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.