Sound Transit's Fare Engagement Pilot Project

In December 2020, the Sound Transit Board approved a new Fare Engagement Pilot Project to holistically reimagine how the agency handles fare compliance, with a goal of preventing the inequitable and compounding effects that often result from unpaid fines and contact with the court system.

Public feedback gathered through an extensive community engagement process throughout 2019 and 2020 helped Sound Transit shape the Fare Engagement Pilot Project, launching in the spring of 2021.

We expect the pilot to last at least eight months. During this time, Sound Transit's fare compliance operations will shift from contracted Fare Enforcement Officers to a new team of internal Sound Transit fare ambassadors, who will report to the agency’s Passenger Experience department. These ambassadors will conduct fare inspections and educate riders on how to use the system, including how to purchase ORCA cards and passes, and how income-eligible riders can obtain ORCA LIFT cards.

The project will also inform our ongoing work to evaluate and clarify long-term approaches for addressing non-payment. We know that riders with low or no income are far less likely to be able to pay citations, ending up in court and possibly becoming involved with collections agencies.

Passenger and stakeholder engagement will help us further refine pilot details throughout 2021, and then Sound Transit staff will propose Fare Enforcement Policy changes to the Board for consideration in early 2022. The Board's action anticipates policy updates to reflect the changes already underway, institute lower fines, and create a new citation resolution process without court adjudication.

Recent changes

Sound Transit has taken the following steps to date: 

  • Stopped referring fare violation tickets for prosecution. These tickets are now regarded as civil infractions. (Spring 2019)
  • Paused issuing warnings and citations while coronavirus transmission risk remains high. (Winter 2020)
  • Committed to increasing the number of warnings a rider gets. (TBD)
  • Stopped calling law enforcement for matters solely related to fare enforcement. (TBD) 
  • Expanded communications and outreach efforts to better inform riders on how to access fare programs, pay their fares, obtain ORCA and ORCA LIFT cards, and use the system. (Summer 2020)
  • Joined King County Metro’s fully subsidized fare program for riders with very low or no income. Sound Transit’s two-year pilot partnership with this program will expand access to ORCA LIFT and other programs for income-qualified passengers. (Spring 2020)
  • Budgeted for station design improvements to greatly enhance the look and feel of Fare Paid Zones and reduce passenger confusion. (Ongoing)

What we're working on now

As we launch the new Fare Engagement Pilot Project, we're exploring changes to: 

  • Focus on compliance-based rather than enforcement-based systems.
  • Remove law enforcement personnel from the fare compliance process.
  • Define parameters for when we should suspend warnings and citations, such as during severe weather.
  • Implement new Next Gen ORCA tools for making fare payment and E-purse loading faster and easier.
  • Develop a youth-focused program.

Engagement to date

A more effective and equitable fare engagement program starts with authentic relationships with our communities. We’re grateful to the individuals and groups who've challenged us to improve this complex system, and we'll continue to rely on your feedback in the months to come. Here's what you can expect through 2021:

Image projecting phases of work on the fare engagement pilot program through the end of 2021

Sound Transit will begin an additional round of engagement with stakeholders starting February 2021. The focus will be to dive more deeply on policy and fare enforcement processes. The summary and details of the 2019 engagement efforts are documented in the Sound Transit Fare Enforcement Community Engagement Report. We plan to publish the next round of reports by April 2021.