Jumping a Metro turnstile in the DMV currently can result in jail time and a stiff fine, but a D.C. lawmaker is making a push for the punishment to better fit the crime.
Ward 8 Council member Trayon White introduced last week legislation that would decriminalize fare evasion on Metro, arguing that criminalizing riders would not make the system more equitable.
“[Metro’s] mission should be to help people access the city,” White said. “Punitive approaches to fare collection does not seem like the best use of resources.”
He said the transit agency that heavily lobbies the District for subsidies to make improvements should reconsider its fare evasion policies and instead use its 550-member police force to make the system safe.
The Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017 White introduced would make evading Metro fares a civil infraction punishable by fine only, as opposed to arrests. It would also lower the fine from $300 to $100 or less in the District.
In recent years, Metro has increased enforcement of its fare evasion policies. Last year the agency reported a 40 percent increase in citations issued for fare evasion from 2015, a jump from 4,751 citations to 6,693. It also reported a 125 percent jump in written warnings over the same period, from 1,740 to 3,913.
To deter fare evasion, “flooded key areas with uniformed officers during identified times and locations.”
Metro reports show that the transit agency anticipates “enhanced enforcement and prevention of fare evasion offenses” through 2017.
“We have a significant number of young people in economically challenged residences who are being arrested for this minor offense,” White said of the District’s current stance on fare evasion. “With renewed public attention on the excessive criminalization of poor [people] and people of color, transit agencies around the country are reevaluating their fare evasion policies.”
Washington state’s King County decriminalized fare evasion for youth in 2015. Last year, the California Senate followed suit and passed legislation that prohibits youth from being charged with a criminal violation for transit fare evasion and instead treats the offense like a parking ticket.
Both bills came nearly 10 years after San Francisco decriminalized fare evasion for adults in 2008.
White said data shows that particularly heavy enforcement occurs in Congress Heights and Anacostia Metro stations, both in his ward.
“As stewards of taxpayer funds from federal, state and local sources, Metro believes it has an obligation to ensure that every rider pays his or her fair share,” said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “It is important to note that, of all persons stopped by Metro Transit Police for evading fare, less than 8 percent result in arrest, and the vast majority of those cases involve open warrants or other, more serious issues beyond simple fare evasion.”
“I was taken [aback] when I saw the video of the young man … who was arrested in Congress Heights with an infant in his hand,” White said of an April incident which was captured on video and subsequently went viral on social media.
The video captured an altercation between a father holding his 1-year-old daughter and a Transit Police officer in which the father was arrested for allegedly evading fare.
As a result of the incident, the father was charged with disorderly conduct, simple assault, unlawful entry and theft in the second degree. Due to a plea agreement, the assault and disorderly conduct charges were dropped, but he was found guilty of the remaining charges.
The trial resulted in two suspended 30-day imprisonment sentences, $100 in fines and a one-year probation period with the conditions of 30 hours of community service, vocational counseling and drug testing.
The bill, forwarded to the Council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety with comments from the Committee on Transportation and the Environment and Committee on Finance and Revenue, had the support of eight other members.
The same day, White also introduced legislation that would require the creation of an amnesty program to be available for no less than one month that will allow District residents who have accumulated more than $1,000 in traffic violations to be considered paid in full by paying up to 60 percent of the amount owed.