Washington City Council Puts Virginia Taxpayers, Metro Riders at Risk

Well, Washington City Council has gone and done it — decriminalized Metro fare evasion. America now will be treated to an interesting social experiment. If it doesn’t go well, Virginia taxpayers will wind up picking up part of the tab.

The financially strapped Metro, which operates the mass transit bus and rail system for the Washington metropolitan area, is already losing $25 million a year from turnstyle jumping and other forms of non-payment. Metro officials worry that decriminalization could mean even bigger losses.

City council members counter that criminal enforcement, along with criminal penalties and jail terms, disproportionately impacts African-Americans. Ninety-one percent of citations and summonses were issued to blacks. “That is a problem,” Council member Robert C. White Jr. said, referring to the 91 percent figure. “I’m sad that’s Metro’s losing money, but I’m more sad about what’s happening to black people.”

The interesting question is whether fare evasion and lost revenue will increase. Evasion arrests, citations and warnings have surged in recent years, from 4,000 in 2013 to 15,000 by 2017, reports the Washington Post. Eighty percent of those losses occur in the District of Columbia.

“We have a big problem with fare evasion at Metro,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who also serves as Metro board chairman. “And when it is understood that you will just get a civil citation that is largely unenforceable, you have a higher incidence.”

Advocates of decriminalization have likened the nonpayment of fares to the nonpayment of parking tickets, which is a misdemeanor. If parking-ticket scofflaws don’t face criminal charges, why should turnstyle jumpers?

Advocates of criminal penalties and enforcement invoke the “broken windows” theory of policing, which contends that failure to punish small offenses emboldens criminal behavior and leads to worse offenses. Conversely, enforcing minor criminal offenses suppresses worse crimes.

Metro posits that increased enforcement against fare evasion has led to a reduction in more serious offenses, owing to the police presence and the proportion of fare evasion stops leading police to more severe offenders.

For example, the board argued, while 8 percent of fare evasion stops lead to arrests according to current figures, most of those arrests resulted not from the initial fare evasion charge but rather from existing warrants for other offenses — a further crime such as assault on a police officer, or failure to produce identification.

Bacon’s bottom line. The D.C. councilpersons raise a fair point: Why should fare skippers (mostly black) be treated so much worse than parking scofflaws (of undetermined racial composition)? Isn’t there a double standard at work? Here’s how I would respond.

First, nonpayment of parking citations doesn’t create an environment that leads to other crimes. Failure to crack down on turnstyle jumping, by contrast, contributes to a sense of lawlessness in the D.C. subway system that encourages other forms of criminal behavior.

Second, revenue lost from turnstyle jumpers is only part of the fiscal equation. If lawlessness increases — more pickpocketing, more robbery, more assaults — many law-abiding Metro passengers will stop riding the rails. A small increase in lawlessness could spark a large change in behavior, especially among risk-averse riders such as women and the elderly. Thus a doubling of fare evasion, should it occur, could quadruple or quintiple the revenue losses if we account for lost ridership. Remember, ridership has been declining in recent years due to safety, scheduling and riding-experience concerns. Lawlessness could accelerate the trend.

Of course, this is all speculation. We won’t know the result until the new policy is implemented.

Here’s the rub. While Washington City Council conducts its social experiment, Washington shares the fiscal pain of lost revenue with Virginia and Maryland. Should revenues decline, Metro will be faced with a choice of cutting back operations, deferring maintenance, or going to the state and local governments whose population it serves and asking for more money. Washington City Council has put Virginia taxpayers and Metro riders at risk.

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17 responses to “Washington City Council Puts Virginia Taxpayers, Metro Riders at Risk”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    It is hard to recall or imagine a more self-destructive official act of governance done at a worse time so as to insure that maximum damage is inflicted as many interests, people and locales as possible. This act, unless reversed, will inflict growing harm for generations.

