In a letter to Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, King County Council Member Joe McDermott expressed his "deep frustration" with the agency's progress on studying fare enforcement reform.
"For over a year, you have said that you need to look at this problem more closely," McDermott wrote. "Meanwhile, rider experience continues to suffer. People of color and people with low-incomes are negatively impacted by a fare enforcement system that prioritizes a criminal justice approach over customer service. Enough."
Arguing that changes are needed "now," McDermott, one of the King County Council's representatives on Sound Transit's board, asked Rogoff to deliver a “public presentation” on the status of the agency’s fare enforcement work.
"At this point in the process," McDermott added, "it is not unreasonable to expect an exceptionally aggressive timeline on implementing this work."
McDermott also suggested some reforms, including “reducing the fine level; developing additional resolution options, including non-monetary options; removing civil infractions for fare violators.”
Non-monetary options recently implemented by King County Metro, which changed its policies after a report found the county's fare enforcement strategy was basically doing nothing but screwing over homeless people, include community service, enrollment into discount ORCA card programs, and being suspended from riding for a month.
McDermott delivered the letter to Rogoff after a Sound Transit board meeting on Thursday, during which he advocated for "doing the best possible fare enforcement from an equity lens as we possibly can," according to the Seattle Times. Seattle Council Member Kshama Sawant got in on the action, too:
Less than 30 percent of Sound Transit (light rail) funding currently comes from rider fares. Let's build a powerful movement to tax big business and the rich, and fight to make the light rail (and all public transit) free for all! No more fare enforcement needed. #GreenNewDeal pic.twitter.com/GjBd8MOkCm
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) September 4, 2019
In an email, a spokesperson for Sound Transit said the agency's "cross-functional workgroup" is still in its outreach phase, which involves designing and delivering a "multi-layered survey" to "riders, riders who can’t show proof of payment, as well as stakeholders and taxpayers throughout the region." The process will also include "meetings on this topic with communities of color and people experiencing poverty." They expect this phase to wrap up within "the next two months," and then be ready to update the board "before the end of the year."
I'm still waiting to hear back from Rogoff about the possibility of a mid-cross-functional-workgroup-check-in presentation and will update when I hear back.
McDermott is pressing for an "exceptionally aggressive timeline" following yesterday's transit-oriented shitstorm on social media.
Though local reporters have been writing about problems with fare enforcement for a long time now, the issue blew up yesterday when people on Twitter yelled at Sound Transit in response to a photo of a high schooler dealing with light rail fare enforcement officers on the first day of school.
"Stop making barriers to our youth’s education!" wrote educator and activist Jesse Hagopian. His call was followed by 131 replies, a couple thousand retweets, and several thousand likes.
Whoever was running Sound Transit's Twitter account at the time poured gasoline on the fire by offering (and then later apologizing for) a condescending reply to Hagopian's criticism, saying, "If they're like my kids, SPS gave them a one-day paper ORCA card that covers today. It's good to remind folks how the system works."
Yesterday the Seattle Times confirmed "officers were doing standard fare enforcement Wednesday and were offering leniency to students," but added that the high schooler was "grateful for the way it was handled and resents the way it’s being portrayed on Twitter," according to Rogoff at today's Sound Transit board meeting.
Nevertheless, Rogoff promised not to ticket or "formally warn" any students for the rest of the week, and to "expunge" tickets or formal warnings for any affected students, though Rogoff also said Sound Transit wasn't "recording formal warnings to students" anyway, so there should be nothing to expunge.
I apologize for writing "expunge" twice. And also, Joe McDermott is running for reelection and he would clearly like you to know he is mad about this fair enforcement issue.