Updates to the ST Long Range Financial Plan (2017-2046) forecasts a near billion dollar decrease due to reduced fare revenue

When COVID hit in 2020, many transit agencies across the country paused fare collection for public health reasons. Even after fare collection resumed, much of it went unenforced, partly due to the socioeconomic complexities of the post-COVID world, and partly due to equity concerns raised after George Floyd’s murder. Since then, Sound Transit has implemented a Fare Ambassadors program, which is much more education-heavy than previous enforcement schemes.

However, some latent consequences of a non or low-enforcement policy continue to beleaguer transit systems. On the revenue front, diminished farebox recovery has led to revenue shortfalls, and on the rider experience front, an increased preponderance of safety and security issues has been linked to fare evaders.

Starting on November 14th, Sound Transit will once again begin enforcing fares on Link and Sounder, issuing citations for repeat offenses. The Seattle Times has the story ($):

The new system has many more steps. Now, riders receive two warnings. On the third time not paying, they will receive a $50 citation, followed by a $75 citation after the fourth. Only at the fifth time will passengers receive a civil infraction, which, if gone unpaid, could eventually result in a misdemeanor. King County is still in discussions with Sound Transit to process the infractions, said spokesperson Troy Brown, but a contract has not been signed yet.

It remains to be seen whether fare enforcement might propagate more broadly across other modes as well. Although Metro has not formally announced any changes to its fare enforcement policy, I’ve recently observed more operators begin to verbally request payment from fare evaders, a practice that was paused during the pandemic.

74 Replies to “Fare enforcement is back, somewhat”

  1. Good. This will improve cleanliness and safety of the system. And obviously improve revenues.

    I don’t understand why this is so difficult to get right in the US. Why are we even talking about multiple warnings before someone is cited? In European metro systems they will have 8-10 enforcement officials doing a check at once – they simply wait at the top of an escalator out of an underground stop and check everyone. No issues with race, disadvantaged populations, or other excuses that are often raised here in Seattle. Why can’t we take a page from Europe and implement these types of fair and equitable checks?

    In any event, a step on the right direction.

    1. Yep. This is very good news all around and will yield multiple benefits. Very glad to see it.

      And I’m with you, these systems work all over the world. It should work here too. It’s just not that hard.

    2. Sometimes people make legitimate mistakes, for example, forgetting to tap off and having the “tap on” on the return trip accidentally count as the “tap off” for the prior trip. Or, maybe you’re in a rush and missing the train while fumbling with the payment machine would have some catastrophic consequence later in the trip (e.g. missing an hourly bus on the other end). Or, maybe you have an Orca card with a pass on it, but accidentally left it and hope and don’t realize it until you’ve already walked 20 minutes to the station and don’t want to pay twice or spend an additional 40 minutes walking back and forth, just to retrieve the pass.

      Having a tolerance for a few grace violations avoids punishing people for situations like these. While, the real offenders are still likely to get punished, as the tend to do so again and again.

      1. @asdf2,

        There are multiple warnings and at least 2 non-citation fines before the scofflaw actually gets cited. Isn’t that more than enough to cover the occasional mistake?

        And running late is not a valid reason for violating the law. It certainly isn’t a valid reason for speeding. Why should it be a “valid” reason here?

        Also, if I make a “legitimate mistake and t-bone another car while driving, or run over a pedestrian in a cross walk, I’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Why a different standard here?

      2. Sorry but I’m not buying any of these excuses – they’re all instances where someone is riding without paying. These excuses certainly wouldn’t work in places where there are fare enforcement gates…. So why should we allow them in Seattle?

      3. @Ryan.

        I’m with you. The law is the law. It is not situational.

        Theft is theft. It is not situational either.

        And, if after all these warnings the offender still believes that they have a valid reason for forgiveness, then they can take personal responsibility and tell it to a judge.

        A judge does have a certain amount of discretion, the law does not.

        That is how the system works.

      4. Perhaps the difference in harm between not paying a $3 fare and committing manslaughter is the basis for the “different standard”? I’m all for enforcement but room for a touch of leniency seems reasonable when the stakes are this low.

      5. I don’t think some of you understand just how toothless this new system is. It’s never going to go as far as being fined or seeing a judge. All the non-payer has to do is not respond to the FEO’s, or give them a fake name.

