This year, we made some pretty big changes to our fare practices.
If you’ve taken a trip on Link or Sounder lately, you may have noticed one of them: our new team of Fare Ambassadors.
In response to community feedback, our Board decided to replace fare enforcement officers with ambassadors who will conduct fare inspections, provide education and focus on warnings to reduce fare evasion as part of a pilot project.
The Fare Ambassadors are pretty easy to recognize, wearing bright yellow caps and carrying yellow messenger bags, and they use hand-held devices to check fares.
We hired this new team in Summer 2021, and their onboarding process included training in everything from implicit bias awareness and anti-bias methods to de-escalation, assisting people in distress, disabilities sensitivity, CPR, mental health first aid and more.
Their focus is on passenger education and customer service rather than enforcement, with particular emphasis on how to purchase ORCA cards and passes and how income-eligible passengers can get ORCA LIFT cards and subsidized annual passes.
It’s part of ongoing work to make our transit system more equitable and accessible.
In November, we updated our Board on how the program is going, including ongoing engagement efforts and passenger comments.
We’ll continue to engage with passengers and the community, including BIPOC-led organizations, to learn about their experiences with the program and gather feedback that will be used to refine it, and to develop long-term approaches to addressing non-payment.
We have a survey where you can describe your interactions with our fare ambassadors – make sure to ask them about it if you see them!
Fare paid zones
Another change passengers may have noticed at the three newest Link stations are the new fare paid zones, which are indicated with bright yellow signage.
We’ll be implementing this signage throughout the Link system, including in the downtown Seattle stations in 2022 and at the East Link stations when they open in 2023.
Just make sure to pay your fare (whether by tapping your ORCA card, purchasing a ticket, or activating your ticket on the Transit Go app) before you cross into the zone.
More on the fare engagement pilot
Last year, Sound Transit stopped issuing citations for non-payment of fares, and this suspension will continue throughout the pilot project.
When Fare Ambassadors encounter a rider without valid fare, they ask a series of questions which riders can decline to answer and the Fare Ambassadors will move on.
The questions include name, date of birth, gender, ethnicity and zip code.
They are asking for this information to help us get a better picture of what communities we are interacting with, and how we can better inform people who have barriers to paying about free and reduced ORCA cards or other fare discounts available to those who qualify.
Again, if the individuals do not want to provide this information the Fare Ambassadors move on.
As part of our new vision for fares, we developed a Fare Compliance Action Plan that includes:
- Expanding communications and public education about how to access and use ORCA cards.
- Developing a youth-focused fare engagement program.
- Allowing riders to complete their trips even if they received a warning or citation.
- Defining parameters to suspend citations and warnings during extreme weather.
- Exploring options for resolving citations outside the court system.
The Board is expected to adopt the final fare policy and permanent program changes in 2022.