Sound Transit Fare Enforcement...

In addition to formally approving lower concession fares for Sounder, last week the Sound Transit board approved a fare enforcement pilot which would replace fare enforcement security contractors with Sound Transit staff “fare ambassadors” with different uniforms and an emphasis on rider education and de-escalation. As part of the pilot, there will be no citations in 2021.

The board is pushing the clearly reluctant CEO, Peter Rogoff, to severely weaken the threat of getting caught. The “Fare Enforcement Action Plan,” a guideline for what the Board expects from staff in 2022, envisions no law enforcement involvement in pure payment disputes, more warnings, and a lower fine.

The big question, of course, is if lax enforcement eventually leads to much less observance by the fare-paying public. Letting the poorest riders keep their $1.50 will not make a real difference in Sound Transit’s finances, but broader indifference to fares (which some activists ultimately want) definitely would.

59 Replies to “ST suspends fare enforcement another year”

    1. “Forgiven” presumes guilt. Not only did the students of whom you speak commit no crime, but the United States of America should consider their education a matter of National Defense and fund it accordingly.

      When’s the last time a weapons contractor got “Dunned?”
      Tom Terrific, your creator Gene Deitch would be ashamed of you. You probably would’ve insisted on fighting crime instead of Hitler ’cause you were scared of offending an anti-communist. It’s 2020, not 1940. Read your calendar and grow up.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark, I don’t have any problem at all with government at all levels funding public higher education, either through loads more Pell grants or directly subsidizing public colleges and universities. That’s what used to happen, but the howling yadda-yadda about “deficits” led to ever-shrinking outright support for higher education.

        Loans replaces the former direct investments.

        All I object to is people who agreed to repay lenders for their educations who now want to weasel out of the commitment.

  1. The larger revenue question is how many large employers will continue to not provide passes for their employees, if neither Metro nor ST are requiring fare payment. And then how many employees will just pay fares out of pocket. It will be interesting to see how much revenue from Business Passport plummeted this year. That said, some employers are already providing passes again for non-WFH employees, because Metro is charging fares again. Business Passport is half the revenue picture.

    The next big chunk is government agencies buying passes for employees, students, residents, etc, which is to say, the City of Seattle is far-and-away the largest single contributor to Metro and ST fare revenue.

    And then employers buying passes for specific employees outside of Business Passport make up a good chunk, too.

    The random choices of individuals to pay out-of-pocket is probably a smaller share of fare revenue than people realize, and it also happens to be the portion with the highest cash-handling costs and operational slow-down costs.

    And so, going forward, the main issue is to get institutions to keep participating in paying fares for their employees and clients. The net fare revenue from random individuals is just not that big a piece of the pie. But if the institutions drop out of covering fares, that is how the fare system collapses.

    Granted, this is partially moot until people start riding again. If there was to be a year to re-set fare enforcement practices, it may as well be last year and this coming year.

    1. Another question, Brent, is whether it’s also time the legislature pass a state law making it illegal for an employer to fire an otherwise good employee for using transit. Do I hear a second?

      Mark Dublin

    2. The larger revenue question is how many large employers will continue to not provide passes for their employees, if neither Metro nor ST are requiring fare payment.

      You are confused. They are still requiring fare payment. In that regard, nothing has changed.

      The only difference is, the odds of you being caught for an infraction has gone way down. Instead of being very low, it goes to zero.

      So you are asking how many employers will encourage their employees to break the law? My guess is that number will be similar. Believe it or not, lots of people prefer following the law, especially when it is just, for the same reason people pay to go to museums:

  2. I really like the idea of going in-house with FEOs. From a journalist’s standpoint, I can’t get contracted FEOs to say much. But public employees are more ready to spill the beans about what practices they know are illegal or unethical. Having directly-hired FEOs means they will feel more comfortable telling people who write policies and procedures what is really going on. Some may even have a career path to someday be the people who write those policies and procedures.

    All that said, I’m curious how many of you have been wrongfully (or at least partially wrongfully) accused of fare evasion by an FEO. And how long ago it was. And how many times it has happened.

    It has been several years since my encounter. I had a valid transfer and a full pass. The FEO could and did readily see both facts. And yet, he still accused me of attempted theft of services. I wrote to STPD, as the FEO suggested, and got dead air.

    I would like the new FEO system to not only be more compassionate, but also more accurate. There is no reason or excuse for having so many false positives, making enemies they can’t afford to make, with ST dodging the issue by pretending false positives don’t exist so they don’t bother collecting data on false positives.