      6. @Ryan and Sam… you mean to tell me in all your years of riding the bus or train that you NEVER forgot your bus pass at home or lost your transfer slip or were short $.50? Wow… you guys must be perfect.

      7. @ Apostrophii,

        “Perhaps the difference in harm….”

        The “difference in harm” shouldn’t affect the enforcement level, it should, affect the penalty for violating the law.

        With Link fare evasion you are given 2 warnings, 2 non-criminal fines, and then a misdemeanor citation with an educational option out.

        With manslaughter I don’t think 4 non-criminal steps and then an educational option out is appropriate. Honest. Not for manslaughter.

        And nobody should be allowed to commit theft just because the amount stolen is “small”. A dollar here, a dollar there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

      8. It happened to Erica C Barnett.


        This was under the old system before fines were suspended.

        I have had cases where I’ve forgotten to tap in our out, or I couldn’t remember whether I’d tapped in. It’s automatic and you’re thinking about something else, or you can’r remember whether the experience of looking at the screen was today or another day. Sometimes I go back up to the mezzanine to tap in again.

        Not tapping out is not an infraction, and can gain ST extra revenue. When the ORCA reader isn’t in line of sight coming out of Beacon Hill station or Kent Sounder station, I can forget about tapping, and by the time I remember I’m already on the next bus and am not going to turn around for that.

      9. I’ve read research that says that in order to be an effective deterrent, laws need to be consistently enforced and commensurate with the crime. So every time someone doesn’t pay they get something like a $20 ticket. Every time.

        The only way you could do this is with gates, facial recognition or a huge amount of transit cops.

        Of course, the same rules apply for speeders. And that would be much, much easier to enforce with cameras. All we lack is the political will.

      10. @Jordan,

        I’ve forgotten my bus pass/fare on occasion in the many years I’ve ridden the bus/transit. When I realized I didn’t have my fare, I went back to my home and got it. What I didn’t do was get on the bus/train knowing I couldn’t pay. If I was late to an appointment or job or school because of that, I understood it was my own fault for not having my fare. It wasn’t society’s fault. Or capitalism’s fault. Or anyone else. It was mine.

        I’ve also gone to the grocery store and realized when I got there I didn’t have my wallet. I left the store, went home, and got my money. What I didn’t do was shoplift.

      11. “I’ve also gone to the grocery store and realized when I got there I didn’t have my wallet. I left the store, went home, and got my money. What I didn’t do was shoplift.”

        I’ve had to leave a store too a couple of times and go back for my wallet. But, that’s a completely different situation. Shoplifting is stealing merchandise from the store, directly causing them to lose money. If you already have a transit pass, good for unlimited rides and simply forgot it, riding without paying is not actually costing the agency and money. They’ve been paid for the ride, regardless, when you (or your employer) bought the pass. That’s not to say you should do this frequently, as doing so undermines the ability to enforce fares, which, in turn, impacts whether others will pay, but, if it happens only once in a great while, I don’t have a moral problem with just riding when you forget.

        There is another element at play here, which is frequency of service. Link runs every 10 minutes, so if the walk back is short, going back doesn’t add that much time (assuming you don’t have a bus on the other end to catch that’s less frequent). But, when you’ve walk to a service that runs less often, walking back to retrieve or Orca card can cause a real hardship. In an extreme case, if I were waiting in North Bend for the 208 and, didn’t realize that I left my Orca card at home, I would not go back for it and wait two hours for the next bus. I’d pay cash if I had it and if I didn’t had it (or, if all I had was high-demonination bills, like 20’s), I would explain to the driver that I forgot my Orca card and that I’d miss the bus going back to retrieve it, and ask if it’s ok if I get on anyway. Of course, if I made a habit out of this, the bus driver would be right to call B.S., but I would not do that.

        One time in San Francisco, I did, in fact, come extremely close to riding CalTrain without paying. The BART train was late in getting me to the CalTrain station, and I was frantically trying to buy a ticket from the machine right as the train was approaching. As it turned out, the machine did, in fact, print me a ticket in time, and did ride the train as a legitimate fare-paying passenger. But, if push came to shove, and the machine took just a few seconds longer than it did, I would have bolted, ran for the train, and taken my chances, figuring that the likelihood of getting caught, multiplied by the fine for a first-time offender would probably be less than chasing after the missed train in an Uber. It’s amazing how poor frequency of service can make scofflaws out of anyone.

