McKenna: Can transit authorities use uniformed officers to collect fares?

Mar 23, 2023, 12:25 PM

King County metro fares...

A King County Metro bus in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of kcmetrobus/Twitter)

(Photo courtesy of kcmetrobus/Twitter)

A Washington State Supreme Court ruling says that fares being enforced on public transportation is constitutional. However, it raised the question of whether or not transit agencies can use uniform law enforcement officers to conduct fare enforcement.

Former State Attorney General Rob McKenna, appearing on Seattle’s Morning News, said, “you might ask, ‘are you engaging in your private affairs when you are riding public transit?’ Is being questioned by a fair enforcement officer wearing a deputy sheriff’s uniform a seizure?”

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The ruling comes four years after the arrest of Zachery Meredith, who boarded a Community Transit “Swift Blue Line” without paying. The bus allows passengers to pay in advance with tickets or prepaid cards, skipping gates and turnstiles to collect fares.

However, Community Transit relies on police officers instead of civil fare enforcement to enforce fares.

“You could still be ejected from the transit vehicle for not having proof of payment. And, you can be cited and fined for that,” McKenna said. “But you know, the transit agencies are probably going to have to rely on civilians to conduct the fair enforcement in the future.”

McKenna said that it is worth noting that Meredith had two outstanding arrest warrants. He was also charged with providing a false name and false birth date.

“It’ll be interesting to see if the transit agencies stop using uniform law officers altogether as some already have,” McKenna explained. “I don’t believe King County Metro uses uniform officers routinely, but apparently, in Snohomish County, they do.”

On the Swift buses that operate in Snohomish County, as well as the King County Metro RapidRide buses, the Sound Transit light rail, and the Sounder commuter trains, neither turnstiles nor fee gates are utilized to ensure that passengers pay for their rides.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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McKenna: Can transit authorities use uniformed officers to collect fares?