    Just you watch, wait, and see.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    AG Herring should sue the District of Columbia to obtain a decree that any decreases in Metrorail fare revenue causing higher demands on local jurisdictions brought about by increases in fare evasion will be borne solely by the District of Columbia.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    The parking ticket comparison doesn’t work for me. Every time you park your car is identified by your license plates. If you accumulate enough parking tickets you will find your car towed or booted until you pay your tickets. What’s the equivalent for turnstile jumping? The only practical answer (other than just not caring) is to wall off the entrances and make the turnstiles floor to ceiling affairs. Unjumpable. This is what New York City did for some of their subway stations.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, and per TMT’s suggestions, DC should be forced to pay for those industrial floor to ceiling turn stiles now necessary to in Md and Virginia, features typical found and necessary only in prisons.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    DC also wants to lower the voting age (for president) to 16. And people wonder why the Electoral College is a good idea.


    The US Constitution guarantees Americans who are 18 and older the right to vote. It apparently does not prohibit giving children the right to vote.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I am afraid that what is happening in DC, is also happening in Baltimore, and perhaps Richmond too. We are in a cycle, and yet to reach bottom. But of course this is not the first time, nor last.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    So is this just if you jump the turnstiles in the district? Or does this also mean no criminal sanctions at the Virginia stops? I agree this is a mistake, but the “Sky is Falling/Civilization is Ending” meme I see developing here is not quite justified….DJ’s pet goal of a pothead behind every wheel on the beltway worries me more….wasn’t he just making the exact same argument against criminal enforcement against simple possession of weed?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      The toll is paid at the point where the ride ends. So the physical act of jumping the barrier in violation of the law, and decent civil society, often will be taking place outside the district. As to jurisdiction, I suspect, but am not sure, its the place of the act. I do recall Metro police. But absent legislation to the the contrary, I suspect place of violation rules jurisdiction, so Virginia laws apply. Some exceptions on Federal property do hold, however, like at Dulles Airport, which enjoys certain exceptions from local law, like real estate taxes. Anyway, I am speculating on which court and law controls.

      Here, I think the danger is plain. Jumping tolls to escape obligations is the work of theft, akin to a pickpocket or shoplifting. It is also an act done in broad daylight, for all the public to see, and watch the thief get away with the crime, scott free in the minds of many, and particularly if the payment is not pursued and enforced, or judgement proof. Does not our society have better things to do than allow this activity at the time of the theft, then have to engage in expensively labor heavy activity to collect the lost revenues? In essence, this is the reverse of calling a non-crime a crime. It devalues the quality of the theft, declaring it to be something it is not, and on the way to devaluing criminal activity, it opens society up to every more exceptions and ever wider sets of non crimes that are crimes. In short the law breeds criminal activity and in so doing opens up Pandora’s box, quite literally inviting young kids to break the law is public, and walk away a hero, getting his way. We are encouraging kid to steal.

      As to chronic refusal to pay parking tickets, I am all for taking stronger action there a well. That is a form of criminal activity to. Likely we are far to easy on that these days as well, although I am guessing here.

  6. Perhaps a multiple violation limit for criminal charge would have made more sense.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: “… wasn’t he just making the exact same argument against criminal enforcement against simple possession of weed?”

    he was indeed.

    And we have a long and sordid history of laws that targetted people of color and cultures.

    I do “get” the problem but we spend a lot of money in a lot of other areas to go after scofflaws on all types – for instance the cost of securing major sports and concert venues, movie theatres, etc to stop “jumpers”.

    And it sort of feels like the “broken windows” theory only applies in certain locations for certain “crimes” which is troubling if we want a justice system that is perceived just and fair – equally to all.

    Why does METRO have one set of regulations no matter the jurisdiction and as part of that – decide – on a system basis where “more” security is needed regardless of jurisdiction…

    I’m not a fan of “broken windows” to be honest because it seems to treat law-breaking arbitrarily and subjectively and too often, associated with communities of color and that’s why I’d like to see those laws applied equally across all of METRO and with the caveat that some stations will need the full-height turnstiles – just as we see in some sports stadiums and concert venues – just a reality of modern society… not particular races…or cultures.

