Five Million Metro Riders Don’t Pay Fare


Some of those "riders" might be people like me with a U-Pass that flashed it but the driver didn't see it.

Happens all the time. Still a paid trip.
Okay, so some dork doesn't like sitting next to the smelly bums in the ride free area and decides that they are going to find a way to eliminate the ride free area (and therefore the majority of smelly riders, presumably) ...

What other actual sound reasoning could this person have? The ride free area is awesome! AND it makes the bus trip much faster! Do you know how many people ride during high traffic times?!?!?! How much longer it would take if they all had to pay as they got on the bus?
why not collect fares when everybody boards a bus ?..isn't that the way transit organizations do it in other cities ?
Ride Free Area riders also eat babies and kick puppies.
Operators use the no fare button a lot for pass-holders when the coach is so full that they can't justify keeping riders waiting forever to exit from the front. They open the back door, and the pass-holders flash the card, the driver hits the button. They also use it when the fare box is broken, even if the rider has a pass. They use it for many different reasons to keep the bus on time.

My point is: The no fare button is a poor meter to measure how many free rides are taken.
"most riders who board in the zone don’t pay when they get off"

There *are* plenty of people people that argue their way out of the fare or simply bail out the door, but saying "most" people don't pay is just plain bullshit.
@2 Actually, I'm the one who requested the information and I don't have a problem with smelly people or bums or even people who wear too much perfume, although I would rather they not smell either way, but there are reasons we should get rid of the ride free area and that's because IT WILL SAVE MONEY!
@6 - it should read "the most frequent abusers (people who don't pay" are people who enter the bus in the free ride zone and then exit OUTSIDE of it". That's from several bus drivers.
@3, in some cities, perhaps. I think a much better system is the one they use in Germany: riders are required to buy a ticket from a kiosk at the bus stop every time they board, but no one actually takes it or looks at it when you get on the bus. Periodically, however, a plain-clothes transit official comes around to make sure everyone on the coach has a ticket and if you're caught riding free, you get a hefty ticket (like $50 or something...enough that it's obviously cheaper for you in the long run not to try to cheat the buses.)

There is an initial investment in putting the kiosks at most every stop, but it saves the transit companies and bus drivers so much time and money that it pays for itself. Plus they make money off issuing tickets, theoretically recovering in fines what they lose on unpaid fares.
@3 - YES!
If we eliminate the Free ride zone, then not only will it save money, it will drastically speed up the boarding!

We are in the 21st century people! NEW YORK and Boston, don't give free rides on their trains and neither should we. Both of their systems are a hundred f$%king years old. Maybe we could learn something from them!

You want people out of their cars, voila.

Downtown merchants want people moving easily in that zone. And as the bus moves on, they pay when they get off. What hooey, people don't pay when leaving. Course they do.

I have a pass, ride a lot, and have NEVER seen an incident involving the fare box. And have seen tons of people feed bills into the system with NO change, an over pay.

And who gets that.

Plus, where else do you dump pennies and Canadian coins, the far box stupid.

Just who is this twit?
@7 How so? And who's money is it going to save?

There are likely more people that use passes on the bus than cash and they have already paid their fare, so even if the bus driver hits the "no fare" button, I've still already paid my fare.

Plus a number of companies in the area purchase bus passes for every one of their employees, but not everyone of their employees are riding the bus.

In addition, were it the ride free area down town it would take @ least twice as long for the buses to make it through downtown during high traffic times, time is money yo.
I see bus drivers let people ride free ALL the time.

If I was a driver I wouldn't want to risk a shanking either. Why the fuck would it be worth the risk to me?
I think it's just one guy stealing 5 million bus rides. If we can catch him we're set.
Wow, my comment could have used some serious editing ... sorry folks
@7, there's more to what's in the best public interest than simply saving money for Metro, reducing traffic downtown being the most obvious. Increased traffic = increased pollution, congestion, travel time, and even things that cost money like road wear (since it sounds from your earlier comment like you care more about money than things like the environment and overall quality of life).

Socialist states have these honor systems, and nobody ever pays.

In Holland, I lived there for two years I never paid a fare once and was never noticed or called on it. On and off, give a shit about a bus fare.

