Sound Transit under fire for student fare enforcement on first day of school

SEATTLE — Sound Transit is under fire for asking Seattle high school students on their way to the first day school for proof of payment Wednesday.

Under a new city program, all Seattle public high school students were supposed to be able to ride buses and light rail free of charge.

Seattle Public Schools teacher Jesse Hagopian said he saw a fare enforcement officer on a light rail train asking students for proof of payment on the first day of class, took a video of the interaction and then posted it on Twitter to give Sound Transit his opinion.

He said fare enforcement was unfair on the first day of school because many students had not yet picked up their Orca card that allows them to ride for free.

Sound Transit responded by saying that the school system mailed students a one-day paper pass for the first day.

The teacher's response then highlighted the fact that many of his students are homeless and don't receive regular mail.

The Seattle teacher also questioned why he saw fare enforcement officers taking photos of student IDs and issuing warnings.

Sound Transit responded to KIRO 7’s request for comment saying anyone who doesn’t have proof of payment will receive a warning unless they already received one in the last year, but with Wednesday being a back to school day, fewer warnings were being issued.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also chimed in on the issue saying that warnings can eventually lead to citations and fines. She asked that the warnings be expunged.

See Sound Transit's full response to KIRO 7 below.

"Sound Transit fare enforcement officers are going out of their way to take a customer service and education approach as they encounter students who are heading back to school. Anecdotally, we are not seeing significant issues involving fare non-payment today. As mentioned, we’ll have data tomorrow.

"Our fare enforcement system is structured around lenience as well as impartiality. Anyone who doesn’t have proof of payment will receive a warning unless he or she has already received a warning in the last 12 months. However, with today being a back-to-school day officers are putting increased focus on informal education and will issue fewer formal warnings.

"Payment of fares is only checked by moving from the ends of a vehicle inward. Every rider gets checked as the officers work from the ends to the center. Officers are strictly prohibited from singling people out based on their race, appearance or background. Any reports related to officer conduct are taken seriously and investigated.

" One tweet referenced an officer taking a photo of someone’s identification. Officers take photos of IDs as part of the system of tracking warnings and making lenience a central part of fare enforcement."