      12. Lazarus: Sadly, you may well not be prosecuted for hitting someone with a car when you’re in a hurry. It may well be written off as an “unfortunate accident,” and the victim may even be themselves blamed!

        Obviously, the number of people injured or killed directly due to fare evasion since the pandemic has been essentially, if not exactly, zero.

        To be clear though, I do want to see better fare enforcement!

    3. Some years ago when I was in Amsterdam I saw fare enforcement on their trams.

      There were about 8 agents waiting between stops and they stopped the tram and got on and checked everyone. There was no way anyone could get off as the doors were closed after the agents got on and the tram didn’t move until the agents told the operator to do so.

      I don’t know what the penalty was for not paying and I don’t know if they still do this as they have put conductors back on many of the trams.

      1. Fine is about €65 and there’s no mercy or excuses. Forgot your pass that day? Better buy a ticket or you risk a fine. Forgot to check in with your transit card? Same thing.

        The liberal democracies of Northern Europe do just fine by checking fares and issuing fines. Not sure why it’s such a controversial topic in some circles around here.

      2. @Ryan,

        It shouldn’t be controversial at all.

        I once left London late at night heading about 50 clicks to the SW by rail. The ticket office was closed. I couldn’t buy the ticket I needed.

        What was my option? Buy a “ticket to ride”. A Beatles term! It was explained to me by a local.

        Basically you can go to a vending machine and buy a “ticket to ride” for a small amount, like one pound. But you agree to pay the full fare (minus the cost of the ticket to ride) if you get fare checked.

        The system works great. I got fare checked, paid the difference, and made it back to where I was staying just fine.

        These systems work fine, if people follow the rules. I follow the rules.

      3. The liberal democracies of Northern Europe do just fine by checking fares and issuing fines. Not sure why it’s such a controversial topic in some circles around here.

        Much of the controversy stems from the historical nature of policing in the United States, and its racist roots which continue to this day. https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/origins-modern-day-policing.

        Sound Transit — wisely — has adjusted their policies to avoid being lumped into the same category.

    4. Correction: previous comment was for Ryan and *Lazarus. Sam, I agree with you the system is weak … but it’s a step in the right direction.

    5. “I don’t understand why this is so difficult to get right in the US.”

      Because we have a minimal social safety net and a car-dependent environment. Being refused transit in Europe means you can walk or bike home on safe trails and the distances are shorter. Being refused transit in the US means navigating a car-dependent landscape for longer distances and sleeping on sidewalks/tents where nobody wants you and you can freeze to death and have no restrooms. We refuse to pay for decent minimum housing or walkable neighborhoods or mental-health care, so we end up paying for the impacts of not having it, and equity advocates push for more band-aids as a stopgap. That band-aid is free fares or lack of enforcement.

    6. The new fare enforcement policy is a good one, and a model for automated traffic cameras. First there is a warning (or two) and then the fees keep going up. The old policy was poorly designed.

      Just to back up here. We aren’t talking about security. Security is completely separate from fare enforcement. The same people do much of the work, so it gets muddled together. But if you are smoking (anything) on the train then a security guard/fare enforcer/fare ambassador will ask you to leave. What they actually do if you are violent may vary, but it is the same idea. Whether you have paid your fare or not in those cases is irrelevant.

      Fare enforcement is designed to maximize revenue. Security aside, you want to strike a balance. Too few enforcers, and too many people avoid paying. Too many, and you are spending too much on the officials themselves. You want to reach a middle ground where the vast majority pay their fare, while ST keeps their budget for enforcers low.

      It is worth noting that fare evasion is very different than a lot of crime. With shoplifting, a high proportion of the damage is done by a tiny percentage of people. One shoplifter can do a lot of damage. Thus banning that thief from the store would help that shop immensely. In contrast, banning a fare evader from Link wouldn’t help ST at all. The whole goal is not to focus on the people evading the most, but try and get a higher percentage of people to pay.

