Metro Fare Evasion Could Be Decriminalized in DC Under New Council Bill

A bill to reduce penalties for fare evaders in D.C's Metro system will be introduced Wednesday in the D.C. Council, the News-4 I-Team has learned.

The bill would eliminate jail time and drop the fine from $300 to $100 for cheating bus or rail fare in the District, if it were passed and signed into law. 

"This measure would make evading fare on Metro a civil infraction punishable by fine instead of imprisonment. We have a significant number of young people and economically challenged residents who are being arrested for this minor offense," said a statement to the I-Team from Council Member Trayon White's office. 

White, who represents Ward 8, will introduce the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017 to the Council.

The bill would apply to fare evaders in the District only, not in Maryland or Virginia.

A recent News-4 I-Team investigation showed a recent spike in fare evasion on Metro's bus system. In 2015, the agency reported 1,077 citations, arrests and warnings for fare cheating issued by transit police. The number spiked to 1,870 during the same time period in 2016, according to agency records. The increase carried over into 2017, the I-Team learned. The A2 and X2 routes are among the most frequently targeted by fare evaders.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said, "While we have not yet reviewed the proposed legislation, as stewards of taxpayer funds from federal, state and local sources, Metro believes it has an obligation to ensure that every rider pays his or her fair share."

Metro has undertaken a new enforcement and patrol detail to deter or issue citations to bus fare evaders, using both plainclothes Metro Transit Police officers and uniformed officers wearing bright fluorescent vests.

Metro uses a similar enforcement system to stop rail evasions. Recent I-Team reports have captured images of rail fare cheats at the AU/Tenleytown station.

"In recent years and months, WMATA [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] has increased enforcement of fare evasion laws, with a particularly heavy enforcement presence at Congress Heights, Anacostia Metro Station and other stations in economically challenged areas," White's office statement to the I-Team said.

The statement continued, "For WMATA, whose mission should be to help people access their city, punitive approaches to fare collection does not seem to be the best use of resources."

A large number of assaults on Metrobus operators stem from disputes over fare evasions, according to Metro officials and union representatives. The agency has not offered comment on White's proposal. 

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