Decriminalizing Metro Fare Jumping

Wow. Just as a white knight in the form of Amazon, Inc., rides in to help salvage the floundering Washington Metro mass transit system, Washington, D.C., City Council pulls a bone-headed move that could undo everything.

Amazon HQ2 will plop down a massive activity center near the Crystal City and Potomac Yard Metro stations, catalyze the development of walkable urbanism in the neighborhood, and throw in money to add new entrances to each station. Amazon anticipates that half of its expected 2,500 employees will ride the Metro, and it is logical to think that employees of the companies that grow up around Amazon will do so, too, eventually adding thousands of new riders to the system. What a life saver!

But in an 11 to 2 vote Tuesday, Washington City Council voted to decriminalize Metro fare evasion on the grounds that the use of criminal sanctions to collect fares… what else… disproportionately impacts African-Americans.

Data show fare evasion arrests, citations and warnings have risen dramatically — from 4,000 in 2013 to 15,000 in 2017, reports the Washington Post. Council member Charles Allen contends that police disproportionately target African Americans, citing the fact that 91 percent of Metro Transit Police citations and summons for fare evasion from January 2016 to February 2018 were issued to African-Americans. Metro estimates that it loses $25 million annually to fare evasion.

The Washington Post article mentioned no evidence presented by anyone, other than the raw statistics, to suggest that police were unfairly singling out African-Americans for enforcement.

City Councilman Jack Evans, who happens to be Metro Board Chairman, cast one of the two dissenting votes. He stated the obvious: “By decriminalizing fare evasion we are only encouraging people to not pay their fare. Because there is absolutely no mechanism to collect from a civil infraction. … You cannot steal from Metro. You can’t steal period. And if we get to a point where we say it’s okay to steal, I’m not sure where we are at this point in time.”

If curtailing sanctions leads to a surge in fare skipping and a decline in revenue, Metro will have to make up the balance from someone. And we all know who that will be — the taxpayers. Not just Washington taxpayers but Virginia and Maryland taxpayers, who subsidize Metro operations. Perhaps Governor Ralph Northam should issue a declaration to the D.C. City Council: Do what you want, but if the Metro suffers a decline in ridership revenue, you can make up the difference. Don’t come to us!

(Hat tip: Rob Whitfield)

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23 responses to “Decriminalizing Metro Fare Jumping”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” But in an 11 to 2 vote Tuesday, Washington City Council voted to decriminalize Metro fare evasion …”

    …. ” The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to decriminalize Metro fare evasion
    ………….. in the District ” <<<<<< not METRO-wide across Va/Md/DC

    geeze Jim… I do GET your point but will this action have any effect where Amazon will locate?

    I find it a bit novel – never thought too much about it – that laws that pertain to METRO can vary by the jurisdiction. I guess I would have thought there would be agreement on uniformity.

    So that sorta brings up what the current law is in the Va and Md jurisdictions AND whether or not they too end up with 91% of fare evasion committed by African Americans….

    Also important to note – the issue is jail time and a criminal record versus other sanctions less severe.

    Isn't this somewhat similar to traffic tickets that would result in criminal records and jail time versus other sanctions like "points" on the driving record?

    I am NOT justifying fare jumping but I would very much like to know more about the how and why the evasion leans demographically. Does it in all jurisdictions? why?

    In the bigger picture – the punishment has to fit the crime – and putting someone in jail for fare jumping Metro seems way out of line.

    I'm also wondering if this something a small number of people – do a lot versus a much wider group of people doing once or twice. The repeat offenders, I WOULD support much tougher treatment regardless of how the demographics shake out. Use cameras and facial recognition. When an offender is stopped and ticketed – run their picture and if they are chronic scofflaws – make the sanction sting …

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Fairfax County police have an office in the Tysons Mall furnished by Macerich, the owner of the shopping center. It’s not very big but it is full of monitors and even an interrogation room.

    The police system is tied into WMATA’s security cameras at the four stations. One of the things that the police monitor is fare jumpers. Once they identify an individual, they alert Mall security with the person’s description and, quite often, find the individual has come to the Mall to shoplift. According to the police, quite a few arrests have been made of people with stolen goods who had previously jumped the fare gate.

    Of course, while Metro is a major conduit for shoplifters, some of whom are professional thieves, many drive to the Mall. The evening that I visited the police center, they had arrested a woman from Massachusetts who was arrested earlier that day with more than $65 K of stolen goods.

    The only remarks made about race by the police was that a significant number of fare jumpers later arrested for theft was that many were young black males but that many others were not.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      shoplifters and other criminals use any/all transportation modes and vehicles to do their thing.

      I think anytime – one demographic is more heavily represented in a given crime or offense is worth taking a harder look at but need to be careful and demographics.