    Letting FEOs review the policies and procedures under which they work could make a world of difference (and will take more than a year to really start bearing fruit). The current fare enforcement leadership has been stodgy, bureaucratic, and not reality-based, IMHO.

  3. If “rider education and de-escalation” still includes removing the passenger from the train, there will still be a time penalty for failing to pay the fare. It might be tricky to get the non-compliant rider off the train without some sort implied threat, however.

    In my neighborhood, I noticed a rapid uptick in bus ridership once fares were re-instated by Metro. During the spring and summer, the perception was that the buses were full of unmasked, ill and homeless people. Maybe the so-called “average rider” was more willing to ride the bus once it required a fare.

    1. Meaning, “Guy”, that one thing fares are for is to assure who CAN’T ride the bus? Improved security, I definitely favor, and support the creation of an officer corps specifically trained for transit service.

      Uniform I envision? Army veteran combat nurse, preferably a woman. For every use, at least get the right tool.

      Mark Dublin

  4. Thank you, Martin, for this posting, and thank you Kent Keel for your Fare Enforcement Action plan. And most of all, to the people I know personally who’ve been doing fare enforcement since its inception:

    Thank you for your professionalism and your presence.

    What leaves me most outraged is that the system that we need already exists. I’ve carried a card since ORCA came online. At the beginning of every month, I buy a month’s worth of transit. To all intents and purposes, non-refundable. But with a really vile little contingency:

    If I make a mistake in the number of times I “tap” my card as is mandatory, and which I’ve never objected to, I’m subject to the self-same fine for theft as I’d never paid ST at all. Justification? An unnamed “Private Company” has trouble apportioning my fare among sub-agencies and sub-areas.

    Which is left to our poor young Fare Inspectors to explain to passengers a lot worse-mannered than me. So for me, this dark, rainy morning, the Rot goes right to the Core.

    It’s a flat-out obscenity that an official making over three hundred thousand dollars a year can threaten a high school girl with prosecution over a card she’d been told was hers for free.

    But my own deepest personal fury is that the system that we need, and which I totally support, already exists. Every month since ORCA’s inception, I’ve loaded on the price of a whole month’s fare. And because I DO support the system, I’ve also enthusiastically done my best to help the accountants with a “tap.”

    Looking back, “T” should have been for “Turnstiles”, which are still a possibility.

    Who was it that said “Possession is nine-tenths of the law?” coupled with an incomprehensible set of rules and conditions that should constitute blanket immunity, the money of mine already in your Possession should count for at least a couple cents of the remaining tenth.

    And for high school students just about to verge on voting age, it’s in Transit’s most conservative budgetary interest to consider their ORCA cards as both a joint investment in their education and an assurance of pro-transit votes for life.

    This morning’s posting is very reassuring. Kent Keel and Ken Cummins, keep up the good work.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’ll ask again.

      Mark, how many times have you been accused by an FEO of non- or insufficient payment? When was the last time?

  5. The outcome here depends on what the new FEOs actually do upon discovery of a non-fare paying rider. If you get kicked off the bus/train, even without a fine or other penalty, that’s sufficient inconvenience and public embarrassment to deter most people. If it’s just a little chat “you’re supposed to tap your card on the reader, dontcha know”, plenty of people I’m sure would rather save their $3.

    Other question is whether the FEOs are back to checking orca cards with the card reader machine, or if they’re still just asking people to demonstrate they’re in physical possession of an orca card.

    1. “caphiller,” I’ve been pre-paying ORCA for a month’s worth of transit ever since the program came into existence. Because I like both the system and its Inspectors, I’m more than willing for them to put my card up to their “readers”.

      What I’ve got a bellyfull of tolerating is the idea that a mistake in the number of the times I “tap” the card leaves me open to the same theft charge as if I deliberately refused to pay.

      Admit it. This isn’t about revenue. It’s about obedience. At least give me time to die and come back as a dog before you make me deal with that.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Indeed, it is about obedience. Transit systems, and public life as whole, have rules for a reason. If there becomes a perception that “no one pays the fare” because there’s no enforcement (even if fare compliance is in fact ~97% as other commenters have quoted), social trust breaks down and the perception of safety on the bus/train is reduced. That’s a much larger problem than a bit of lost revenue. We are nowhere near reaching that point in Seattle, thankfully.

        I’m sorry about your bad experiences with malfunctioning readers or confusing tap requirements. One assumes that if you get a citation for non-payment, the citation would be waived if you can later prove to the agency that you were a monthly pass holder at the time, or even that you were legitimately confused. Parking tickets are waived all the time on shakier grounds than this.