How very practical. Course they pay more taxes, and never junked the trams. How practical.

Love the Dutch.
Why don't we just levy a property tax on the whole metro area and then make the bus free for anyone, anytime?
@12 - Yes, the system should be free all the time, but who is going to pay for it? That's unrealistic.

The overpaying people don't make up for millions of dollars lost.

The point was to get Metro to look at the system as whole and make improvements. They aren't innovators.
This system doesn't track overpayments either.

I don't even know what the fare is anymore because I've been riding on an annual pass, but I know it ain't two bucks. Yet everytime I ride, I see people without exact change shoving two bucks into the meter. This happens more often than people underpaying from my limited knowledge.
@21 - peak fare actually is 2 bucks.
@20 that negates the fact that the information you came across is flawed and likely highly inaccurate. You obviously don't ride the bus that often if you don't realize how often bus drivers use the "no fare" button when people are paying with transfers or passes or the fare box is broken, etc. It happens on a daily basis.
Ever ridden the streetcar? I have NEVER seen anyone pay. You are supposed to buy tickets outside on the sidewalk, but there's no way to present your ticket. Nobody ever asks for a ticket or a bus pass, so I assume most people just ride it for free. When they touted 1 million riders, I had to wonder how the hell they knew.
it costs nearly as much to collect fares than to run the system entirely free. there are a number of studies that have been done on this - however, for a variety of reasons (usually "government waste watchdogs" complaining to their local senators, etc.) such an approach is only used rarely. the fare collection method being used on LINK and that is used in european cities, etc. actually helps keep things moving which saves a huge amount of $$$ by reducing delays - requiring payment at time of boarding at the farebox generates so many delays both in terms of unprepared riders, and people who are going to hem and haw and not pay the fare anyway. moving to universal link-style fare control could also help simplify things further because the need for the ride free zone would also be obviated.
You know, in real cities they have these things called real transit systems. I see the bus drivers hit the no fare button tons of time in the U Dist when it's packed. But they do have U-PASS cards.

Just build more monorail and light rail systems and fare enforcement will go up. Even if the RFID chip on my card means it still won't be read by the automatic reader, since it won't FIT.

And no, they didn't give us ORCA cards.
I'm just wondering how many times iridius refreshed his screen waiting for this to post on Slog.
If a 1% unpaid fare rate keeps the system running even slightly more smoothly than it is entirely worth it.

That said, the free ride zone seems to cause more trouble than it's worth and the real way to streamline operations would be to simply require tokens, tickets, passes, or ORCA cards to board. Or just hike county taxes a bit and make the bus free to everyone.
#9 is spot on. The problem here is making the drivers collect the fares; it holds up the bus and is dangerous for the driver. Why not use the system that works in so many other cities and have tickets checked by inspectors?
Speaking of Link, it's kinda funny that there is no Free Ride Zone for it in the tunnel. I think some people will be confused by that but I predict they won't issue tickets/citations to those confused people who hop on Link for a few tunnel stops thinking it's a free ride.
I'll just share my experience, coming from a real city (Chicago) where I spent 20 years using public transit, paying when I got on. LIKE IN A REAL PUBLIC TRANS SYSTEM!

Moved here, hardly ever use the sucky bus system, and the few times I have, well, it's confusing for someone who doesn't use it very often. The first time I boarded downtown, I was surprised to learn I didn't have to pay. Woo-hoo! After I got off and told a native about the free return trip, they informed me I was supposed to pay on the way out of the bus. Oh. Why hadn't the bus driver said anything? Even a friendly reminder to everyone as we left the free zone would have helped.

Subsequent trips (not all of them, but occasionally), I've gotten caught up in conversation and forgotten as well. As ever, no reminder, nothing. And I'm happy to pay! I can afford it!

But I gotta tell you: If I were a cash-strapped teenager and there clearly were no consequence to stealing a free ride, I'd definitely be doing it all the time.
pdp, when you got on those buses did you notice the "pay as you leave" signs? When you got off the buses did you notice other people paying as they left?
maybe he got off at Denny where the ride free changes into not ride free ...
Ever been to Switzerland?

Somehow they have a public transit system that is clean, reliable and convenient and the lowest taxes in the developed world.

