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:
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.