      It is similar to preventing littering, or petty vandalism. Much of it has to do with group psychology. One of the key elements is to make it appear that bad behavior is rare. It is often considered socially unacceptable. Enforcement plays a role in that, but it doesn’t have to be heavy-handed.

  2. Perhaps not coincidentally I saw my first group of 3 fare ambassadors today boarding a NB train at U District.

    The status quo is a large chunk of otherwise “honest” people who don’t pay because they perceive everyone else is also not paying. At least 50% of riders don’t tap on/off on my regular commute and I doubt most of them have single ride tickets, phone or paper.

    This toxic idea that fares are morally wrong or “capitalist” or whatever needs to stop. Too many so-called “advocates” call for fare abolition because it gets them engagement and because it is easy. If they want a good cause, may I suggest focusing on the embarrassing elevator reliability or unnecessarily disruptive construction (looking at you, platform tile replacement project).

    1. I saw a sign a few days ago at SODO station saying fare enforcement will start November 15th.

    2. The status quo is a large chunk of otherwise “honest” people who don’t pay because they perceive everyone else is also not paying.

      That goes back to my previous comment. The key here is to change the group psychology. You don’t need to be heavy-handed to do this. A rider shouldn’t think “Hell, I better pay, otherwise I’ll get a big fine”. A black riders shouldn’t think “I once got busted for smoking weed, which means I have a record. I’m big, young and have tattoos. Without proof-of-payment, they will rough me up.”. Riders should think “Everyone is paying, I’ll pay too.”.

  3. I’ve noticed a definite uptick in fare checking. My fare was checked each of the last three times I rode Link. Of course, I had tapped my Orca card and was riding legally..

  4. I’m befuddled about how fare revenue and ridership can decrease from Spring 2023. The chart doesn’t make it clear if the reduction is from spring 2023 actual or the fall 2023 budget developed in spring 2023 — but it looks at first glance that it is actuals.

    It is concerning to me that it’s not clear how much of the cause is due to these factors:

    – generally growing loss of interest in riding ST Link and Sounder (which could be many different factors)
    – increasing fare evasion
    – temporary maintenance service reductions since the spring
    – worsening allocation of service overall (although both Link and Sounder don’t seem to have much difference since the spring)

    It looks on the surface like Link and Sounder are both losing ground in fare collection just in 2023. It appears to be over 10 percent.

    I realize that the objective of the post is reducing fare evasion but these data may be indicating a more serious structural problem.

    1. It’s probably the first three. I don’t know what the fourth means. There’s definite ridership loss, and several maintenance reductions that drove away passengers for the duration or longer, and there’s been anecdotal information that fare payment has gone down.

    2. Fare evasion rates are ridership are very simple numbers, and should be presented separately. At that point it would be simple math to determine revenue. You are right — the data presented in that table is confusing, and largely useless.

  5. ST is smartly easing back into fare enforcement, and any pace will be too slow for some, and excessive for others. I assume we’ll eventually see a reduction in the number of warnings given. I think a “warning” is appropriate given our lack of fare gates, and if someone says they can’t afford to pay, or couldn’t figure out how to pay, then the fare ambassadors can help guide those folks towards low-income fare programs or help explain how to get a ticket or ORCA card.

    Other interesting points:

    Sound Transit may eventually take a photograph of people who do not provide ID, which would “be retained by Sound Transit for the purpose of tracking warnings,” but that step is not being implemented for now, said Cunningham.

    Seems like they’re trying to figure out a effective (and legal) way of tracking folks who refuse to provide their real name.

    Inspection rates over the last six months have been just 1.16% — a small fraction of Sound Transit’s 10% goal. Of that small number who interacted with a fare ambassador, 87% had paid their fare. Staff cautioned, however, that the overall number of riders who’ve paid is likely closer to 55%. Many of those who didn’t pay did so because they didn’t have to, including anyone under 18. Still, the goal is to bring the number up to 75%.

    I’m having trouble finding recent Link ridership demographics info, as ST’s service plans have demographics based on survey data that skewed heavily towards ST Express riders, with basically no kids surveyed. However, I am curious where the 75% fare payment rate number is conjured from. I have to assume it’s simply an intermediate goal, unless they are assuming 20+% of the riders will be kids.

    Staff recently told board members they’re revising down the amount they expect to collect in fares through 2046 by $931 million.