      In other words – if people of color at the state level are 18% but at the local level they are 40% – then the appropriate measure is with respect to the 40%. Same thing for that matter in the schools with discipline – the numbers need to be normalized. If you’re gonna take each school’s data and aggregate it for the county – then again – we need to normalize the data.

      It’s too easy these days to play games with data – and it’s done all the time either out of ignorance about the need to adjust the data or to mislead and misrepresent issues.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, I can only discuss what I heard the FCPD state. They believe there is a good link between fare jumpers at the Tysons stations most especially at the Tysons Corner station and shoplifters. Hence they note a description of the fare jumper and notify Mall security, who, in turn, look for and observe the individual. If the individual is not observed stealing, the person is just a fare jumper. I didn’t ask what happens to a person alleged to be guilty of fare jumping alone. I believe it is a crime in Virginia.

        But if the individual is caught stealing or possessing stolen goods, she/he is generally arrested for that crime. From what I learned, I don’t believe that only young black male fare jumpers are tracked by Mall security and the police. If you jumped the fare gate, you would be reported to security for observation.

        The police and Mall security do not focus on only fare jumpers. They look for anyone who appears to be involved in theft, much of which is organized crime – professional thieves.

        I agree with you comment about the need to adjust for population. I don’t think that would fit Tysons Corner Center because it draws shoppers from the entire region and beyond.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          This is a well documented pattern of behavior. Smaller crimes often lead to larger crimes. By shutting down smaller crimes, you go a long way toward drastically reducing the occurrence of more serious crimes, to the great advantage of everyone in society. This was the central key to how Rudy drastically reduced crime in NYC, all based on James Q. Wilson’s Broken Windows research. Of course, it caused great controversy and still does despite it obvious great success, saving many lives.

  3. AlongThePike Avatar

    I look forward to your future article advocating for jail time for those who fail to pay their parking meters, you know…to be consistent.

    1. Interesting question: Is fare skipping equivalent to failure to pay parking meters?

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Jim, I suspect that you still are capable of discerning the difference between a Metro fare jumper, and one whose empty car overstays a parking meter.

        But on the other hand, you have a master’s degree from the 1970s at UVA as I recall, and most of my fellow citizens have only a modern Bachelor degree or less, from a lesser institution.

        Should we add this discernment issue between fare jumpers and over-parked cars at timed out meters into our Restorative Justice manual for senior year at all colleges?

      2. AlongThePike Avatar

        Both are failure to pay for a government-owned transportation service where your use of the service deprives another of the ability to use the service. The relative outlay of cash is even approximately equivalent. ($2 to $3 Metrorail fare is equivalent to about 1 to 2 hours at a meter in the DC area).

        Punishment should fit the crime. I think fare evasion should be a fine, not a jail-able offense, same as not feeding your meter or littering.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Yes, what the hell, lets have a lawless society where everybody jumps over the toll booths. Or why not just tear them all down altogether. Its only a toll that should be illegal anyway, after all its public property, ain’t it!

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      that’s an excellent point! .. another one might be express lane toll scofflaws

      and I further wonder how the demographics play out – and also point out that a small number are big-time scofflaws and those folks need more motivating sanctions.

  4. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Jim,

    If present trends continue, I can envision a situation where people will pay for things on a “racial sliding scale,” like that restaurant down in New Orleans that charged Whites more money to dine, and they gained eager support from the same. Call me paranoid, but… Things which begin as ridiculous or crazy, eventually become accepted as “normal” where the Left prevails. Leftist positions continually probe forward, hit a wall, wait, and push forward again until the objective is captured.



  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    So what do Metro passes cost? Last month in Vienna was told how the annual pass on its system had been dropped dramatically for everyone, and I bet they had even lower rates for low-income, elderly, etc. Are there discounted monthly or annual passes for Metro? I really don’t know. I’ve ridden once in five years.

    On its face this is just another income transfer program, because the cost of the system will still get paid, only by those honest enough not to do this.

  6. Virginia has also given criminal records to many citizens of the state, due to crazy laws.

    Going back 15-yrs or so, getting onto the VRE train without pre-paying fare was a crime putting a misdemeanor on your record. That was changed after outrage.

    Currently, unless a change has been made, fishing without a Va. license is a criminal act, and even parking in the fishing lot at Burke Lake, without a fishing pole, is a considered criminal trepassing aginst the state of Virginia, a relatively serious criminal act. I personally had experience with the latter case, and tried to push for regular parking violation (which I was able to do for my personal case but there was whole roomful of parking violators in criminal court that day).

    The problem is we are hurting the future of our own state by criminalizing all of our citizens.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Violent crime should clearly have jail time but the kinds of infractions being discussion here – just do not merit jail time nor a felony conviction on someone’s record and the punishment needs to fit the crime – across the board.