      2. Plenty of people we know have had bad experiences with FEOs even when we had clear-and-obvious proof of pre-payment. And it is not as if we know everyone who has been falsely accused of attempted theft of services.

        Being told to get off the train would certainly have exacerbated those bad experiences. (Though, to be fair, I have see passengers being escorted off the train by FEOs to be shown how the vending machines work, many times.)

        One friend of mine not involved with this blog once told me he was told to get off the train. He refused. They actually stopped the train while waiting for police to escort him off. The police came. He showed his pass. The police told the FEOs to let him keep riding.

        Making it a one-size-fits-all policy to have the accused passenger get off the train would probably be counterproductive.

  6. I don’t pay for transit directly – my employer does. High schoolers don’t pay for transit – the city pays. Some passengers have binders filled with every possible transfer variation – they don’t pay when using Metro. If you are aware of the program and are able to enroll, you can get a cheaper ORCA Lift card and pay only $1.50 per trip.

    But maybe someone doesn’t know what day it is and has had more trouble today than I can have had in my entire life. Take the bus for free, I don’t really care. I don’t think giving some passengers this leeway is going to cause any problems (like Amazon suddenly not buying Business Passports because the homeless sometimes ride for free), and if they are causing disruptions, sure maybe have some social worker meet them at the end of the line.

    When my previous employer forgot to top up my ORCA for the new month, and I was left arguing with the driver about it after a long day at work, I was grateful to just be able to shrug and move to the back of the bus and not have the cops called on me, or be given a fine of 18x the fare.

    I feel like the people who sign up to be fare enforcement officers are the same type of people who want to be cops or other positions of power, and fare enforcement serves the American desire to punish and torture people who have been failed by the system their whole lives (see the prison system). “I [a person who has had no trouble in life] paid my $2.75, this guy who didn’t [whose life is hell already] should be kicked off the bus AND fined! And maybe beat up if that guy who couldn’t even pass the cop exam is having a bad day.”

      1. Renndawg, word form Stimpy is relax. In recognition of your diligence, as long as he stays under a seat, Fare Inspection’s got him deputized. So thank you for your service as well as his.

        Mark Dublin

    1. Ravenna Steve, the person accusing you was not a Link fare-enforcement officer, were they? The treatment meted out to you was in fact a violation that could’ve cost its perpetrator some time-off, if not their job.

      The Book says a driver does not get into fare disputes, period. But it also says that, if the driver had instead just finished off their shift, they could’ve earned a half hour at time-and-a-half for overtime, spending five minutes filling out an Incident Report.

      So do Transit a favor, Steve. Find your elected representatives’ names, and be sure they know both your name and what you’re ready to do if they don’t do what you say.

      Mark Dublin

  7. $1.50 adds up!

    The bottom line is that eventually the money lost by the transit companies will be sought out in the way of taxes. We aren’t in a climate in which adding to homeowners property tax needs to go up any more than it already has. On Express, getting something is better the cash box getting nothing. At the very least it should be that way on other modes of transportation as well.

    1. The big to-do for the past four years has been over vehicle license fees (“car tabs”). Only a handful of former legislators went after the property tax portion of ST’s funding. Good riddance to them. We do have some Democrats dog-whistling to rich homeowners about property tax being regressive, but they haven’t done so well at the polls lately. My state senator beat one such dog-whistling Dem to get his seat.

  8. Has ST prepared an estimate of lost revenue from suspending fares and relaxing enforcement in the long term, and whether the loss is subarea specific?

    I agree with a post by Mark that the forest from the trees is turnstiles although those probably don’t work on surface stations. I have to assume ST’s targeted 40% fare box recovery is part of its funding estimates for future projects. I think it is valid to ask how the lost fare box revenue will be made up. Other general fund revenues? Levies? Extensions in completing certain projects like lines to West Seattle and Ballard. Rogoff didn’t sound thrilled with the changes.

    Free transit has been tried before by Metro in the downtown core. The buses became uninhabitable due to smell and the homeless, and regular riders paying a fare would either disembark before the free zone or not ride transit at all, so metro scrapped free fares.

    It could ridership is so low right now that an army of fare enforcement officers does not pencil out. I guess we will learn how altruistic transit riders are when there is effectively no fare enforcement.

    I would be surprised if the peak commuter would not pay a fare, especially if employer subsidized. But those riders are gone right now, and who knows how many will ever return, which is a much bigger funding issue than unpaid fares.