  8. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    This is crazy. The only place one can engage in fare jumping is a Metrorail station. And this is observable by both the station attendant and security cameras. Sometimes the cameras are viewed by the local police department. Only those people who are actually engaged in fare jumping can be arrested. And unless WMATA and the police are purposely allowing white, Asian and Hispanic people jump the gates free of charge, there can be no disparate impact on blacks. If the police arrested a young black man for fare jumping who is totally innocent, there would be video to disprove the charges.

    This is totally different from marijuana busts or traffic stops. This is just more identity politics.

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “This is crazy.” Yes, it is.

    Logic, facts, obvious consequences, what is plain to see in front of your nose, all the harm that is done, or all the harm that is otherwise removed from peoples lives, all this has nothing to do with crazy opinions born of emotional ignorance.

    Such crazy opinions just have a life of their own within our primal psyche, irrespective of reality, irrespective of enlightenment, irrespective of education, or intelligent; no, here in this dark place deep instinct takes over and dominates the human body and its mind, irrespective of all our better natures, and learning.

    Thomas Sowell called these crazy opinions driven by instincts Grand Visions. They are based on pure ignorance, but they afflict all of us, the very smart and the very stupid, and all of us in between. One, for example, was our crazy belief that the Soviet collective system of governance was good for us all, despite its starvation and executions of millions upon millions of people. Another is that broken windows theory is bad despite the plain and obvious face that it saved thousands of innocent lives in New York City from murder and mayhem, and avoided tens of thousands of otherwise victims from other lesser crimes. Read this mornings WSJ front page article “Latin America’s Mob Justice” to see where this sort of magical emotional instinctual thinking always leads us into bad actions and always will lead us into our dark side.


    Because people easily become crazy. Just like such default emotions lead the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan into their cannibalism and human sacrifice, and Roman’s at their Colosseum into their feeding of their Christians to the lions, for their own laughing and gristly entertainment.

  10. AlongThePike Avatar

    Surely it will create chaos, pandemonium and lawlessness if we make fare evasion a civil infraction…like it already is in Virginia.

    “Fare evasion is a criminal offense in Maryland and a civil offense in Virginia.”
    Source: https://wamu.org/story/18/12/04/skip-the-fare-get-fined-what-decriminalizing-fare-evasion-could-mean-for-metro/
    Which references: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title18.2/chapter5/section18.2-160.1/

  11. What evidence do you have that parking without paying doesn’t lead to other crimes?

    What evidence do you have that fare evasion does?

    Why do you *think* fare evasion contributes to an “environment of lawlessness,” but violations of parking and driving laws don’t? Might it have something to do with the type of people you relate to most?

    1. Here is some evidence that shows that broken windows policing, of which fare evasion enforcement is a key piece, actually increases more serious crime:
      “Evidence that curtailing proactive policing can reduce major crime,” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0211-5

      I know it may not be intuitive to all. But that’s exactly why people should look to research and data, and not make statements based solely on their intuition and biases.

  12. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “New York Needs to Take Fare Evasion Seriously

    The New York Times ran an article this week on increasing levels of fare evasion on New York City transit.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to lose about $215 million this year from fare evasion on the subway and buses, officials said during a presentation to the agency’s board. About 208,000 people ride the subway each day without paying — nearly 4 percent of all subway riders during the fourth quarter of this year.

    Fare evasion has accounted for about one-third of the drop in subway ridership since 2015 and about half of the bus ridership decline during that period, officials said.

    Lost revenue is a problem for the transit agency, which is facing a budget crisis. Without new revenue sources, subway officials said they will have to approve huge fare increases or cut service…”

    The full text of this excellent article by Aaron Renn can be found here:


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