Obtw, they use the "trust but verify" method -- if the plainclothes SBB staffers catch you cheating, it's 85 swiss francs on the spot (that's US $80.00) and even more for report offendors.

I've ridden a lot of Swiss trains & busses, and they check for tickets frequently enough that the threat of getting fined is quite credible, thank you very much.

Also, let's not be careless when we think about the cost of operating public transit.

Fewer busses = more cars = paying the ongoing cost to maintain wider roadways. I'm not sure that's a winning alternative.
9, it was 30 euros when I got busted in Berlin riding with an expired ticket. Though I wasn't doing it on purpose. I just didn't know what the fuck I was doing and that myu ticket expired.

12, never notice a fare problem? What routs do you ride?
Meanwhile, the WSDOT is spending $5,600,000,000 from 2009-2011 on subsidizing car driving. That doesn't include money spent by SDOT, King County, or the federal government.
I agree completely with #7/8. It's not about bums at all. Lots of people will skip payment if they have the opportunity, and there is lots of opportunity: the first few stops out of the ride free zone on busy buses are so crowded that most drivers open the back doors and ask people to stay on the honor system.

In cases where the driver *doesn't* open the back door(s), whatever time may have been gained by easier boarding in the ride free area is more than lost by the gymnastics involved in getting people off the bus.

Moreover, just realistically speaking, it's a lot easier to keep someone from boarding the bus than from exiting. Denying someone service is easier, in so many ways, than detaining them.

And as others have pointed out, busier transit systems than Seattle's do just fine without a ride free area.

My understanding is that the downtown commerce advocacy group (whatever it's called) sponsors this service for a pretty penny, but it's still bullshit in my opinion. Time to get rid of the ride free zone.
I would just add, those who slink away without paying when the driver opens the back door would not even be counted as no fare riders. Most of them probably don't get noticed by anybody but other riders.

Also, Will in Seattle, idiotic as usual, you don't know whether they're hitting the "no fare" button or the button that says "fare paid with current pass." Because, how could you know? And because, wouldn't the latter make a hell of a lot more sense? And because, in my experience, if a driver doesn't see your pass, they ask you to show it again.

Seriously, Will in Seattle, why must you be so thick? Why?
So the stats reveal that 1% of Metro riders don't pay a fare? That seems a bit low. But if accurate that's not very bad at all.
I've had an ORCA card for a few months and I'd say that during that time about 1 trip in 4 the ORCA machine was either out of service or wouldn't read my card. They need to get that system working better or they'll be losing more money...
I can't believe we've gone 40+ comments with nobody mentioning this:

If I'm not mistaken, drivers are not REQUIRED to collect fares. If someone is too broke or whatever, and wants to ride for free, the driver must let them on. Kinda like public hospitals or the museum. You're supposed to pay, but if you can't for whatever reason, you are allowed to ride for free.

METRO might save a bit of money if they had a more efficient collection system. But they will never get to 100% fare collection. A certain number of free riders is expected under their public mandate.
@42: I've heard that (probably bullshit) rumor for years too.

So, [citation needed]
A 1% loss is nothing. Why would you enact ANY type of system to deter people from riding the bus or slow down traffic (particularly during rush hour)? If life were perfectly fair, people who DRIVE CARS should have to stop every half-mile or so and pay a $0.10 toll (or whatever it works out to be). But no-- that would slow traffic to a grinding halt.
The idea that just because 1% of the people don't pay, you've lost the amount of money they would have paid at the full fare is completely insane. Who is Iridius and who are these morons who think that Metro--unlike any private business that is not subject to a public records request to determine whether they have any free riders (a/k/a shoplifters, bank robbers, dine-and-dashers, etc.)--have perfect payment records? I swear whatever is in the water Tim Eyman is drinking must be contagious.

One of my favorite moments in Seattle politics occurred when Councilmember Margaret Pageler announced that she would run the City Council Utilities Committee meetings just like a private business would run its board meetings. Then proceeded to require that the first 15 minutes be devoted to a discussion of how the local sports teams were doing.
Here's a survey that's been I've been running for a few days about the RFA:…..