    1. The long term finance plan does assume farebox recovery is met and includes regular fare increases to offset forecasted inflation. If fare policy deviates from the existing farebox recovery ratio, that would be an impairment to the long term financial plan.

    2. “Free transit has been tried before by Metro in the downtown core. The buses became uninhabitable due to smell and the homeless, and regular riders paying a fare would either disembark before the free zone or not ride transit at all, so metro scrapped free fares.”

      Daniel, this paragraph is finally proof-positive that what’s between us is not a matter of what we think on any given subject. Especially transit. About that, we probably agree more than not. For a true liberal, conservative or especially Radical, being Practical is mandatory.

      But these words of yours make you a Class A political enemy of mine.

      Not ten minutes walk from where I live, I walk past several dozen tents as clean as they are worn-down . I’m seeing men and women in working clothes, indicating that they had no problem doing just exactly that before the sawmill shut down years ago.

      Our State Capital fronts on the category of rural area where meth replaced moonshine as a cash-crop several Administrations ago. And just to give credit for achievement in one’s field, Pablo Escobar is now in prison, while the Oxycontin Sachlers not even questioned, let alone indicted.

      Last summer, I met at a woman maybe thirty at a nearby lakeside table where I was eating a carry-out mid-eastern meal. She was clean healthy and attractive, and asking me if I could give her five dollars for some food. Pointing in the direction of the tents.

      Telling me she’d had a husband but they’d separated. And that she had a child, that was now being raised by other relatives.

      I’d rather ride standing-load Everett to Olympia, smelling the likes of her beside me, as opposed to contributors who’d refuse her a transit ride, how ever expensive their cologne. But while we’re on subjects “olfactory”, caphill, a word or two about civic obedience.

      With me, it’s a hundred percent generational. The day I was born, our country’s last remotely-just war still had twenty-one days left to spill blood and kill with fire. Both sides perpetrators, both sides victims.

      The war, already in the past. But I was privileged to spend my years into adulthood, in the company of men who’d risked their lives to make our form of obedience as global as possible and gotten away with it. Barely. In that war, PTSD was called “Shell Shock” .

      An uncle of mine permanently lost his sanity the day his bomber, affectionately called “Satan’s Sister,” blew up in the sky with all hands when he was on “sick-call.” Doing their part to make sure your idea of obedience would forthwith stay out of the way of ours if it knew what was good for it.

      Ukraine and Russia know their trolleybuses. Would give anything for a shift driving those Russian coaches over a mountain-range from Crimea’s coast to its capital. 90 miles of highway.

      A longshot, but might-still. If we start to manufacture as we should, Mr. Putin might finally buy a battery-fleet from us. Straight trans-Pacific float, balmy weather all the way.

      Brazil’s got busways from Heaven, wire and diesel both. Too bad it’s a former democratic country that now has a killer and a torturer for President. Shame too that a tenant whose Washington DC lease is about up has always considered these overseas Chiefs of State a lot better friends than the people they tortured, killed, and raped.

      What we the people of the Central Puget Sound Region, whatever its boundaries, are going to do is sit down and work out a system of transit fares that assures that, one way or another, every single person’s transit is fairly and legitimately paid for.

      Does “Water Quality” ever fine anyone for evasion, let alone shut down their sewer connection? Every convenience store, every espresso cafe- especially them- every magazine stand- should be waving ORCA cards right out in everybody’s face.

      Not to mention the “Specials” with which the rest of commerce can help us, as part of their own advertising. Fix it so somebody has to really empty their pockets carefully to be sure somebody didn’t just maliciously stick one in there while their attention was on stealing a battery.

      ST and its CEO, Kent Keel and your board, I know you’ll figure it out. And that you’ll also have more than one generation of young workers who will make you life-long proud.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark, I am not sure you understand this but I don’t set policy for Metro. I have never even emailed Metro.

        The free bus zone in the downtown core was not designed to benefit the poor or working class transit users because they don’t live in the downtown core. As soon as the bus left the free zone they had to pay a bus fare.

        The intent was to stimulate business, simplify fares for tourists, and get downtown workers to use transit for short trips within the core.

        It was female commuters who had to take transit who complained of harassment, sexual assault, aggressive panhandling, and the stench on the buses when they hit the free zone because the buses had become de facto homeless camps.

        They simply did not feel safe on the buses in the free zone, but could not afford to drive and park at work.

        So their employers and businesses complained the intent of the free zone program had backfired and it was eliminated by Metro.

