortgate, or Bellevue). Oh, the 550 is ST, add 4 trips. So ST’s share is $9. Each Link tap changes the percentage by 40 cents, or less if it’s part of a multi-seat transfer (as it usually is). So the effect of one tap is practically zero.

      3. From the viewpoint of ST, failing to tap when boarding a train might deny them 40 cents. Therefore, from the viewpoint of ST, that would be considered theft. From a rider’s viewpoint it’s a ridiculous argument, but that’s not how ST sees the issue.

      4. Right, so we need to convince a government agency to adopt a more passenger-friendly policy. The purpose of transit is to transport people conveniently, because that improves the economy and well-being of all city residents whether they use transit or not. So anything that detracts from that is an inefficiency. People should not have to constantly fear they may have forgotten to tap and they may get a $124 fine and banned from the network. It’s not worth it for the amount of money it generates.

  5. I was recently in Berlin and SOMEHOW they’ve managed to set up a regional proof-of-payment system covering the s-bahn, u-bahn, regionalexpress trains, buses, and trams, all apportioned for without any tapping. Amazing.

    The transit agencies really need to get over their fetish for trying to precisely track each trip to figure out fare apportionment.

      1. I suspect it’s not in ST’s interests to change the policy. I know a number of pass users who don’t tap off, either out of convenience or by figuring they’re giving more money to ST. But for many pass types, I believe that’s stealing pass revenue from the other agencies like KCM.

        It would be interesting to know about how much extra ST is making from this scheme. You could easily estimate it from the ORCA data — just find all pass transactions without a tap off and then estimate overpayment by looking at the distribution of tap on/tap off fares assessed by that pass type for each station.

        On the other hand, ST is probably receiving less than their fair share on some trips. If I go from UW to downtown but grab lunch in Capitol Hill, thanks to the transfer scheme I pay less if I tap off and back on again as I should. I *think* they get less pass revenue in this case as well, but I’m not certain.

    1. I experienced the same thing in Berlin. The paper pass was a 72 hour unlimited with a time verfication. Easy, you verified the ticket once to get the timestamp. Plus, I was checked twice by fare enforcement, who were plain-clothes. And they could check passes fast without the fuss of a reader through a crowded car. Something to think about when North Link and four car trains arrive.

      If I’ve paid an unlimited monthly pass, I have paid. As a transit user, it is NOT my problem to mediate the data food fight between transit agencies. Its their problem, not mine.

    2. I saw the same in Duesseldorf back in 2002. Germany is divided into transit regions like ST; the Rhein-Ruhn region covers Duesseldorf, Essen, Wuppertal and the cities in between. It runs all transit modes (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, Schwebebahn), and I think it builds the roads too. There are three levels of passes: A (Duesseldorf city), B (including first-ring suburbs), C (the entire transit region). With a C card you can go anywhere and you never show it to anybody or tap it anywhere except when a fare inspector asks to see it. I wanted to show it to bus drivers but my friend insisted “You don’t do that here” and always boarded the back door. I’m not sure if the front door was only cash riders or if passholders boarded both doors.

      This is one advantage of a unified transit agency. Another common factor with unified agencies is subways are flat-fare so there’s no tapoff. Or the subways are the same fare as the buses so there’s no consternation about giving subway riders day passes. In fact, they encourage everybody to get a day pass. Single fares are just for people who make only one one-way trip.

      Four things in Pugetopolis are unusual. (1) Multiple agencies. (2) Link’s distance-based fare which necessitates tapoff. (3) Link will extend as far as other cities’ commuter rail. (4) Sounder is included in PugetPass. It’s the combination of these that cause the pettiness over fares. There’s also the patchwork and stingy tax structure that’s inadequate for a region of 4.2 million people.

      in Germany the transit agency has full authority to build and tax what’s needed, so it puts buses most places, trains where volume or regional access require it, and it doesn’t have NIMBYs vetoing each individual decision. S-Bahns are distance-based fares, but the region has such a commitment to transit that they’re included in the unified pass. In the US, regional trains are usually not included in the pass but have a separate fare structure and are run by a different agency (New York, San Francisco, Chicago). But subways are flat fare and included in the pass (same cities). So the tapin/tapout situation is one casualty of including Sounder with $5.50 maximum fares in the pass, and extending Link as far as commuter rails which will also have $5.50 fares, and we might as well add the long-distance express buses. In other cities the unified pass includes local buses, limited-stop buses, and subways, but not long-distance express buses or commuter rail.

    3. Another factor is the attitude toward modes. In the US trains are often considered a luxury that should cost more, and buses are for the poor smelly losers. in Germany trains are an operational efficiency for the agency, who puts them were volume requires it. Capital costs are simply the cost of transit, not something those lines should charge extra for, which then encourages frugal people to avoid those lines and demand parallel bus service. Commuter trains do have a distance-based fare as I said, but I think it’s uniform across the country, a per-km charge, with a flat surcharge for trips under 5km at the platform ticket machines. But all that is ignored in the regional pass.