Iridius... I'd be very interested in talking to you about these issues, can you take the survey and leave your email in the comments?
For what it's worth I occasionally forget my pass and then I usually pay (exceptions a couple times a driver recognized me as passholder). It's easily over 1% of my rides. I doubt I'm the only one.
eh.. lame, URL didn't format. Try again with this:

Survey about RFA, boarding, exiting, fare payment, etc.
Also, iridius - is this a report that one can get a copy of?
42. Yeah, something like that. Technically the law says says that freeloading a ride on the bus is punishable with a fine of up to $10K and a trip to the can.

The real answer is that the driver lets the freeloader on if calling them on it will take more trouble than it's worth. I've seen drivers put the bus in park and run a freeloading bum off, and I've seen punks slither on without so much as showing anything saying 'daaahhh I lost my transfer baaaahhhhahaha' and, knowing he's full of shit, the driver moves along anyway.

The only real 'enforced' rule is that the Metro driver has to do what will best keep everyone safe and keep the route moving. If he can comfortably stiff you for not paying, he will, but otherwise you're aboard.
what is gonna happen with light rail which is totally on the honor system?

@51: Link is on the honor system? How so?

Presumably the stations will have fences and turnstiles... just like EVERY OTHER RAIL TRANSIT IN THE WORLD.
I am a Metro Transit driver.

Reading over the comments. . .

It is far more likely that drivers will hit the 'pass' button on the fare box than the 'no fare paid' button on the farebox for quickly flashed passes or for riders who exit the back door in overload situations. The priority is to count the numbe of riders, and to be ACCURATE about the number of fare evaders, especially on 'problem routes'.

If the count is inaccurate, more than likely the number of bad passes is UNDER reported, not OVER reported, as so many flash a transfer that is folded to conceal that it is the wrong letter/wrong day; a customer deliberately puts their finger over the month sticker to conceal that their pass has expired, or they keep their pass in their wallet (all but a fragment) to prevent the driver from seeing that it is for the wrong month or for off-peak vs. peak fare.

There also seems to be a HUGE number of fraudulent passes out there - either forged or falsesly obtained Reduced Fare Permits. I have seen so many RFP's used by cyclists and others who appear to have no real disability, and the requirement is that the "8" button (hit when a passenger shows a pass but does not swipe the card) is hit.

The reported numbers are LOW, not artificially HIGH, believe me.
@53: The only person who thinks drivers hit the "no fare" button when someone flashes a pass is Will in Seattle. And if you read the comments here often, that speaks for itself.
@52: It's a proof-of-payment system. It isn't the honor system per se, but it is barrier-free and your ticket, pass or ORCA card must be presented if requested by a fare inspector, law enforcement official, etc. If no valid proof is presented, then the rider can be fined.

I thought this was odd, too. I've spent quite a bit of time on Chicago's CTA where I took the Blue Line to work for a few years. I forgot that Salt Lake and Minneapolis have light rail systems with proof-of-payment and I believe Portland's MAX and Vancouver's light rail system are the same. Also, Seattle's own Lake Union Streetcar and the Sounder not to mention most systems in Europe.
@52: It's a proof-of-payment system. It isn't the honor system per se, but it is barrier-free and your ticket, pass or ORCA card must be presented if requested by a fare inspector, law enforcement official, etc. If no valid proof is presented, then the rider can be fined.

I thought this was odd, too. I've spent quite a bit of time on Chicago's CTA where I took the Blue Line to work for a few years. I forgot that Salt Lake and Minneapolis have light rail systems with proof-of-payment and I believe Portland's MAX and Vancouver's light rail system are the same. Also, Seattle's own Lake Union Streetcar and the Sounder not to mention most systems in Europe.
@55: Right, my bad. There are many proof of payment systems around, including the commuter rail system in the Chicago area. I had forgotten about the Vancouver Skytrain, but now that you remind me, you're right, it does operate on that system.

I guess it strikes me as a little dangerous to operate that way, especially since it would be very difficult for conductors to check payment during peak commute times when the trains are (hopefully) packed.

Maybe #53 can clarify this, but I believe you're mistaken. Payment is required, from everyone, but drivers have the authority to skip the fare in order to speed things up, if the situation calls for it.
More often than not, when I flash my U-PASS the driver doesn't bother to hit *any* buttons. I suspect ridership in the U District is pretty heavily underreported as a result.