        Personally I liked the free zone, although I rarely ride the bus otherwise. I could take a bus from the Pioneer Square station in the transit tunnel to Westlake to shop or have lunch, or for a business meeting, when Westlake was more vibrant and nicer than Pioneer Square (I never took the bus on 3rd due to the street scene that last year forced the king Co. courthouse to close).

        Now a round trip bus ride that is 9 blocks one way costs $5.50 so I stopped going, plus Westlake deteriorated. If I had a meeting pre-pandemic I Ubered, and free zone was pre-Uber and might not work today, especially with Zoom.

        Sure we can all sit down and agree on a free system for transit. I have no problem with that, as long as you realize frequency and routes will suffer. With working from home maybe there won’t be commuters and so Metro can go back to its free zone because the only people who will have to put up with the stench and panhandling will be service workers heading back to S. Seattle.

      2. I was there to watch the deal that led to the end of the Ride Free Area. The D members of the council needed some R votes for council-matic car tab funding to keep Metro afloat. The R’s named ending the RFA as the price for their votes.

        I was happy with the outcome despite widespread angst among the social justice activist community. The impending end of the RFA led directly to the campaign for the low-income fare. Ideally, the two would have happened together, but politics is sometimes the art of patience.

        My main annoyance with the RFA is that it made outbound buses interminably slow, with riders having to push their way to the front to pay before alighting. I don’t miss it.

      3. I rode buses during the ride free area back when it was around. It didn’t create hygiene problems. What it did do is slow buses down outside of downtown by making everyone pay on exit, preventing use of the back door. It also created a lot of rider confusion on the 44 where might pay on either entry or exit depending on whether or not your particular trip was thru-routed with the 43. The fact that the RFA was only 6 AM-7PM also created confusion for people riding during the boundary period.

        I do believe getting rid of the RFA was the right decision, but not for the reasons the council members were citing. It’s primary beneficiary was not even Seattle residents, but suburban commuters who drive downtown, but might use the bus for a quick hop to lunch, to avoid having to park downtown multiple times. Those who arrive downtown by transit has passes or transfers, making the RFA irrelevant. I don’t even consider the RFA a social justice issue, considering that it was so small, a person can walk from one end to the other in about 20 minutes.

        Bus speed and rider confusion are the big reasons why I felt the RFA needed to go.

      4. 44 was always pay as you leave in the westbound direction regardless of whether the trip was through-routed or not…

    3. I lived in Downtown Seattle back when the Free Ride Zone was still around, and took the buses all the time. The idea that the buses were smelly, and that that was the reason for the end of the Free Ride Zone is news to me.

      The Free Ride Zone was a side effect of the policy of having people pay as they left on outbound buses, to prevent congestion downtown. Providing free transit to anyone was never the point. It was ended because it was too confusing, and people kept trying to pay as they entered anyway, or forgot to pay as they left.

      1. The ride free area was the cause of pay as you leave. In the 1970s Seattle got Metro to start the ride free area for two purposes: to attract shoppers to downtown, and to provide daytime circulation for office workers so they could go to lunch and errands without driving. At first Seattle paid for it, like the current Seattle transit benefit district. But over time the costs increased while the contribution didn’t.

        In 2012 the county council abolished the ride free area, because conservative councilmembers didn’t want to subsidize it any longer, and were holding up a 2-year recession-support package over it.

    4. I think it’s important to mention that the Downtown ride-free area made buses operate more slowly. The buses would get smelly riders pulling their bags and carts going only a few blocks, and exiting to the front after a bus left downtown took more time when a rider eventually got off the bus. It once took me about 15 minutes to ride just 6 blocks in Downtown Seattle in 2011.

      I think a good argument could be made for free shuttle buses taking people short distances (say under 3/4 of a mile or an elevation change of over 80 feet) but leaving a fare system in place for longer distances. This concept could even be used outside of Downtown Seattle like on Capitol Hill or UW or even a place like Downtown Kent or Downtown Redmond. The LA DOT Dash system is based on this concept (although they have an official but very modest fare).

  9. This will serve as a real-world experiment in how changing fare enforcement practices changes non-payment levels. Pre-covid non-payment was 3-4% of passengers. Will it rise? It will have to be measured relative to ridership, because covid-era ridership has fluctuated 50-90%, and post-covid recovery ridership may be down 10-20%, so these dwarf the differences in non-payment.