  6. I suspect the issue here is not as simple as simply blaming ST for its fare enforcement program. If the post above is to be believed, then clearly Metro is incentivized to have riders transferring to Link NOT tap onto that mode. In order for this system to work, all service providers have to take fare enforcement equally seriously.

    Additionally, if the greater system was to move to a single tap on and single tap off fare system (Tapping at transfers not required), then fare revenue sharing between the agencies can only be accurately accomplished if each agency has accurate ridership data. But Metro ridership data is abysmal and effectively prevents other agencies from moving to a system like this.

    That said, ST should move towards a much more lenient system for failing to tap at transfers. More warnings, lower fines, and fines only for egregious repeat violations.

    Part of the role of the fare enforcement system should be educational, and I’m not sure that goal is being accomplished when the FEO spends all his time ticketing one tech worker who thought he was being clever by trying to game the system.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lazarus. But tactically and morally, I’d like to keep concentrating on how plain, flat wrong it is to be charged for theft after giving the system a whole month’s payment in advance.

      Believe that in the commercial world in general, pre-payment carries some privileges, starting with “Thanks For Being A Steady Customer!” Also really want to housebreak interagency brat-behavior.

      Same mentality that lets drivers fail to hold for connections because “Well, they’re a separate agency!” One point in the private car’s sweep of the mobility world is that it made a horde of rubber tires physically erase city, county, and State lines.

      Tempting to cut some slack for third-world services with garish murals painted on the sides of vehicles, and names like “The Lord’s Own Most Steadfast Tiger.” Giant furry dice hanging from inside mirror mandatory, though.

      Mark Dublin

    2. In order for this system to work, all service providers have to take fare enforcement equally seriously.

      Nonsense. This isn’t about fare enforcement. Read the article again. Carefully this time. This is about people who have paid their fare. These are people — and I quote, from the headline:

      with clear-and-obvious proof of payment

      Got it? They Have Paid. This is not — I repeat NOT — a fare enforcement issue. It is all very simple, if you just step back and think about it for a minute or two.

      But since some people are lazy (thinkers), I’ll break it down.

      OK, let’s start with the issue at hand: What portion of the money spent on unlimited passes is allocated to each agency? That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

      There is no reason why this has to be tied to ridership. None. Zero. Let’s say Pierce Transit gets 25% of the money, even though they obviously make up less than 25% of the trips. Is that so bad? Would that be terrible? Of course not. There is no reason why the agencies can’t just agree on how they want to divvy up the money, and live with it.

      But let’s say they do want to distribute the funds in relation to the trips that are taken. Fair enough. But we have a good idea how that has worked out in the past. We could base it on that.

      We also know — or at least ST knows — the relationship between regular fare, and unlimited fare riders. My guess is the patterns are similar, if not identical. In other words, your average unlimited fare rider makes the same sort of trip as your average pay-by-ride user. Regardless of the ratio, this is gathered constantly, by the fare enforcers.

      All of this data combined gives you enough information to negotiate intelligently. Anyone with any mathematical sense can figure it all out. If you suddenly see a spike in ORCA card ST trips that don’t involve Metro, then you figure the same thing has happened with unlimited ORCA cards. Pretty freaking obvious.

      The only reason that ST bothers with this is:

      A) They are lazy.
      B) It helps fund enforcement.

      Here is a nice little thought experiment: Imagine that every fee paid by someone who has clear and obvious proof of payment goes into the state coffers. Not a cent goes to the enforcement agency, or Sound Transit. My guess is this problem would disappear in a New York minute. Someone at ST with some sense would notice what a profound waste of time it is, and go through the exact same thought process I just went through (it ain’t rocket science). But as long as the agency benefits financially by shaking down people who have paid their fair, there is no incentive to change things. That is like asking a police department to give up all their confiscated goods — do that and suddenly there are a lot fewer confiscations.

      It is a bad and lazy policy. It is bush league. It is the kind of thing a second rate agency does because they really aren’t thinking through all the issues. It is long overdue for a change.

      1. Imagine if Community Transit and Metro worked out an agreement where if you bought a $1.50 CT fare it worked the same as a $3,00 Metro fare.

        Except that is the situation that TriMet and C-Tran have worked out for many years. One accepts the fares for the other. Worrying about the slitting hair details is apparently regarded as too much trouble.

      2. Tap on, I get it
        Tap off WTF for?
        So money taken can be split-up between agencies?
        This is the 21st Century. This is the Babylon of technology.
        Algorithms run the world.
        Can’t someone wake the F up?