@51: The Sounder is also an honor system. Checks are really rare, but in the cases I've seen it looked like everyone in my car had a ticket or pass. It would be interesting to know what the evasion rate is. They do regular counts (much more frequently than ticket checks) so they probably have a good idea.
1: take away the ride free zone. downtown is small enough to WALK from one end to the other. i did it every day this week while temping and it was surprisingly nice. smelly homeless people were nothing but a blip on my radar instead of something i had to suffer through on a hot, crowded bus.

1a: take away the ride free zone but have a shuttle bus that ONLY runs through the ride free zone.

2: make low-income bus passes a viable, regulated option.
59: farebox data is not used to measure ridership; it is measured by another system with sensors on the stairs.

the ride free area probably speeds outbound coaches in downtown Seattle; but it also probably slow inbound coaches away from downtown or outbound coaches going away from downtown. paying away from the central business district may be unique in the transit world. most systems have pay upon entry. Some have proof-of-payment.

in some sense, fare evasion is very difficult to measure. the drivers are quite busy. It is likely under reported.

I have witnessed fare inspection in Vancouver and France.
@19 why dont we sell the buses and invest in light rail/monorail/subway systems instead

...where fares are controlled at access points and machines rather than by a solitary driver on a vehicle with multiple doors?

@6 don't forget the rebel drivers that just leave the 'ride free zone' sign up for the whole trip. I loves them. Tip them cash or coffee cards, everyone.

@9 cute idea, and could work in europe no doubt, but unless the fine were more than the cost of paying an annual pass, many people will skip and just try not to get caught. Building budgets around such a collander of a financial model would be bad for the long term outlook of transit in seattle.

I'd rather budget for the future, as in, write a budget with profit in mind, with a planned surplus: with the plan to add a new train line for the region every five years for the next fifty years. We might just have the infrastructure, transportation wise at least (not utility-wise by any means) to continue to let developers have their way with our queen city.

In the interim: The ride free zone should be expanded: do seattle taxpayers pay more tax than king co / surrounding cities for metro? If so great, if not, make it so: then Seattle City limits are now the ride free zone, the other cities' residents can pay up with cash or card. Budgets can be sound, the majority of trips less hazardous, AND the city will have the faster or at least, more on-time service. Win win for all but the SOVophiles.
in most other countries i have lived, you don't have to prove a ticket to ride the train. there are places on the tram/bus to purchase tickets. controllers get on in random places and spot check all passengers - anyone not having a ticket gets to pay a hefty fine on the spot. this would not necessarily increase fares collected, but would significantly reduce loading/unloading time - bus drivers should be driving and not checking everyone's passes.
@63 - that's what they do on the new light rail line.
"The Sounder is also an honor system."

Well that runs from Edmonds, not up the Rainier Valley.

To all you folks who keep talking about 'Europe'....just spend a day on the Paris Metro and watch all the banlieu scumbags jumping fares.
Curious--what is the Metro policy on who to count? For example, do they count kids (who officially can ride free with an adult, but are not paying)?

By the way, I use the SLUT to get to work at UW SLU and regularly see coworkers on it. All of us have the U-PASS, and I know other employers on the line like Fred Hutch also provide passes. I've also helped tourists buy tickets which was pretty amusing. Maybe the employers should have just paid for increased 17 service instead of the streetcar LID, but in any case it's being used.
@62 "...The ride free zone should be expanded: ... make it so: then Seattle City limits are now the ride free zone, the other cities' residents can pay up with cash or card. Budgets can be sound, the majority of trips less hazardous..."

I like it. More stakeholders implies more feedback for METRO and its planning and decision-making processes; would need to coordinate with Sound Transit's "vision" of what constitutes "service" in Seattle.
This is Bull$%#! Metro is just looking for a way to bilk people with this ORCA mess. And the drivers do poke their noses into it. Last year I had a dumb ass driver challenge me about my non functioning orca card when there was a Statewide problem with them. I guess his lazy ass couldn't read the postings drivers are supposed to read before they start their shifts! All the other transit workers knew about it. Maybe he needs a tutor.