    By ST’s own admission and our own observation and experience, the vast majority of non-payment (meaning non-tapping or not having a ticket) is due to ignorance, forgetting, misunderstanding machine responses, or misfunctioning/non-functioning machines. A second group is people who can’t afford to pay. That leaves willful non-payers who can afford it a small fraction. So any meaningful change will be in that third group. The first group would be more affected by better station design, better-designed readers, and more frequent trains. The readers need to be line-of-sight in front of you in a narrow “doorway”, like at the surface stations. That minimizes forgetting, or not noticing them when you’re thinking about something else. It doesn’t work to have them way off to the side or behind you, like at Beacon Hill or the DSTT elevators.

    Remember that fares and tapping are not directly related to the revenue level ST receives. Fares pay 40% of operating costs (the fare recovery ratio), so 60% is paid by taxes. And if you have a monthly pass, tapping doesn’t mean ST receives the nominal fare amount. It receives a percent of the pass’s cost based on your relative use of ST’s vs other agencies’ services. So if you only use ST, ST gets the same amount regardless of whether you tap in once or eighty times over the month. So that won’t change much with fare enforcement changes either.

    1. Willful nonpayment is why Metro got rid of transfers. There were huge numbers of people who uses to re-use them as a scam. Oh wait, Metro still has transfers. It is such a tiny number of people that it wasn’t worth bothering with.

    2. Your point about ST needing riders to tap in order to get fare revenue is key.

      Even if major employers and the City of Seattle all continue funding passes, if the passholders don’t tap on ST, ST won’t get their portion of fare revenue.

      That why ST doing this the same time as Metro’s fare enforcement rethink makes sense for maintaining some balance between the two on fare revenue. (And it makes figuring out the rules a little more intelligible for riders.)

      Even with pandemic ridership, ST and Metro stand to get a lot of fare revenue if they keep their percentage share of taps and major institutions keep paying for the much-less-used passes.

  10. If you are someone who always pays the proper fare, even when it is a serious struggle and sacrifice, then this is a slap in the face. Sound Transit is taking the stance that stealing is a good thing. They are encouraging it now.

    1. Bullshit! Lack of enforcement is not an encouragement to break the law. If Seattle, for example, reduced its police force, and put all that money into social services, it wouldn’t be an invitation to steal a TV. It is simply an acknowledgement that there are better ways to spend money; the vast majority of people aren’t going to break the law, even when it is easy to do so.

      1. The issue is that there is a threshold at which people decide they are a chump for following the rules.

        A self-paying commuter can easily spend $1200/year on fares. That’s a lot of money – someone is going to decide they are a chump for paying it and just stop.

      2. With the current Seattle city council you might be wrong. They are trying to pass laws to create more ways to help criminals get away with it.

  11. The majority of my more conservative friends believe that nobody will pay. They live outside of Seattle proper. They are also my same friends who only come to Seattle for things like sports and don’t really like the city.
    The majority of my more liberal friends are still going to pay.
    The reality is that my conservative friends will still pay. It does not matter what their personal beliefs are. They will buy a ticket. They will just insult and talk sh*t about the government’s subsidied bus system. My progressive friends will still pay.
    And the same people who don’t pay will continue to not pay. It may not change the fare recovery by more than 5%. Just a guesss.

    1. Exactly. The vast majority of people will pay, while some will talk about how everyone else is getting a free ride, and Sound Transit is being stupid. It may actually be more cost effective (time will tell).

  12. Realistically, I’m not expecting this change to have any meaningful impact in fare recovery. Employers will not stop subsidizing passes and tell their employees to fare evade instead. Those that are broke aren’t paying, anyway. And, sporadic transit riders who might occasionally buy a ticket probably don’t even know about this and, even if they did, they don’t want to feel like a scufflaw, they’ll pay too.

    The purported impact is overblown.

    1. I think a non-trivial percentage of employers will stop subsidizing passes though – not for this reason, but companies won’t want to pay for workers who only commute 1-2 days a week. Especially with a weak economy, cutting expenses that employees don’t care so much about is going to be higher on the CFO agenda.

      1. The 2017 Tax Reform eliminated transit subsidies to employees as a business deduction for employers, but employees can accept up to $276/month I believe in employer transit payments before counting it as income, but only employer subsidies used for commuting to and from work are not income.

        I can’t imagine any employer will subsidize employee transit costs that are not work related, and after the loss of deductibility many employers terminated transit subsidies altogether.

        So if you work two days/week that is what you will get from employers in transit subsidies, and our office had to begin keeping better records on transit subsidies even though they were no longer deductible in order to determine what was transit reimbursements and what was income. So many employers like us went to a reimbursement program based on commuting receipts listed on the Orca card.

