King County Executive Dow Constantine proposes a new Metro fare enforcement program that reduces fines and offers alternatives for riders ticketed for not having a valid proof of payment.
In legislation transmitted to the King County Council, Executive Constantine removes civil infractions for fare violations from King County District Court and sets up an alternative resolution process within Metro that offers reduced penalties and non-monetary options for resolving fare violations.
Last April, a report by the King County Auditor’s Office and an internal Metro review found that fare enforcement may disproportionately impact people with low incomes or who are experiencing homelessness. The goal of the legislation is to minimize the chances of someone entering a cycle of debt and court interactions over a fare evasion ticket.
“Fares are an essential part of funding our regional transit system, but we know some riders have trouble paying,” said Executive Constantine. “We've created reduced and even free transit fare programs, but some people still skip the formalities and end up accruing infractions, which can lead to legal headaches that impact housing and employment. We want to find a better way that funds vital public transit service while best supporting our most vulnerable riders.”
Metro is required by King County policy to recover nearly a third of its operating costs from fare revenue. On Metro’s RapidRide bus service, customers often pay before they board, so fare enforcement officers board to check for a valid proof of payment. Fare enforcement officers typically issue a warning for the first offense, followed by a civil infraction for $124 for the second violation.
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.
Metro met with advocacy groups, fare enforcement officers, and others to develop fare enforcement options that address the auditor’s concerns. That work will continue as Metro seeks to strike the right balance between collecting fares and promoting safety and equity.
Metro plans to conduct surveys later this year to better understand why some transit riders do not have valid proof of payment and the barriers they face to affording transit fare.
Fares are an essential part of funding our regional transit system, but we know some riders have trouble paying. We've created reduced and even free transit fare programs, but some people still skip the formalities and end up accruing infractions, which can lead to legal headaches that impact housing and employment. We want to find a better way that funds vital public transit service while best supporting our most vulnerable riders.
Mobility is a human right. We appreciate Metro’s willingness to work with the community to move beyond a fare enforcement system that punishes low-income people, homeless people, and people of color. For so many transit riders, public transit is not an option, it’s a lifeline. Not being able to pay a fare should never be an entry point to the criminal justice system, or lead to calls from a debt collector for a ticket you can’t afford to pay. We can do so much better, and this legislation opens the door for that work to happen.
Katie Wilson, general secretary, Transit Riders Union
King County should and can seize every opportunity to lead on equity and social justice in transit, as well as in housing, public health, human services, and criminal justice reform. Good public policy solves problems, and broadens access; punishing people who can’t pay the fare is not smart or good public policy. This legislation marks the willingness to work with community groups that represent King County residents for whom Metro is not working. We are pleased to work with Metro to make changes that will improve riders’ lives, make our public transit system more fair and accessible, and help ensure wise use of public resources.
The Executive’s action today is a meaningful first step in addressing equity issues related to fare enforcement. We need to ensure that all riders have the opportunity to take transit without fear of criminalization or harassment. As Metro and its partners work to improve the program, we’d like to see continued engagement with those most affected by fare enforcement, including people of color, people with limited English, and those with low or no income, as well as solutions to underlying issues that make it difficult to pay for a transit trip.
Metro’s goal should be to ensure that anyone can use public transportation to get to where they need to go. Punishing folks who can’t afford bus fare or who experience language barriers doesn’t fix the problem; it just exacerbates the conditions that marginalized communities are already struggling with. We can do better by pushing ourselves to think outside the box, flipping the paradigm from criminalizing vulnerable people toward supporting them. This simple shift could make a huge difference for so many people living on the edges of our communities. Metro’s proposal is a step in the right direction.
As we witness the expansion of RapidRide lines all over the county and now in southeast Seattle, we are concerned with what this will mean for poor and low income people. We know the report from the King County Auditor’s office shows that 25 to 30 percent of riders who received citations are/were experiencing housing instability. The 2018 King County homeless count showed an overwhelming percentage that 61 percent are people of color including 27 percent who are Black. We must reimagine a public transit system that decriminalizes the rider because of implicit bias, fare affordability, etc.
For more information, contact:
Alex Fryer, Executive Office, 206-477-7966