    Seems like a lot of money to lose to avoid installing fare gates.

    1. I agree about being a lot of money on the line to not install fare gates.

      The Boston Green Line is light rail with a mix of subway and surface stations like Link. From what I’ve read, there is only fare control in the subway section with tap on for the surface stations. I haven’t been able to find any statistics on how effective fare collection is, but there are numerous news articles about fare evasion remaining an issue.

      I understand that fare gates are less effective in surface stations, but they would still have value. I would guess there are a lot of people that walk past today’s card readers that wouldn’t jump gates or walk on the tracks.

      I expect that the majority of Link stations in the system could be fully accessed controlled. If riders need to tap in and tap out, that opens the potential for required payment on exit if the station is accessed controlled and the rider didn’t pay on entry.

      1. In Boston, the Green Line has an operator in both cars, boarding is through the front door only, and the operator collects / enforces the fare.

    2. St Louis is now installing fare gates at all 38 stations for $52M. They were like Link. Link will have 39 stations by 2027, right? $100M seems like a good budget for it. How many days of even just half of the lost fare reduction would it take to recover the cost and operation?


    3. “I think a “warning” is appropriate given our lack of fare gates”

      And ORCA readers not being in the line of sight. They may be positioned for the escalator but not the elevator, or be on the side or behind you. You can fix this with either turnstyles or a fake doorway (just a narrow frame with the reader prominently visible).

      1. The situation at the SeaTac airport is absurd. There’s a big, wide entrance with multiple blockades to prevent theft of luggage carts, but the ORCA readers are only to the extreme left or right, and none at the escalators like all the other stations.

  6. What’s the BRT line in the chart? Stride 1/2/3 won’t start for several years. So that line should be zero.

    1. It’s noting the change from the projected revenue in this past
      Spring’s 30-year financial plan to the updated Fall version.

      1. Revenue? There is no BRT, so how can there be BRT revenue? Is this counting non-fare tax money? If so, why, when the columns are headed “Fare” and “Ridership”, and the chart is meant to show how both have dropped. But BRT is zero and unchanged.

      2. The fare revenue estimate is the long-range total between now and 2046; the chart is showing the change from earlier estimates.

      3. That goes back to Al’s point up above. The chart is very confusing. Exactly how much revenue is lost to fare evasion? No idea. Seriously, I have absolutely no idea.

        They may be lumping in loss in revenue due to free youth fare, which only makes sense to an accountant. As Mike pointed out, the state is paying for that. Furthermore, youth fare evasion is essentially 0% right now.

        The cost evasion is not always the same. Someone with a low income or senior pass costs the agency very little.

        You’ve also got people with passes that allow unlimited service on Link. Technically*, they are supposed to tap on and off, but ultimately, they aren’t really evading. You also have people who are overpaying (they forget to tap-off). In some cases, they are essentially donating money to ST. In other cases, they are shifting public revenue from the local bus company (Metro, Pierce or Community Transit) to ST (the opposite of if they fail to tap on). It would require some work to actually estimate how much the agency is losing due to fare evasion, but it is quite possible it is a fairly small number.

        * The need to tap on with an “unlimited” ORCA card comes from how the agencies share revenue. One approach is to do a study, and then base it on the estimates. Instead, they require people pay to board the train, even if they have a pass that allows them unlimited rides. ST then uses that information to calculate how much of the trip was on Link, and how much on the local buses. For example, someone could take the bus to Northgate, ride it two stops (to the U-District). If they fail to tap on, then ST gets nothing. If they fail to tap off, the trip is assumed to be the maximum (Angle Lake) which means ST gets a higher percentage of the pass money than they should.

      4. “You’ve also got people with passes that allow unlimited service on Link. Technically*, they are supposed to tap on and off …”

        I don’t believe that is accurate. Local municipal workers, for example, who are given free, unlimited ORCA passes as a job perk, are not supposed to tap off. Saying they are supposed to tap off implies they are told or informed they have to tap off, which they aren’t.

