Sound Transit restarts fare enforcement, fines for Link light rail

Nov 15, 2023, 1:32 PM

sound transit 1-line fare enforcement light rail...

Link Light Rail's Rainier Beach station (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

Sound Transit has restarted fare enforcement for riders on the Link light rail after more than two years.

Starting Nov. 15, Sound Transit announced that they would be checking tickets on light rail trains, and while ambassadors have been checking tickets for the last several months, they will now be issuing citations instead of warnings.

More news: New issue may impact opening of Sound Transit’s Eastside light rail line

In 2018, Sound Transit decided to re-evaluate the fare compliance system, with criticism of having uniformed security guards check for fares, especially among allegations of racial discrimination.

That program of nonenforcement was changed, though, as the transportation agency says that fare revenues are critical to running the system, so in a sense, free rides hurt the system and the community.

“We are committed to seeking non-punitive solutions and will continue to refine our programs to prioritize assistance and education,” Sound Transit spokesperson Rachell Cunningham said in a prepared statement. “Additional procedures are currently under development, including direct referrals to social service teams and photo documentation for those without valid fare and ID. These procedures are not final and would be launched with more information at a future date.”

Now, Sound Transit said they have completely reworked their fare enforcement system, using Fare Ambassadors rather than security. They have also started a system where passengers get two warnings before they start getting fined $50 for their third violation. If passengers are found to have skipped paying a fare five times they are fined $124 and can be referred to a civil court.

Between 2020 and 2021, fare evasion was 10-30%; non-fare boarding estimates were 40-70%. For the previous two years, those respective data were 3% and 14%. Pre-COVID, those numbers (non-fare boarding) hovered between 7% and 19% (outside of obvious statistical anomaly errors). Post-COVID and suspension of citations, those numbers range between 60% and 31%. Today, roughly four out of 10 riders refuse to pay for a ticket.

Sound Transit also officially adopted a $1 fare for low-income riders called the ORCA LIFT program back in March. ORCA LIFT cards are available to qualifying low-income households, seniors and those with disabilities. You can check to see if you qualify here.

“We still have our work cut out for us to continue to reach deeper into the communities that would benefit the most from increased access to the resources essential for health and wellness, including health care, education, healthy food and even the region’s stunning natural areas through more affordable transportation options,” Sound Transit CEO Julie Timm said.

Sound Transit also recently took steps to increase security at the stations after some high-profile instances of crime, including a hammer attack in Beacon Hill station. The department noted that one of their biggest rider concerns is people experiencing homelessness and riding the trains.

More on WA transportation: More trouble for Washington State Ferries: 38% of vessels are out of service

“We understand those concerns. We want to make sure that our passengers feel comfortable. We also want to make sure that we’re addressing the needs of homeless people as well in a compassionate way,” Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher said. “Which is why we’re partnering with agencies to look for ways for outreach to connect people to services that they may need.”

In May, Sound Transit said they were hiring an additional 300 security guards to help achieve their safety goals.

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Sound Transit restarts fare enforcement, fines for Link light rail