The metro system is looking for solutions to avoid paying the fare in the capital

Metro’s financial and service challenges amid a shift to remote work and a nearly year-long train shortage are prompting the agency to seek help from regional leaders.

At the same time, a rise in fare evasion could stand between Metro and that assistance, an issue that has spread during the pandemic as the cash-strapped system looks to pay customers to fill a huge budget gap. Metro general manager Randy Clark said he will release a plan in the coming days to address the increase in the number of unpaid riders.

He said that fare evasion ultimately hurts low-income people the most. When people don’t pay, he said, it deprives the transportation system of revenue, which could lead to reduced service.

“We would like virtually everyone to respect your mass transit system and pay the fare that funds your transit system,” he said after a recent Metro board meeting. “I hear a lot about fairness, and it’s something I think we care deeply about here as an organization. Anyone who has the means to avoid fare is actually irritating a just region and society.”

Fare evasion has worsened during the pandemic and is a visual reminder to commuters of revenue that Metro doesn’t collect – even with the agency Communication is available Area leaders to help with financial problems. The solutions aren’t easy for a metro company or its transit police department, which has been accused of disproportionate enforcement against black residents, leading the Metropolitan Council to decriminalize fare evasion in 2018.

since that year, Police records Showing, transportation officers have largely shifted away from enforcing fare evasion across the rail and bus system, with citations and arrests reaching fewer than 300 last year, compared to more than 15,000 in 2017. Of the 2021 total, nothing happened in the region.

Metro GM is looking for a fare evasion solution with a focus on customer service

The rise in fare evasion comes at a bad time for transportation systems in Washington and elsewhere. The shift to remote work has created a funding gap of approximately $185 million in Metro’s next fiscal year that will grow to more than $500 million the following year. Metrorail has also been working with about half of its rail cars for nearly a year due to a wheel problem that sidelined nearly 600 of its more advanced cars.

Metro officials say the financial losses from fare evasion have been exaggerated because the wages of many unpaid riders have already been paid by the district. Teens who attend DC schools get free and unlimited use of transportation through the city’s Kids Ride Free program.

The case highlighted Metro’s recent $70 million replacement of more than 1,200 taxi gates at 91 stations. The new gates are touch-free, process mobile payments, display SmarTrip credits, and improve Metro’s ability to collect passenger data, but do little to deter price evasion. The gates precede the arrival of Clark, who acknowledges that Metro may have misdesigned them and has asked his staff to research possible modifications.

But transportation officials point out that they could not have anticipated the epidemic or its effects, which some say have exacerbated fare evasion along with rising gas prices, inflation and low passenger numbers on buses or stations to discourage evasion. They also say that societal norms have been increasingly ignored during the pandemic, a problem that extends to airlines battling passenger disruption, rising pedestrian deaths from reckless drivers, and rising crime rates.

Passengers often avoid paying fares on Metrorail by jumping at gates or bypassing emergency doors, while they can evade the Metrobus fare box by entering through the bus back doors.

A Metro report earlier this year showed that Metrobus passengers skipped paying 34 percent of trips, a percentage that has doubled during the pandemic. The transit agency said 17 percent of bus trips were unpaid between July and the end of December 2019.

1 in 3 Metrobus trips are not paid amid the high incidence of fare evasion during the pandemic

Metrobus operators do not charge fees, according to the Bus Operators Training Manual. After attacks on bus operators over the years, the transit agency has asked drivers to leave fare enforcement to transit police.

The increase in the number of non-paid riders comes as long wait times test the patience of riders in the jurisdictions served by Metro, which provides the transportation agency with the bulk of its funding. While frequent safety violations have prompted some elected leaders to question Metro’s management, increasing cases of fare evasion are adding to perceptions of chaos.

Jeff McKay, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said evasion is among the problems that Metro needs to “fix” before ordering an increase in support.

“I know that fare evasion is an important issue that must be addressed,” McKay (D) said in a statement. “This has gone on for too long. The fact that they cannot tackle this small problem is one of the many reasons why people lose faith in the overall management of the system.”

This issue was among the biggest problems Clark said the riders mentioned during the meet and greet sessions last summer. Transit officials said the agency lost 10 million dollars in revenue from fare evasion during the first half of fiscal year 2022. Approximately $8.6 million in losses were attributed to skipped fares on Metrobus. By comparison, Metro’s annual operating budget is about $2 billion.

Pressure in March to reopen offices increased the number of passengers in transit and coincided with a rise in fare evasion. In New York, taxi evasion arrests and subpoenas are up 16 percent April through June compared to the first quarter of the year, according to the NYPD.

In April, that city’s metropolitan transportation authority announced the creation of a “remote” committee comprising activists, law enforcement officials, legal experts, and school and transportation officials to curb evasion. Subway fare evasion has tripled in recent years While a third of passengers in the bus system don’t pay a fare, the MTA He said.