  7. Another nice Sherwin piece. Thanks.

    Times Lindblom middle paragraphs:
    “Previously, passengers would receive a $124 civil infraction, filed in King County District Court, for not paying the fare after one warning. That approach raised concerns about disproportionality — Black riders were more likely to receive an infraction — as well as the ripple effects of wrapping people up in the court system over the relatively small offense. The new system has many more steps. Now, riders receive two warnings. On the third time not paying, they will receive a $50 citation, followed by a $75 citation after the fourth. Only at the fifth time will passengers receive a civil infraction, which, if gone unpaid, could eventually result in a misdemeanor. King County is still in discussions with Sound Transit to process the infractions, said spokesperson Troy Brown, but a contract has not been signed yet.”

    The ST board has difficulties with their fractions. Citations for fare evasion should be proportional to those attempting evade without valid POP. If more poor and Black riders were caught it was because more were attempting to evade fare. That should not be considered disparate but proportional. It is also the case that more poor and minority households have transit riders on Link and RR and correctly paying their fares and benefiting from faster service than otherwise. I expect faster fare collection was the largest cause for RR being faster than regular routes. If we do not have POP fare collection, we have slower service and less farebox revenue; those lead to slower less attractive service and less service. Those are bad outcomes. We may be better off not sending fare evaders into the judicial system at all. Fare inspectors could just ask evaders to alight; that in itself will be a major impact. I expect it is difficult to keep track of frequent evaders with limited means and identification. I expect there is a very strong positive correlation between fare evaders and bad actors on transit. Regular riders and operators would be much better off if the bad actors were not on transit. The agencies are helping many low income households get discounted fare. The state has paid for youth to ride free.

    I got to visit Paris in 1994 and 1998; the RATP use POP fare collection before smart cards. They thought service speed and security was worthwhile and spent funds on inspection. It is very common in Europe. SF Muni uses it.

    1. “as well as the ripple effects of wrapping people up in the court system over the relatively small offense.”

      And the fact that the court hearings were in Shoreline or Burien, which don’t have the best transit access, and had less at the time. It’s like when I got a jury summons for Kent. I asked for an exemption, saying it would take over an hour to get there on the bus, whereas I’d be happy to serve downtown (and have done so twice). Erica’s article linked in the comments talks about how she couldn’t take off all day to go to Shoreline to contest the ticket, so she just paid it even though she didn’t think it was fair.

      1. I suspect the district courts no longer send them all the the Shoreline District court. That court is served by Route 346. In Lynnwood Link P3, it has no proximate service, as Route 346 would be deleted.

    2. Fare inspectors could just ask evaders to alight; that in itself will be a major impact.

      Exactly. Remember, the key here is to increase the number of people who pay their fare. To the vast majority of riders, being kicked off the train is a huge inconvenience, especially if you are escorted out of the station (since many of our stations are deep). The approach is pretty simple, really. Just walk them to the surface and help them pay. If they have no interest, then don’t worry about it.

      It is quite possible that the very small percentage of people who will do this repeatedly would never pay anyway. The fact that they are free-loading doesn’t cost the agency at all. For years there were people who would reuse Metro transfers from previous days. There was even something on the internet where you could find out what transfer to use. But Metro didn’t freak out about it, since only a handful would bother doing that.

    3. I expect there is a very strong positive correlation between fare evaders and bad actors on transit.

      I doubt it. My guess is the vast majority of fare evaders don’t cause a problem. Before the pandemic, the fare evasion rate was 2.4%. If 2.4% of the people on Link are bad actors, it would be a huge problem. My guess is the vast majority of people who evade fares are not causing problems (especially since the pandemic, when fare evasion shot up). It is also quite possible that a lot of people are paying their fare, and then causing problems. Those who pay full fare may very well be intoxicated (and thus more likely to commit a crime). If you can afford to get wasted, you can afford to pay the fare. A low-income ORCA card is pretty cheap, and it means you can ride Link all day for a dollar. Youth fares are free (and we know that there is a relationship between youth and crime*).

      Furthermore, fare enforcement would only help in this respect if the fare enforcer was lucky enough to catch the bad actor before actually acting bad, but after they failed to pay. Chances are, the bad actor is more likely to be caught for doing the actual crime.