  13. I’d love it if Metro would bring back the annual senior pass.
    Should help their budget as they get all the money up front, and sometimes seniors die before the pass expires.

    1. Thanks for thinking of me, Deborah. This change-of-status came up on me before I even saw it coming. Though to be really fair about it, my own preference would be somewhat different.

      All my life, writing has come easy to me. What got me through school from first-grade to college was that I could hand in a grade-A term-paper, written through the night before it was due. I’ve also had no fear of public speaking.

      So given what I’ve learned first-hand about transit, from those magnificent Illinois interurban rides at age 8, and continuing through the thirteen years’ electric driving, I’d rather pay full fare on the average consultant’s wages.

      Underlaid with the national public health care system that the rest of the advanced world offers its citizens of every age. Democratic National Committee, shame on you. Public option, you could’ve gotten, if you hadn’t been afraid of being called whatever I am.

      Don’t have stats in front of me, but my impression is that if we take care of ourselves, and avoid consuming substances that are their own Death Penalty whatever the Law says, a lot of us can be “net” contributors for all our days.

      To whatever extent my remaining days give me any Project influence, my choice would be to lay my ORCA card atop my ashes, as the classic wood-and-cut-glass streetcar clears the funeral home’s own gate.

      The college can already train transit’s elevescalator- service-people. “Conveyances,” right? And Lake Washington Institute of Technology also has a funeral services program. So a moving mortuary of this order should truly pay for itself. Across widely-spread subareas, and in a variety of currencies.

      Fine article, but one quarrel with the presenter. The term “macabre”. It’s come to mean that death itself is something to “Get Off On.” Dead-opposite to what’s intended here, which to my mind deserves only the deepest respect.

      Am I right that there’s still track-bed on Aurora near Green Lake- if you dig for it?

      Mark Dublin

    1. But then, is the presence of over 10% of riders not wearing masks properly on board an act of “freedom” that you wish to celebrate, or a reason to charge more to get those dirty, smelly riders some of the critics of free transit like to believe are overwhelming the transit system, off of the train.

      Can conservative think tanks coordinate their talking points a little better?

      1. At 8:45 this morning I passed a 550 going west on I-90 and there were zero passengers on it. I even slowed down to take a second look. Granted it is Christmas week but zero riders is amazing, and the bus was in service. I have to think the it is both working from home and concern about getting infected that is driving riders to zero, and the fact the 550 is a commuter bus.

        No doubt riders will return after Covid-19 passes although a recent article stated around 80% of all workers working from home want to continue to work from home, and don’t understand why they can’t continue working from home now that productivity — according to them — is up to pre-pandemic levels while working from home. I suspect there is going to be some conflict between employers and employees on this issue, and probably a lot of litigation, especially since Republicans did not get liability relief in the recent stimulus bill. Even if employers insist on employees returning to work after Covid-19 my guess is they won’t insist on transit and will offer some kind of alternative.

        In the meantime I don’t think ST or Metro have done a good job of really insisting on masking and safe distancing on trains and buses. I just had to fly across the country and the protocols in the airports and on the airlines were very strict. Still concerning flying, but at least you got the idea mask adherence in the airports and on the plan was 100% and seats were left open and that was enforced. When returning to offices is still safe I think transit will still have the image of being dangerous for a while because ST and Metro did not really insist on social distancing and mask adherence, and advertise that fact.

      2. Sometimes buses get bunched together. You could have been looking at the second bus in the bunch.

        Other cross lake routes, such as the 255 and 545 consistently got well above zero riders last week when I rode them.

  14. Daniel and everybody else, the main reason for Seattle’s “Free Zone” was that healthy growth in Downtown Seattle finally resulted in an almost motionless parade of packed buses every PM rush hour.

    So close they could’ve been coupled. Starting at Stewart, south on Third to (I think) Columbia, steep uphill to the freeway entrance under the skyscraper, and then north onto I-5. And a similar parade routes in acouple other places. Think it was called “The Wall of Buses.”

    Major Free-Zone fare-collection downside was that, once beyond the zone outbound, every single passenger had to line up in the aisle, start fumbling with their money, and otherwise do things that killed Time itself.

    Especially if we drove the big electric “Artics”, some of us drivers would just announce over the PA: “I’m opening all doors. If you have a transfer or a pass, just hold it up in the mirror over the steps.”