Rapid transit is being tested in the San Francisco Bay Area, which estimated losses of up to $25 million a year for fare evasion before the pandemic. Fare Gate Forms At railway stations to deter evasion of next generation gates.

“The program is still in its early stages as we hope to eventually replace 715 fare gates across the system,” BART spokesman Chris Phillipe said in an email.

Said James K. Allison, another BART spokesperson, said the transit agency is also working to secure evasion-prone areas and “hardening” stations, such as raising the height of barriers separating free and paid areas.

Since 2018, BART has also used regular police department employees to monitor riders for proof of payment. Inspectors wear body cams and require riders for proof of payment. Sound Transit begins, in the Seattle area, “taxi ambassador”, which is hiring more than 45 employees next year to make paychecks.

The metro uses transit police to enforce fare evasion, but Show records The number of citations issued has decreased significantly in each of the past five years. In 2017, the police recorded 15,409 deaths and arrests. In 2019, a year after the capital stopped recognizing pay evasion as a crime, citations and arrests fell by nearly half, to 7,926.

Metropolitan Council decriminalizes subway fare evasion

In 2020 – a year also marked by a decline in passenger numbers with the onset of the pandemic – Metro reported 1,695 fatalities or arrests for fare evasion. That number fell to 297 last year.

During August, fare evasion arrests were up 19 percent compared to the same period last year, according to transit policewith all of this happening in Maryland and Virginia. Nearly all of the arrests for taxi evasion are secondary to more serious crimes, such as pending orders, drug violations and assault on police officers, Metro spokeswoman Sherry Lee said.

Most fare enforcement occurs in the Washington area of ​​Maryland, where 291 arrests or deaths arose this year as of mid-July, compared to 126 in the whole of last year. The number of transit police fare evasion arrests or citations in Virginia was 89 as of mid-July, about half of the 171 that occurred in 2021.

In the county, transit police have not cited anyone with a fare-evasion warrant — a civil penalty that can still be issued in the city — for the entire past year and the first half of this year, records show. District officials said Metro has not established a citation system with the county office for administrative hearings since the decriminalization of fare evasion, and the city has repealed the criminal penalties that transit police relied on to enforce the crime.

D.C. Councilman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who voted for decriminalization, said council members who supported the change believed skipping fare did not justify an arrest and that police were disproportionately targeting black passengers. In 2020, transit police union officials called for Changes in performance appraisals that they said focused too heavily on arrests—supporting the claim of some black residents that police sometimes elevated petty situations into confrontations that led to excessive force or arrests.

Allen said he wants Metro to enforce fare evasion violations, saying the agency has plenty of time to prepare a civilian martyrdom operation.

“Think of it this way,” Allen said. “[Metro] He cites… what they think may be lost revenue from fare evasion. But what steps are they taking to change that? “

Metro officials maintain that they are legally unable to write citations in the city due to unresolved issues in the metropolitan code.

“Metro does not have the authority to adjudicate civil offenses under the DC Code,” he told me.

Metro officials declined to go into details, but in the past they said that when the Metropolitan Council decriminalized fare evasion, its members omitted that they did not leave the transit agency with a process to make civil citations binding. In the spring of 2019, then Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik Jr. Command Officers suspended in the capital because of the case. Council members responded, passing emergency legislation outlining legal imperatives such as payments and appeals for citations through the capital’s Administrative Hearing Office. Metro officials say the agency has not taken steps to end the process because legal issues remain.

Whatever Metro’s next step is, Carlin Bonder, co-chair of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, said implementation needs to be closely monitored by the transit agency’s board of directors and an independent panel.

Bonder said police stops often turn into unnecessary arrests that can involve young people in the criminal justice system with lifelong consequences. She cited the recent case of a Howard University student whose pay evasion was stopped and handcuffed at Silver Spring Station. Court records show that prosecutors dropped the charge evasion charge but obtained a conviction for resisting arrest. He has no previous criminal record.

“This young man was convicted of resisting arrest on a non-crime basis,” she said. “How ridiculous is that?”

Allen said the appointment of Clark, named general manager this spring, will allow the Underground to address fare evasion while considering options beyond enforcement, such as modifying fare gates or installing fare card readers at the back door for buses that require or encourage payment. Transit officials say some of these changes are coming.

Fare evasion is a financial problem for many riders, Allen said, and he proposed a bill to give all D.C. residents $100 in monthly SmarTrip credits. The bill, which was co-sponsored by a majority of DC council members, was approved unanimously by a council committee last week.

District leaders said evading lower fare would ease their discussions about how to help the transit agency.

“This is part of the background to the issues facing Metro,” said Maryland Del Marc A. Corman (Montgomery Democrat).

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