      * A high proportion of crime is committed by young people. Young people are also victims of crime by a very high rate. https://pinkerton.com/our-insights/blog/age-crime-curve. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/apvsvc.pdf

      1. I would expect anyone with the wherewithal to get and use an ORCA card would be smart enough to realize the card data could be used to track them down if they commit a crime while on board. That would be one reason for the agency to avoid cash-based payment methods. But a lot of data would need to be collected to see if such a draconian change has a major impact on crime, if any at all. And, oh yeah, nonpayment would probably increase.

        It seems more likely that there is a link between mental illness and violent outbursts. We can’t ban categories of riders, nor expect fare ambassadors to act as police officers. But society could do a better job grasping the causes of mental illness, and trying for prevention or better treatment. This is totally orthogonal to fare enforcement, of course.

  8. The signs say November 15th, but I’ve noticed many more people tapping on and off already, on November 1. I suspect a lot of people with passes were just lazy and figured they weren’t checking anyway.

    1. There are many riders with employer-provided unlimited ORCA cards. For example, if one works for the county, city, ST, or the Port, I believe most everyone in every department is provided one as a free perk. I believe it’s a part of their county I.D. card. It doesn’t need to be reloaded or auto-loaded every month. And I don’t believe employees are told to, or expected to, tap-off.

  9. I’m perfectly fine with a lax but existing fare enforcement system… When I lived in Seattle, I missed tapping my card quite a few times, but luckily that never lined up with any of the times there was an agent on the light rail checking people.

    It was clear to me then that the existance of the tap station areas instead of a traditional gate was to signal “psst it’s OK to jump the nonexistant turnstile sometimes,” and if they ever get serious about enforcement they’ll probably just install actual barriers.

  10. Back before covid, fare evansion had been 3% for years. ST said installing turnstyles would cost more than that. So the question is, how much would barriers cost, and how does that compare to the amount ST could gain?

    The image in the article is confusing in several ways. Is the loss really 55%? Did ST subtract out under-18s who now don’t have to pay and ST receives a state grant for?

    Even if ST confronts every single person over 18 who didn’t tap, it would gain far less than the nominal amount of the trip. People who don’t have money, have no money to pay. People in a discount category like ORCA LIFT or RRFP pay a flat $1. People with a monthly pass don’t pay any more.

    The revenue from passes is a percent of the monthly rate, depending on what percent of your trips are on ST and the relative fares. So if you tap once on Link and nowhere else in a month, the full pass amount goes to ST. If you ride Metro 50 times and Link 50 times at the same fare level ($2.75 for all of Metro or Westlake-Rainier Beach), and you tap all the Metro times and all but three of the Link times, then ST would get almost the same as if you tapped every time. At the same time, the person doesn’t have an incentive to not tap to save money, because they’ve already paid for the month.

    People with Link tickets or the Transit Go app don’t tap. An inspector would see they paid, but somebody watching them walk past the ORCA reader couldn’t tell.

    How much extra is ST getting when people forget to tap out?

  11. ST email announcement: “Sound Transit ticket vending machines and ORCA readers at Columbia City Station are out of service at this time. Work is currently underway to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Passengers needing to purchase tickets can do so digitally by downloading the Transit Go app.”

    Some people don’t have smartphones. Others don’t want to be forced into suddenly installing an app and entering personal information under duress. If a fare inspector confronts somebody, they can hold up this announcement. Usually you can’t prove your ORCA reader wasn’t working so it’s unclear whether it really was or wasn’t. But in this case ST acknowledged it knows that all the readers and TVMs at these stations are broken. And people with monthly passes have already paid, so you’re expecting them to pay again?

  12. From my time in Italy, enforcement of fares was serious and there wasn’t any leeway despite rarely if ever seeing much enforcement (trains was the sole exception as it was common), but I know they exist as other people mentioned having their fares checked on transit.

    It’s basically you knew the rules before entering the bus, tram, or metro and it is solely on you to pay the fare either at a TVM or purchasing at a tobaccoist, via sms, or TABNET (Italy’s version of Token Transit) before boarding and then to ka chunk your ticket with the validation machine on the bus or at the train station to get a printed time.

    For context this is the fine list for the regional agency where I lived in Italy, Tuscany.


    Basically €40-60 fine plus double the cost of a single ticket. The cost of fine will go up the longer you don’t pay, up to €240-360 after the 60 day mark.

