Fare Enforcement and Riders’ Rights

King County Metro and Sound Transit policy of searches to check 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 $1.7 million cost of the enforcement program, and recovery of the $124 tickets (to mostly homeless and poor people) are 1.3% of court costs. All the while, the stress of enforcement affects both officers and the public, occasionally provoking violence. It’s no fault of officers – we need them for security when it’s warranted. It’s Sound Transit’s rationale of saving time and money – no excuse for operating outside of the law and Constitution – the “supreme law of the land.”

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 support traffic flow or 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). Transit fares should be paid with user fees that discourage unnecessary driving, using fees to fund transit 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 – higher-speed trains – that function as a central spine from Everett to Olympia (and beyond) which are supported by local bus routes that can be adjusted to changing demand; 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 higher-speed trains.

3) An efficient system should shift funds from half-empty, polluting school buses to public transit (with student safety escorts). Technology exists to produce clean-energy, pollution-free buses, and they could be built in our region, fueling jobs and safe exports.