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Fare ambassadors replace officers on Sound Transit trains

(Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)

Light rail and Sounder riders did not like that fare enforcement officers looked like police officers, so Sound Transit has replaced those officers with fare ambassadors.

Light rail prepares for new line numbers, names, and colors

You might have noticed the new bright yellow hats on Sounder and light rail trains on Monday. Those hats are for the new fare ambassadors that are tasked with checking for payment, under an eight-month pilot project where fare enforcement officers are being replaced with the fare ambassadors. It was also the first time since the start of the pandemic that physical fare checking took place.

Fare ambassadors give Sound Transit a less intimidating way of checking that riders are paying their fares. The agency also wanted more diversity in their fare enforcement staff. CEO Peter Rogoff said the goal is to create more equitable fare collection processes.

“We are pleased in our new hires that they are able to reflect the diversity of the community that we’ve served,” Rogoff told the Sound Transit Board last month.

Rogoff said this shift is about passenger education and customer service, not enforcement. There will be no citations written during this eight-month pilot program, so you can essentially ride the trains for free, if you choose to.

“They will be focusing on low-income fare outreach, rather than discipline,” Rogoff said.

Just like the fare enforcement officers in the past, these new fare ambassadors will enter both ends of the train car and work toward the middle, asking everyone for proof of payment. Those who have not paid will be given a card with a QR code for the fare engagement website. It will inform them of low-income ORCA card options or subsidized passes.

Rogoff said rider feedback during this pilot program will be key in refining it, with the possibility of reducing non-payment fines and taking the court system out of the fare enforcement equation going forward.

“Lawmakers in Olympia did pass legislation last session allowing us to take our program out of the court system, and I do have a deliverable early next year to the board on recommendations on how to achieve that,” he said.

As the new Northgate expansion comes on line next month, Sound Transit wants to “foster a welcoming environment for every rider and ensure that transit is accessible and affordable for all.”

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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