    I will say one change that would help ST is to be more consistent in placement of validators in relation to station design because they’re sometimes very random in terms of placement instead of logical enter/exit points. Alongside putting down and above fare validatiors signage that makes it clear as day that you are entering a paid fare zone. Put down yellow flooring that basically says “you are entering a paid fare zone”.

  13. Hopefully, the day will arrive when you can just tap your credit card or Google/Apple pay enabled phone on card reader, as if it were an Orca card.

    I’m sure a good chunk of fare evasion instances are about avoiding a cumbersome and time consuming payment process, not the financial impact of the payment itself. The easier it is for even infrequent users to pay, the less common fare evasion will be.

    1. That day apparently is coming we just don’t know when yet. You’ll be able to load your card on your phone and that’s your orca card.

    2. How will debit cards work with a tap-on/tap-off system?

      Will the system find that the debit card was tapped at two different stations, and issue an appropriate refund?

      1. My understanding is that most transit systems that take debit cards issue a “hold” for the maximum fare, then charge at the end of the day whatever the total fare ended up being.

    3. Then part of the fare will go to out-of-state credit-card companies and payment processors instead of Sound Transit. Credit-card companies charge 50c minimum even on small transactions.

  14. I hope that, this time, ST will keep data on false positives, to determine if some tweaks could reduce them (e.g. the introduction of the double-beep for tap-offs a few years ago).

    I don’t expect the system to be perfect, but I also have low tolerance for intellectual laziness on the part of ST (e.g. the past claims that always starting in the middle removed any chance of racial bias).

  15. Hanging out in LA for awhile. I just went into a Metro B/D line station on my morning hunt for bacon. They have fare gates!

    What a fricking joke. Nobody pays. People have somehow disabled the motion sensors with cheap little stickers from their fast food wrappers and the bypass gates just stay open. People don’t even bother to jump over the turnstiles. They just walk around.

    This is what people on this blog don’t understand. Fare gates don’t solve fare evasion. They just change its character.

    I even tested it. Made it past all the security and the fare gates and made it onto the platform. Not an issue. Security even said hi to me while I did it.

    Of course I didn’t ride, because that would be stealing. So I just hung out for awhile and then left.

    Fare gates are not a solution to fare evasion. Just like more guns are not a solution to gun violence.

    ST has it right. Check the fares and enforce at least a bit of social order. Good for ST.

    Oh. And all the elevators are out. Worse than ST!

    1. Yeah, I saw plenty of fare evasion in New York and Philadelphia when I lived there. Saw it a few times in Tokyo even. All three cities have fare gates. You need enforcement, with or without gates.

      1. @ Christopher Cramer,

        I have in-laws who live in Queens. They have fare gates. Nobody pays. They actually laugh at you if you do. They think you must be stupid for paying and they look down on you.

        ST’s system is just fine.

    2. Tokyo had a transit cop next to all major gates, and a human at almost all train stops. As far as I could tell, they were there to look stern and answer asinine questions from gaijin.

    3. “Of course I didn’t ride, because that would be stealing.”

      Oh, right. The train would have run anyway and the seat would have been empty. So what are you stealing? Air space?

      I pay because I want the agency to have money to provide more service. But saying fare evasion is theft is like when record companies say copying a song is “theft” or “piracy”. But the record company still has the song.

    4. There are “fare gates”, and there are turnstiles. Real turnstiles with floor to ceiling spokes. Just because they’re ugly doesn’t mean they’re useless.

    5. LA Metro subway stations and vehicles are in desperate need and better maintenance these days. It’s a harbinger of what happens if you don’t keep a system in a good state of repair and cleanliness. Spectacular architecture can still look terrible if things aren’t maintained.

  16. About time. Our local transit agencies have decided that the fare thieves were better than honest riders for far too long. However, it needs to be tougher, enforced by police officers and put into effect now.

  17. This place will never be Europe. Freeattle is a broken welfare state where it’s considered racist to ask everyone to pay for transit. I agree that failing to pay is theft but this place has bigger fish to fry.

  18. Free buses, free link. So glad the city is supporting transportation for all and saving the environment. It would be even better if they could support more urban forests/ gardens and clean water and safe spaces for all, peace out and let’s get back to decent social equality and earth saving city plans. No more fares!!!!

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