    3. “Part of the role of the fare enforcement system should be educational”

      Who doesn’t know that you have to tap on and tap off? Sure, I suppose some people don’t – but the one warning they get is ample education on how to use the system properly. This isn’t complicated. I have no sympathy for people who can’t figure it out after getting it explained to them once.

      1. “you have to tap on and off”

        “On busses?”

        “No, just the train”

        “Oh, where is that posted?”

        “I’m telling you now”

        “And what if the reader doesn’t work?”

        “You’ll hear a sound and see an acknowledgement when it works”

        “And where is THAT explained?”

        “I’m telling you now”

        “Now that I’m asking?”


        “Wait, so how do I know what the fare will be”

        “You can look it up on our website or in a brochure and calculate it”

        “While I am running for a train?”

        “No, you’ll definitely end up missing the train. You could use the app though”

        “There’s an app?”

        “Yeah, but it doesn’t do tranfers, and doesn’t work for the bus system” (it also technically doesn’t keep you from getting fined since you don’t “tap” the app)

        “Okay, but if I want to use an Orca card, how do I do that?”

        “Pay by distance travelled for the month and add money for longer distances, or pay per trip, but be sure to add the funds at least 15 minutes before you need them and use the card once in the next month or else the money is just ours and you have to pay again”

        “What about the monorail”

        “Look, I can write you a fine instead of giving you this warning…”

        Sure, how could anyone miss how such a clear, fair, and straightforward system works?

        By the way, I have asked actual bus drivers who don’t know if transfers from Metro busses work on ST busses, who don’t know if they can take metro bus tickets from the app (ST has rail tickets but not bus tickets on the app) who didn’t know Orca takes 15 minutes to load or that it eats your money if you don’t use it. The system is much more conveluted and nuanced than just tapping on both ends.

      2. Unless you buy it on the web site. Then it’s between 24 and 48 hours before you can use it, but nobody really knows for sure.

      3. Charles – and yet tens of thousands of people know how to use the system without ever having had that conversation.

        And anyone who doesn’t know will know after that conversation.

        By the way, the fare enforcement officers shouldn’t be calling anyone thieves. That’s poor or incorrect training. The point is that the person in question didn’t follow the rules for whatever reason and there is a well-defined procedure that is followed when that occurs.

      4. Physsi, great dialog. That’s what it’s like. Not all for one person, but it amalgamates different people’s experiences.

    4. “Metro is incentivized to have riders transferring to Link NOT tap onto that mode.”

      I doubt this is true. It’s hard to imagine a drive telling passengers not to tap onto Link, and it must be a violation of Metro’s communication policies. In any case, it wouldn’t get Metro that much more revenue. Just a fraction of the Link fare. And Metro operates Link trains, so when people pay ST some of the money comes back to Metro.

  7. I attribute the tap-on/ tap-off problem partly to design. Having a modest yellow reader and an overhead board above one’s primary line of sight is just not enough. Something that appears as a relatively inexpensive porous gate — like the ones at SeaTac Airport Station to prevent luggage carts — makes a much bolder statement that a rider needs to tap their card. Even a modest rubber mat would be a good trigger.

    1. Maybe, but let’s not design more infrastructure that deliberately blocks anyone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility aid.

      And no the gate to the side doesn’t count. Simply being *able* to get through is not enough.

    2. [trolling] Yes, we should design the stations better so that paying a fare doesn’t require walking out of your way and is even more obvious than it already is…I mean, for anyone who has ridden Link at least once there really isn’t an excuse for not knowing…but might as well make it more obvious.

      Fare gates are the most effective solution, because you literally can’t enter without paying (unless you jump them).

  8. Here’s why I support faregates: Because it’s out of your way to find a machine to tap on-tap off at some stations, most notably for me Westlake. Having the tapper – for want of a better word or phrase – in your face like at SkyTrain stations is 100% better for mechanical fare collection.

    Otherwise, gotta hope the kiddos and folks running late somehow deviate from the most direct path to the sexy light rail to tap on and then somehow deviate from the most direct path to their destination or transfer point tap off. Not the most practical.

  9. I tapped twice and got a stern taking down to by the Link Light Rail police. I had just taken the light rail the other way and was in a hurry after work – also it was a day where I had winter gloves on which makes it hard to tap on. I have an unlimited pass from my workplace which I showed them. Really ruined my week and in the winter I walked for a week to avoid them.

    1. Greg, because my senior pass really does give me a permanent break on my fare, what I generally do is spend $4 on a paper pass before my first Link boarding, and put it in same little clear-plastic card-holder that contains my ORCA card. Which I generally also “tap”, Link and bus alike. Call it a protest vote.

