Sound Transit presents initial fare enforcement report

Proof of payment sticker at a train station
Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Link’s 2009 opening inaugurated the proof-of-payment system and introduced the Puget Sound to the concept of the Fare Enforcement Officer.  Over the last decade, as POP and FEOs have expanded to RapidRide and Link’s ridership has exploded, FEOs have come under much scrutiny. Following King County Metro’s 2018 examination of fare policy, Sound Transit has spent much of 2019 doing its own investigation.

Last week, Sound Transit staff presented a preliminary report on fare enforcement to the board’s executive committee.  Over the past year, the staff have been collecting feedback using three methods: a self-selected online survey, a series of rider surveys, and focus groups designed to seek out underrepresented communities.  The committee seemed receptive to major changes, and seemingly no one wanted to defend the current system of one warning then $124 fine.  (At least you don’t have to go to Shoreline any more to pay it.)

The report showed, unsurprisingly, those most likely to be unable to provide proof of payment tended to have incomes below $50,000/year. More surprisingly, the vast majority of those surveyed – even those who didn’t have a fare – said the FEOs were “professional” and “approached every rider near me.”  This contrasts with some of the community focus group findings, where “participants perceived fare enforcement as being racially biased and targeting youth.”

The main reasons for not paying fares, across income groups, however, have more to do with the complexities of the ORCA system than malicious intent.

Data from the rider survey

There are several features of the current system that make it customer-hostile: the 24 hour delay before fares are loaded on your card, the lack of a customer service office in Westlake, the lack of ticket machines in general. These and many more are detailed in the report, along with some sensible reforms like re-prioritizing FEOs to focus on customer service or not doing enforcement on the first day of school. `

The committee wanted more data and more understanding of the current fines: how many are collected, how much money is spent in the court system, and more. As always, though, there’s a tradeoff between moving quickly and being thorough. We’ll see how quickly the agency moves to make changes.

The entire report is available online; the 4-page executive summary is a concise overview of the methods and findings if you’re interested in learning more. If you have feedback for the agency, they will be hosting a public meeting, sponsored by Transit Riders Union and others, at El Centro in Beacon Hill next Wednesday February 19th.

The Tunnel is Now a Fare-Paid Zone

With buses leaving the tunnel Saturday, there is no particular reason to be on the platform without a paid fare. Therefore, Sound Transit will consider the platform a fare-paid zone beginning Saturday.

“ORCA readers will be removed later, during the rollout of Next Gen ORCA,” said ST’S Kimberly Reason.

As trains get ever more crowded, the platform will become the most practical place to enforce fares at certain times of day.

How transit agencies are reforming fare enforcement (Part 3 of 3)

This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Two

After the release of the King County Auditor’s report, Metro revised its fare enforcement policies over the summer. Elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, have asked Sound Transit to consider similar changes.

Metro’s new policy, which was developed in consultation with social justice and transit groups including the Transit Riders’ Union, Puget Sound Sage, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica, makes significant changes to the penalties of fare enforcement infractions, according to a King County press release:

Under the new program, infractions for second violations initially would be set at $50 or lower.  Fines paid within 30 days could be further reduced by half.

Customers could resolve fare infractions through non-monetary options, such as:

  • Performing community service at a nonprofit organization
  • If eligible, enrolling into the ORCA LIFT reduced-fare program

Individuals who do not resolve their infraction within 90 days and are ticketed again for riding without valid proof of payment would be suspended from Metro service for 30 days.

Jessica Ramirez of Puget Sound Sage gives the county credit for its proactive approach with fare enforcement. Ramirez and other people involved in the discussions say that county officials took social justice issues seriously while drafting the new policy.

“They have done such an amazing job at adapting the language and policy that we’ve championed,” Ramirez says. Continue reading “How transit agencies are reforming fare enforcement (Part 3 of 3)”

Fare enforcement brings policing onto transit (Part 2 of 3)

A King County Sheriff transit vehicle. Credit: Joe Kunzler.

This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Three

Fare enforcement is a step removed from policing, and so it can brush against the twin controversies of American policing: racial bias and use of force.

In one 2017 incident, rider Devin Glaser saw fare enforcement officers detain two boys of color, whom he estimated to be about 10 years old. Glaser suspected racial bias was the reason for the stop, and the inappropriate behavior of the officers.

Glaser reported the incident to Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson and King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who both sit on the Sound Transit Board. The board members asked Sound Transit staff to review the incident.

Rhonda Carter, Sound Transit’s chief of staff, summarized the security camera footage of the incident in a letter to Upthegrove and Johnson. Carter concluded that the officers acted wrongly:

Continue reading “Fare enforcement brings policing onto transit (Part 2 of 3)”

How fare enforcement stops can compound poverty and homelessness

Fare enforcers boarding a RapidRide bus in Downtown Seattle (photo by Bruce Englehardt)

This post is part one of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part Two, Part Three

Patrick Burke got on a RapidRide E bus at Third and Pike one evening with a transfer in his backpack. At least, he thought it was in his backpack, until he tried to get it out for a fare enforcement check. Usually, Burke puts his transfers in the same pocket in his bag. This time, it wasn’t in the usual place.

Burke had seen the fare enforcement officers (FEOs) get on at the next stop, and started digging around in his other pockets for the slip of paper when they started checking passengers for proof of payment. When one of the officers got to Burke, he still hadn’t found it. Burke was still searching for the ticket when the other officer completed his check of the rest of the bus. The second officer approached Burke and his partner.

“He comes to the back [of the bus] and gets this immediate attitude,” Burke says. “Saying I was wasting their time, and that I was playing games with them. And I said, ‘No, sir, I was just looking for my transfer.’ I even pointed at the pocket. ‘I typically have it in this pocket but I just got back from a very document-heavy meeting, and I just misplaced it. I’m looking for it.’”

The rest of the passengers got off the bus at the next stop, leaving Burke alone with the fare enforcement officers and driver. Burke still hadn’t found the transfer a few stops later.

“They were starting to get puffy chest, and I didn’t understand what was going on. They started to say that, if I didn’t start cooperating with them, that they would have to call the sheriff.” Continue reading “How fare enforcement stops can compound poverty and homelessness”

The Shoreline Rule

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 7.28.28 PM

Last Wednesday, I gave up.

I paid a $124 fine for a ticket I did not believe I deserved, a ticket from a Sound Transit fare enforcement officer who at first told me I would only receive a warning, after fully intending to challenge the ticket in court.

What changed my mind? In the end, I just couldn’t stomach the Shoreline Rule, which says that, in order to challenge a ticket from Sound Transit or King County Metro, no matter where that ticket was issued, you have to travel all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. If you live in Shoreline or far north Seattle, bully for you. If you have a car, more power. But if you’re transit-dependent like I am, and live in any other part of the county (I’m in Southeast Seattle, which is hardly the hinterlands), your only option is to get a ride from a friend (good luck doing that on a weekday at 10am), or take the bus.

Don’t blame the county or Sound Transit. Both agencies told me they have nothing to do with the Shoreline Rule. Blame, instead, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker, who signs the General Administration Orders (most recently in March of this year) directing where various case types are adjudicated, and whether the court can hear challenges in more than one location.

“State law says the county district court handles our fare enforcement,” says ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “We don’t have the ability to tell them what to do. It’s their decision.” King County’s Rochelle Ogershok confirms the same is true at King County.

Continue reading “The Shoreline Rule”