Metro Transit GM Rob Gannon portrait photoA message from Rob Gannon, General Manager of King County Metro

Metro’s RapidRide lines are our premium service, delivering frequent and affordable high-capacity transit on six major corridors. RapidRide serves one of every six transit riders in King County, and we are preparing to expand the RapidRide network to more communities.

RapidRide allows riders to pay their fares at an ORCA reader before getting on the bus, and to use all doors when boarding. This enables passengers to get on and off quickly, and helps keep buses on schedule. To encourage valid fare payment, fare enforcement officers board RapidRide buses and validate customers’ proof of payment. These officers have the authority to issue a verbal warning for a first offense, a $124 infraction for a second offense, or a misdemeanor citation referral to Metro Transit Police after a third offense.

The King County Auditor’s Office recently reviewed this fare enforcement program, and found several ways that it should be improved. The audit found that Metro lacks clear standards for measuring the effectiveness of fare enforcement. It also found that we need to collect better data to determine if we are achieving our goals, or are creating inequitable outcomes for some riders. The audit points out that nearly 30 percent of misdemeanor citations between 2015 and 2017 were issued to riders experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

We fully welcome the auditors’ guidance to improve our fare enforcement program. The program needs to encourage fare payment while also including options that work for people with little or no money. We are preparing to implement the audit’s recommendations, and have already made changes to address concerns about equity that we identified in our internal review:

  • Metro temporarily stopped referring misdemeanor cases of fare evasion to the Metro Transit Police. This pause gives us time to consider alternatives to this process, which has resulted in only a small percentage of court-issued penalties being paid.
  • Juveniles without proof of payment are now given one additional verbal warning before they are issued a citation. This builds on our prior policy change that made non-payment of bus fares by juveniles a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. We want to avoid creating barriers for youth to get to school, work, or other opportunities.
  • We are providing more oversight and improved training for fare enforcement officers. We have hired a quality assurance supervisor to address some of the auditor’s concerns. We also are reviewing our training related to equitable enforcement, and are starting new training about interacting with youth.

Our next step is to implement the audit’s recommendations. We look forward to working with stakeholders to find solutions that strike the right balance between our interests in collecting fares and in promoting safety and equity. Metro is required by law to collect fares, which cover nearly a third of our operating costs, and we are also committed to providing affordable and equitable access to transit. We know that public transportation is essential for people to reach economic, health, and educational opportunities in our region. That’s why we started our ORCA LIFT program, which offers a $1.50 fare to low-income riders.

We are also committed to eliminating any institutional barriers that hinder us from serving our core mission, or that perpetuate or reinforce historical inequities.

This summer, we will convene stakeholder groups that include bus drivers, customers, social service agencies and their clients, and others, to discuss potential options and develop recommendations by fall. Together, we will:

  • Explore ways to encourage fare payment that do not needlessly penalize those who can least afford it.
  • Collect better data to measure our performance, identify unintended consequences, and ensure that enforcement is not disproportionately affecting people experiencing homelessness or facing obstacles to mobility. We will conduct a fare evasion study in the coming months.
  • Consider how new technologies might support alternative options for holding people accountable to pay their fares. This is even more important as Metro plans to add another 13 RapidRide lines by 2025.

You have my pledge that we will continue to promote a transit environment where all customers feel safe and welcome onboard our buses. Moving people and connecting communities is at the heart of what we do, and we continue looking for ways to do it even better.