Sound Transit takes step toward reforming fare enforcement

Sound Transit took a step on Thursday toward racial equity in how it approaches passengers who don’t pay their fare.

The board of directors unanimously passed a motion brought by King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who told KIRO 7, “If people are transit-dependent, we shouldn’t criminalize their inability to pay.”

The agency found that while African Americans make up 9% of passengers, they represent 22% of those caught in the fare enforcement system. McDermott said the racial disparities grow as cases go to court and even collections, which can affect a person’s credit for years.

“Fundamentally, for me, this work is about making sure we don’t involve the courts for mere fare evasion incidents,” McDermott said.

The new motion calls for fare enforcement reforms early in 2022.

In 2021, the agency plans to replace fare enforcement officers with fare ambassadors focused on education and who aren’t dressed like police.

Sound Transit will also do a cost-benefit analysis of fare enforcement.

In 2019, 2% of riders didn’t pay, and that was mostly because they were confused about the rules.

“I anticipate that we will continue fare enforcement — the key difference being that we do not involve the courts,” McDermott said.

Because of COVID-19, Sound Transit is not issuing any fare citations anyway.

That suspension will now continue after the pandemic while the policy is being reviewed.

The agency stopped fare collections altogether last spring, only bringing fares back this summer.