Washington D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto has proposed a new bill to help improve Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) safety within the District.
Earlier this year, Pinto, who serves as the chair of D.C.’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, introduced the new bill that would give more power to officers of the Metro Transit Police Department to stop fare evasion. According to Pinto, D.C. officials plan on passing the Metro Safety Amendment Act sooner than later.
In an interview with NBC Washington, Pinto explained how D.C. laws make it easier for citizens to jump the turnstile and get away with it. “Right now, if somebody jumps the turnstile and the transit police say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that. I need your name,’ the person can just walk away from them,” Pinto said.
The Metro Safety Amendment Act of 2023 aims to close the loophole that costs Metro $40 million in losses as of 2022.
Passengers who do not provide authorities with their name risk being detained and receiving a $100 fine, doubling the existing $50 fare evasion fine in the District according to NBC Washington. An individual might be held in custody until their identification is known, upon which they would then be released.
Under the proposed legislation, offenders must provide officers with their legal name and address.
Isaiah Thompson, a student at Howard University, believes the fare evasion citation is unjustified and unfair. “I think that D.C. should have free public transportation [options] because local residents and travelers use it every day to get to work and school,” Thompson said.
A sophomore chemical engineering major from Dallas, Texas, Thompson believes Metro should be accessible for all college students and Washington, D.C., metropolitan area residents. “It’s the basic commute. I’m paying taxes, so I’m paying for that as well,” Thompson said.
Metro CEO Randy Clarke supports the bill, and in a letter written to Pinto, he expressed, “…the vast majority of persons who commit criminal acts within Metro fare evade.”
According to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, $213.5 million in fare receipts went toward funding Metro operations in FY-22. The fiscal year of 2022 (FY-22) is the 12-month period where a company tracks accounting and sets its budgets. Due to fare evasion on the Metrorail and Metrobus, Metro estimates that more than $40 million in revenue, or nearly 22% of the expected deficit for the following fiscal year, was lost in FY-22.
The loss in revenue has an immediate influence on sales, service provision and delivery, system upkeep and operational choices. Along with the proposed Metro Safety Amendment Act, the D.C. transit system has begun installing new fare gates to reduce fare evasion.
According to Metro, “The new design includes an L-shape door panel that extends over the faregate to minimize gaps between the openings. The increase in barrier height from the original 28 to 48-inch prototype to 55 inches will also make it more difficult to jump over faregates. The new height is taller than a hockey net or nearly half the height of a standard basketball hoop.”
Newly retired Howard political science professor, Charles Conyers, expressed how the proposed law and enforcement go hand in hand. “I think that laws do very little good if there is no component of enforcement. The caveat is that we don’t want police harassment,” Conyers told The Hilltop.
“Policing citizens needs to be a cooperative effort [and] we need to make sure we all have equal access and a sense of security,” Conyers said.
Rather than evasive tactics like jumping the turnstiles, students and residents can take advantage of the array of programs and services provided by the Metro transit system. The U-pass College Student Program provides college students unlimited rides throughout the Metro transit system. By taking advantage of programs such as U-Pass, student commuters can reduce their chances of receiving a citation.
Passenger fares comprised $815 million of the budget, and the remaining $1.2 billion came from local jurisdictions. 70% of Metro’s costs cover wages, health care and pensions.
As of 2019, the Metro system employs approximately 12,000 individuals. Aris King, a Metro employee, has been with the transit system for seventeen years and feels mixed emotions about whether Metro should be free of charge as an attempt to stop fare evasion.
“I am a D.C. resident, so a part of me says yes because I do have children that ride the transit system, and it helps them get to work and school. I also know that the fees pay for Metro employees,” King said.
“I have seen an increase in fare gate evasion. What I would say to students who go to Howard [who decided to jump the turnstile] is just imagine if it were their parents or relatives that work for Metro. It is taking money from their families,” King said.
Conyers highlighted a trend of selective adherence to laws, “If folks are jumping the turnstiles for free transportation, that’s against the law. We are at an age now where folks pick and choose which laws they will abide by and which laws they will break.”
“Increasing Metro security costs money, so they definitely can’t afford for people to avoid paying their fare,” Conyers added.
As a regular transit user, Thompson doesn’t think enforcement of fare evasion will keep transit users safe. “Crime [in the form of fare evasion] is going to happen regardless on the Metro. It happened before there were fare gates and citations,” Thompson said.
“I don’t see a slowdown. If anything, D.C. crime rates have been increasing recently. There are more pressing matters than people not paying their fare,” Thompson said.
Copy edited by Diamond Hamm