    Amount of honest cooperation from all demographics was kind of heart-breaking. Of course they could all have just jumped off and run for it. But I watched them carefully unfolding their transfers, and holding their little paper scrap up in the stair-mirror, being sure it could be fully read.

    Daniel, you seem good with numbers. So I think you an help me with what I think is the most overlooked figure in this whole discussion. What is the actual dollars and cents cost of one minute of lost operations, when any train or bus is still standing still when it should be moving?

    When the Free Zone died and EVERYPLACE got ticket-lines, my rush-hour worst places on Earth were watching KCM 41 northbound at Westlake and ST 550 pretty much all stations. Sitting there with 1.3 miles of move-less tube behind them while fares got found, discussed, and disputed.

    Whoever noted it here, had the remedy in a nut-shell. Make every zone “Proof of Payment”, with cashiers and dispensers to let people get on every bus, waving their Proof instead of digging for it in their purses and pockets.

    Hate to sound Fundamentalist, but there truly is a lot of evidence about Divine Intent on this subject. One way or another, in Seattle and environs, ORCA card possession needs to become so widespread that we’ll be handing out teething rings with little antennas in them.

    Little reminder here. One, thanks, Daniel for finding my Law and Order manifesto. Good warning for the uninitiated. George Orwell kind of had it wrong about surveillance. Big Brother is an old guy who died in, well, 1984.

    Too bad he’s left behind so many evil little twins aged from three to a hundred thirty. Also, brave though he was, George himself never had the stuff to challenge his own most deadly one. Big Brother could have you tortured and executed. But LITTLE SISTER…..(grrrrrrrrr) SHE’LL TELL ON YOU!

    And most ominous of all: From some of that old experience on the posting Daniel found us….BEWARE. At the time when our assaults were at their worst, most violent gang in town identified by walking the street s sucking on their teethin’ rings and daring any comment. Any chance we could put just be safe and put an antenna in a tattoo?

    Mark Dublin

    1. I thought the 84 comments to Mark’s 2010 article were interesting, especially about the drivers’ union meeting in which they were told Metro security personnel were afraid to ride the bus alone.

      In the past I have opined safe streets (and transit) were fundamental to Urbanism, but others think safety is just a tangential issue. What does it say when Metro tells drivers security personnel are afraid to ride a bus except in pairs, and the union accepts that.

      1. Well, since this article is about Sound Transit’s fare enforcement, I’ll hijack your thread to get back on the topic of Sound Transit fare enforcement. Namely, it really does take two FEOs to check an entire LRV’s worth of passengers (pre-pandemic) between two typically-spaced stations. Not being able to check the whole traincar defeats the inspection process.

        Granted, the professional non-payers know to huddle in the middle and be ready to head for a door in either direction, or pull out their collection of paper transfers and feign ignorance for the umteenth time. But the FEOs get to them (even pre-pandemic) often enough that they have a good chance of being caught.

        OTOH, ST claiming its fare enforcement practices are non-discriminatory because the FEOs start at the far ends of the LRVs is one of the silliest bunkiest talking points I’ve ever heard from ST.

        As for fare enforcement on Metro buses, the stop spacing is much shorter. It really does take two FEOs to properly check a whole busload in the space of 2-5 blocks.

  15. Now wait just one Godforsaken minute. I’m not going to stand by and hear anyone cast aspersions on the courage of our Fare Enforcement Officers. Bad thing to wake up to.

    Like every hazardous job on Earth, policing at every level always requires a back-up. Would anybody like to board a jetliner that doesn’t have a co-pilot?

    Unless you’ve got at least one partner who’s constantly” got your back”, Open-Carry by the minute means your own sudden death. Only question, where and when. And as many innocent people as are in range of the gun that formerly belonged to you. Standing load at rush-hour, the blood will short out traction power.

    Face it, Daniel, vast majority of transit riders will cooperate on fares because they think it’s right. So some advice for you from a source I trust:

    “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

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yeah, I wonder what Nietzche’s views were on public subsidies for transit.

      “Nobody is more inferior than those who insist on being equal.”


      Again, Mark, I was only referring to your 2010 article, and the replies that noted bus drivers wanted safety officers, not fare enforcement officers, onboard so they were safe, but were told safety officers were afraid to work alone, unlike the drivers. Personally I thought that was ironic.

      Not every police officer works in pairs. For example, on Mercer Island police work alone in a car. I think that is the standard on the eastside. For fare enforcement I think the need for more than one officer was the volume of riders to check in the short period of time between stops, not their personal safety as they are often on different parts of the train.

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