Ross: Is enforcing the bus fare unconstitutional?

Jan 27, 2022, 6:06 AM | Updated: 9:33 am
bus fare, community transit...
A Community Transit bus waits at a stop. (Photo courtesy of MyCommTrans/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of MyCommTrans/Twitter)

The state Supreme Court is taking up a case involving a bus passenger who didn’t pay his fare.

It involves one Zachery Meredith, who, in 2018, boarded a Community Transit Swift bus in Everett without paying. And when three officers boarded the bus to check for non-payers, he got caught and was escorted off the bus.

But the real trouble started when they checked his ID and it turned out he had outstanding felony warrants. … That’s what got him arrested.

And that’s why he sued – he claimed the officers violated his Fourth Amendment protection against search and seizure, therefore the arrest was invalid.

The lower courts rejected his arguments, but now he’s going to the state Supreme Court.

And there is some concern that he could win there. Because this has come up before.

In 2019, a train passenger in Maryland who didn’t pay was ordered off the train – and when the cops checked his ID, they found a warrant for his arrest, as well as a gun in his waistband and some cocaine.

And just like the guy in Everett, he claimed it was a violation of his constitutional rights – and he won!

Hence the concern that our court could follow that precedent.

But I looked into the reason why he won. What bothered the Maryland judges was that all the passengers were detained during the fare enforcement sweep, and that nowhere in the train station was there a warning that such sweeps might be conducted.

The way I read it, the Maryland court was not saying that you get to ride for free, only that the rules of the game have to be clear before you get on board.

So that tells me, even if our Supreme Court rules in favor of the fare-evader in this particular case, there’s an easy fix. Just put up some signs: “No fare, no ride. Passengers subject to search. This means YOU!”

Because if it’s legal to scan our bodies at the airport, and our license plates everywhere else, I don’t see how having to produce an ORCA Card on the bus creates a constitutional crisis.

(And let’s also remember – the reason these guys were arrested was because they had outstanding warrants, not because they didn’t pay the fare that day.)

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Ross: Is enforcing the bus fare unconstitutional?