      Joe and Ness, small flashing blue and white lighted arrow fastened either onto the card-reader or the wall above it might be a cheap and unobtrusive attention-getter. Or suspend my little Tapmunk from the ceiling above the mechanism. Psi-war trick: Want to minds-eye imprint her in passenger public consciousness.

      But Karl, as far as I’m concerned, the ratification of Sound Transit itself made any charge of theft on anybody’s part a dead letter, signed by the County Medical Examiner himself. If Boardmembers can’t make the accountants do their job of apportioning internal revenue…that’s what recalls are for.

      If Nordstrom’s or whatever-replaces-Macey’s can’t move my money from one department or another, I’ll hire an attorney and a process server to keep me company on my my way to District Court.

      Might have misquoted the Trump administration. Should have said that if any agency doesn’t like the amount of money the system of which they are a part gives them, they can “Just Get Over It.”

      Mark Dublin

    2. The excuses people come up with astonish me. You can’t tap when you are wearing a glove?? Ok, then take off the glove for the two seconds it takes to tap your card. This is Seattle, not Antarctica.

      1. Link lost a rider, and a lot of future revenue, over a poor FEO encounter. That is the salient point of Greg’s story.

      2. Brent – they lost him for a week. I would argue losing a rider that wasn’t paying is a good thing.

        I’m any case turnstiles would solve all these problems.

      3. Nope. He did pay. ST got its full revenue from him regardless of the final missed tap. And then lost it four-fold over the following week. And then had him as a customer less often thereafter, especially until the warning fell off.

        Losing riders who paid, and simply mangled the taps, is a bad thing.

        The ideal outcome for riders who didn’t pay is that they keeping riding and start paying.

        BTW, every time a fully-paid rider gets the Speech, there is a good chance an actual fare evader is sitting in the middle of the train, and sneaking out the door at the next stop.

        Nor does the fact that FEOs have a standard procedure eliminate the possibility of discrimination from all other aspects of the encounter.

      4. ST also lost some goodwill, and the person might tell their friends about the experience and that might make them reluctant to use Link.

        We don’t want a subway that people are reluctant to take. That defeats the purpose of having a subway. We have a subway because we want to channel people onto it.

  10. I have anxiety, and the “did I remember to tap” game is seriously seriously bad for my mental health. Before the tap off sound was added, I would sometimes tap on and off four or five times before I was sure I had actually done it correctly, and then half the time riding the train I’ll end up sitting there panicking over whether or not I remembered to tap on, sometimes to the point where I’d get off the train to check and reboard the next train.

    The whole enforcement schema is stupid, if Sound transit cares as much as they seem to, the solution is to just add some damn turnstile.s

  11. I hate being treated like a criminal by sound transit when they can clearly see I have a very active payment history and clearly the infraction was a mistake. (Nope doesn’t matter, here’s your fine)

    Frequent ridership, plus terrible reader placement (please make it impossible not to walk directly past a reader, not behind a doorway, not halfway down the platform) plus seriously *aggressive* enforcement means they are gonna snare plenty of people whose are hardly fare scufflaws but merely made a mistake more than once or twice a YEAR.

    This is enforcement overreach. The sign of an agency’s operations arm out of control and out of touch. (Don’t get me started on how bad ST is at railops on a regular basis)

    Let’s focus on running the trains on time, making conveyances function vaguely reliably, overcrowding and NOT punishing regularly paying customers and the poor who can’t abide.

  12. Hey, sleek….

    “But thus I counsel you, my friends: Mistrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful. They are people of a low sort and stock; the hangmen and the bloodhound look out of their faces. Mistrust all who talk much of their justice! Verily, their souls lack more than honey. And when they call themselves the good and the just, do not forget that they would be pharisees, if only they had—power.”

    ― Friedrich Nietzsche

    Whom nobody ever accused of being a bleeding-heart liberal. Keep up the character assassination and you may not live long enough to have this be a problem, but comes a time that the fleeting years tend to depart carrying stolen pieces of memory. Punish me like a thief and you’re calling me a thief.

    But will tell you a little hypothesis of mine. I think the truth is that very few if any passengers ever actually get fined while in possession of a valid card. If this matter was ever identified with a racial tag, would have been noisily brought to an end by now.

    Would even be willing to bet nobody checks to make sure how many chances they give mistake-makers. But got to hand it to you. If you really were the kind of person Nietsche was describing, you’d be off bothering somebody else by now. We amateur polemicists need practice like this.

    And since Mark Zuckerberg has thrown down the gauntlet on the universal right to distort and falsify, we all get away with an ocean of verbiage we should have to self-edit. Thanks for the good work! But you might want to keep an eye on your mirror.

    Those hangmen and bloodhounds tend to sneak around the frame of your mirror when you’re not looking.

    Mark Dublin

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