    Do we see express lane toll evaders being carted off to jail with felony convictions that essentially cost them their security clearances for govt or contractor jobs?

    Do we even see parking fine scofflaws with thousands of dollars of tickets carted off to jail?

    So I’d ask if METRO fare evaders in places like Arlington or other parts of Fairfax jailed for fare evasion….

    I totally agree with Tbill and AlongThePike, before we start talking about going after the fare jumpers – are we sure we are treating everyone the same for the same type of crime and if we are not – shouldn’t that be a subject for someone to blog about here in BR?

    It’s bad that we do have scofflaws and they should suffer some consequences but it’s much worse if we don’t have a fair justice system.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I believe in second chances, especially for young people who do dumb and often illegal things but that are not violent. No kid or even young adult should go to jail for a one-time jump over the gate. Heck, when I was a young teenager, a cop on a horse caught my friends and I trying to sneak into the Minnesota State Fair through a corn field. He yelled at us and made us walk in front of his horse to the ticket booth and buy an admission. I didn’t try that one again. It was all about the thrill of successfully sneaking in. But we didn’t think that a cop on a horse could see some dumb boys trying to weave their way through high corn to get through an open entrance to the Fair.

      Repeat offenders should be dealt with more harshly. Otherwise, why should anyone pay? Similarly, there is nothing wrong with the FCPD policy of watching for gate jumpers and reporting their description to Mall security to watch for possible shoplifting.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Good Lord! I mostly agree with TMT -but still point out that we have folks who have tons of parking tickets and we have folks who routinely do not pay tolls and thus as “repeat” offenders – do not suffer the same fate and what I do advocate is more harsh treatment meted up equally – for all of that type of offense and what I’d bet is that the higher income toll and parking fine scofflaws would put up a tremendous fight in court over jail time while the poorer folks nailed for fare jumping would not have the resources to fight the felony conviction and jail time.

        Let’s make the laws consistent and apply equally for the same time of “crime” and not end up a two-tier system that favors those with more financial resources.

        I also think for the fare jumper issue itself that we should see how Va and Md handle it in the law – as well as what the total numbers are overall and for the demographics. We need to insure we have a fair and equitable system before we target one particular group.

  8. From another report:

    MTPD, for its part, maintains that the bill is not necessary. According to testimony from MTPD Chief Ron Pavlik in October of last year, more than 90 percent of stops for fare evasion lead only to citations (usually of about $50). Juveniles generally get off with a warning, Pavlik said. The agency holds that people only get arrested after evading their fare if they refuse police commands or try to run away.

    1. The lack of consequences may explain why fare jumping has increased so dramatically in the past couple of years.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I think “warnings” are good IF the person getting the warning has that warning recorded – like we do with some other offenses.

        I still wonder what the statistics are with respect to one-time offenders and chronic ones. Is this a problem of a few that do it over and over or is it a more widespread behavior?

        And again – we need to look at this from a system-wide perspective as well as make sure that we have a fair system overall so that folks who jump fares don’t get treated any different than folks who don’t pay parking fines or evade tolls, etc.

        The other thing that might be thought about is that kids, as well as those who are in the lower economic tiers, who can’t afford other transportation options, get means-tested free and reduced cards especially if they are going to/from jobs or school.

        Finally – there are fare turnstiles and there are FARE TURNSTILES that look like this and might be considered in areas where there are higher incidences of fare evasion:

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          I think the turnstiles work better in a place like NYC. As most know, the NY Subway system charges the same amount for each trip and their is no scanning of a pass/farecard when the commuter leaves the system.

          Here, one needs to scan the fare card to measure and deduct the amount of the fare before exiting. If, for some reason, one exits the system without having the fare deducted, the farecard won’t work the next time one enters the system. You must go to the station manager and, sometimes, downtown D.C. to get it fixed.

          WMATA is drowning in debt. The last thing it needs is to start a mean-tested fare program. I bet most of the “poor” kids who jump the gate regularly because they “cannot afford the fare” have their own cell phones. Smart phones to boot.

  9. I would totally support a law that increased charges for scofflaws who do not pay their parking tickets or toll fares. I’m surprised we don’t have such laws already.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      “I would totally support a law that increased charges for scofflaws who do not pay their parking tickets or toll fares.”

      So would I. And, in addition, I would put these scofflaws in jail for a few days on their second offense, just like should be done, and often is done, for Drunk drivers. This renewal of law enforcement tactics is all based on James Q. Wilson’s Broken Windows research. Our society needs of get serious again about lawless behavior. Without it, we got a sick culture that now runs out control, infecting most everything it touches. Shame needs to reassert itself back into our society in far more positive ways, instead of negative ones.

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