Link light rail trains at Othello Station

Sound Transit reviewing fare enforcement program for improvements

Publish Date

Fares are an important source of revenue for operating our train and bus services across the region.

As we collect these revenues, including the necessity of fare enforcement, it’s vital that we go about it in a thoughtful and equitable fashion.

We are continuing to move forward with a comprehensive review of fare enforcement processes to find potential improvements.

The Sound Transit Board received an update on this work yesterday, and it was addressed through a well-reported Seattle Times story today.  

It is worth starting by addressing a basic question: why fare enforcement?

Sound Transit operates barrier-free Link light rail and Sounder services, meaning riders don’t pass through turnstiles or present tickets before entering our train cars.

Instead, Link and Sounder riders are required to have proof of payment before they board.

This “proof of payment” system used by us and many other transit systems depends on fare enforcement.

Yesterday’s staff presentation and the Times article touch on measures we already have in place to promote fairness and equity.

To avoid potential for profiling, fare enforcement offers are responsible for starting at the ends of the train and working inward, asking everyone for proof of payment.

Also, riders only get a ticket if they have already received a warning in the last 12 months.

Its become apparent that these measures are not enough.

Despite them, there are concerning disparities in outcomes.

In particular, yesterday’s presentation and today’s coverage call out the fact that black people are receiving a more tickets.

Other disparities include that people with no or very low incomes can’t afford to pay fares, but still have mobility needs.

We also know that the fare enforcement process is sometimes perceived as intimidating, especially to people with limited English skills and those experiencing homelessness, as well as visitors.

Earlier this year, Sound Transit put together an internal workgroup to take on the important task of making sure our fare enforcement approaches align with the agency’s values, including customer focus, integrity, inclusion and respect.

A particular focus is on ensuring equity and reducing impacts to riders who have limited incomes or may be experiencing homelessness.

Our efforts are focusing on gaining better understanding for the causes of these disparities, and what we can do about them.

This fall we’ll be surveying riders and members of the community to learn about people’s attitudes and experiences with fare enforcement, and the challenges they face in paying fare.

The results of this engagement will help us find possible ways to improve fare enforcement.

The fare enforcement workgroup will analyze this information and make recommendations to the Sound Transit Board of Directors for possible changes including, but not limited to:

•   Reducing fines.

•   Expanding options and incentives for resolving infractions, and making it easier to pay fines.

•   Changing training, requirements and practices for fare enforcement officers.

•   Expanding promotion of transit passes, including the ORCA Lift program that provides savings for low-income riders.

The fare enforcement workgroup will present their findings to the community and to the board in early 2020.


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