Fare Enforcement, Riders’ Rights, & Efficient Transit

Sound Transit policies of indiscriminate searches to confirm fare payment is an infringement of citizens’ constitutional right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches… but upon probable cause.”

Unwarranted confrontations presume guilt without reason and encroach on personal integrity. It’s an insult to bus riders, subjecting a class of citizens to repeated humiliation for little benefit. For riders of color, fare enforcement adds to the social accumulation of being distrusted, feared, followed in stores, and pulled over for driving-while-black. Harassment on buses re-stimulates reactions that cause stress-related diseases, and it can incite violence.

In Seattle, within two years, fare disputes resulted in a gunshot injury to a driver and two deaths, both of people of color. The County Executive dismissed the second event as an “isolated incident.” Both confrontations were avoidable.

Fare Enforcement policy is bad policy. It doesn’t recoup the cost of the $1.7 million enforcement program, and the stress and violence reduce public safety. It’s no fault of officers – it’s Sound Transit’s rationale of saving time and money – no excuse for violating the Constitution (the law) and reinforcing an authoritarian political climate.

This protest of fare policy, for its own sake, is intended to illuminate regional transit plans that lack vision and public input. Sound Transit 3 employs old technology, and its funding mechanisms don’t temper traffic congestion or support the economy. Please consider:

1) Mass transit should be free – to address economic injustice and to compensate riders spending their time supporting the public good (environment and freight mobility). Fares should be paid with user fees that discourage solo driving (combination of gas taxes and congestion pricing), linking fees to transit funding so higher prices reduce gridlock. At the least, fares should be lowered during rush hour. The current fare enforcement also harms our tourism economy, with visitors intimidated and confused by a nine-page fare explanation.

2) We need a regional transit system that actually saves time – high-speed bullet trains – a central spine from Everett to Olympia (and beyond) supported by flexible bus routes; not a massive public works project that locks us into slow rail and obsolete routes. People’s time is critical to choosing transit, and climate change requires that we replace short-hop air travel with high-speed trains. Building high-speed bullet trains on a budget will require reforming the institutional corruption of the permit process, and incentivizing landowner cooperation (see Save Our Forests essay for property tax incentives).

3) An efficient system should shift funds and riders from half-empty, polluting school buses to public transit (with student safety escorts). Technology exists to produce clean-energy, pollution-free buses, and they should include seat dividers and HEPA-filtered air conditioning to reduce lung diseases from pollution that kills more people than COVID, that also complicates COVID-recovery. Clean buses can be built by Boeing in our region, fueling jobs and safe exports.