FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Zoe Ades, Communications Director
COUNCILMEMBER PINTO INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO ENABLE CIVIL ENFORCEMENT OF FARE EVASION
Today, Councilmember Brooke Pinto introduced legislation which provides the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) with greater authority to enforce the civil fine for fare evasion in order to better respond to the increasing problem of fare evasion that riders see on the system every day. Under current law, individuals who are stopped for fare evasion are subject to a civil fine. However, there is no enforcement mechanism to require those who fare evade to actually provide their name and address to officials so that, in lieu of an arrest and criminal charges, a fine can be issued to their address. The Metro Safety Amendment Act of 2023 provides such an enforcement mechanism by ensuring that if someone fare evades, they can be stopped by law enforcement and if they refuse to provide their true name and ID, they can be detained and subject to a fine of up to $100.
In 2018, the Council, recognizing the racially disparate impact of treating fare evasion as a criminal offense and ongoing consequences for residents who became needlessly entangled in the criminal justice system decriminalized the practice and instead made it a civil offense. The Council’s intention here was not to make fare evasion legal, but to ensure that people are not embroiled in the criminal-legal system for what amounted to a low dollar offense. However, without a true enforcement mechanism for the civil offense, the effect has been a lack of consequences for fare evasion. This has had a tangible impact on WMATA operations. Most urgently, WMATA has repeatedly stressed the correlation between fare evasion and more serious crime in the Metro system. While not everyone who fare evades commits criminal activity in the system, the vast majority of those who commit criminal acts on Metro fare evade and in the wake of several serious and fatal incidents on Metro this year, we must equip law enforcement with the tools they need to keep riders safe. In addition to public safety concerns, fare evasion costs WMATA $40 million a year in lost revenue. At a time when WMATA is facing significant budget shortfalls, that lost revenue could soon lead to service cuts, which would have the greatest impact on low-income residents—the very people decriminalizing fare evasion was meant to protect.
In addition to introducing this legislation, on Thursday Councilmember Pinto sent a letter to various agencies calling on them to increase participation in the Kids Ride Free program which provides K-12 students with free metro access. Having heard from many families that obstacles to accessing this program make it underutilized, Councilmember Pinto is working to streamline the process so more young people can benefit. The full letter can be accessed below.
“As a city, we must empower people to be able to take and afford public transportation and no one should become entwined in the criminal justice system for jumping a turnstile. However, having no consequences for fare evasion hurts us all, making our system less safe and decreasing revenues and consequently service,” said Councilmember Pinto. “I have called on government agencies to streamline the process for disbursing Kids Ride Free cards and will continue to work with my colleagues to implement measures to increase the affordability of Metro. Simultaneously we must also have consequences for fare evasion – an illegal act -- and this legislation puts in place common-sense measures to enforce the civil penalty for fare evasion.”
The legislation is co-introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Vincent C. Gray.