Sound Transit is moving towards lighter touches to control through travel

On Thursday, Sound Transit approached a lighter style of tariff introduction, culminating in years of the agency’s years of introspection in light of data showing that previous policies were most prevalent among people of color and low-income racers.

Under a new policy proposed by the commission and to be considered by the full council later this month, riders will receive more warnings and fines for non-payment will increase more slowly than before. The agency will retain the right to send those who have not paid, to the fees and the district court, which is still opposed by some supporters of transit. But Sound Transit will move to this action more slowly, offering other ways to deal with defaults.

Travelers who are lagging behind are no longer at risk of deviating from the system, and law enforcement will be completely exempt from collecting tolls.

The changes are designed to balance board members’ concerns about unfair law enforcement with their growing concern about declining travel revenues. Some board members said the new policy may be too easy for those who do not pay, while transit advocates and other board members have expressed concern that the new policy is not doing enough to reduce what they see as overly punitive measures.

Committee members also voted to reduce the agency’s tariff rate from $ 1.50 to $ 1, although two board members expressed concern about the usefulness of such a move. The goal of Sound Transit is to enroll 80% of riders eligible for the ORCA LIFT program for low-income users. It is currently estimated that less than 40% of this group is enrolled.

They have also moved to expand the new Sound Transit “Travel Fee Ambassador” program, which aims to reduce the role of police and security in law enforcement.

The votes on Thursday, divided into two committee meetings, came two and a half years after the transit agency began reviewing its fare policy.

“We really need to focus, and it will be long-term work, on eliminating inequalities and injustices in the system without destroying the system,” Snohomish County Board Member and Chief Executive Officer Dave Somers told Thursday.

Discussions on a new approach to tariffs began in 2019, before the pandemic or protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. But both events have further raised rates in the work of the board.

Against the backdrop of data showing that black riders received 22% of all fare quotes, even though they make up only 9% of passengers, Sound Transit launched a tariff ambassador program in the summer of 2021, dissuading security contractors from communicating with passengers. But the program struggled with staffing levels and showed limited evidence of its effectiveness.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of passengers on the Sound Transit light rail system, buses and trains has fallen sharply. In January 2022, Sound Transit registered about 80,000 daily riders – almost half of the 157,000 daily users in January 2020. After collecting nearly $ 100 million for travel in 2019, the agency paid back just $ 36 million in 2020. In 2021, the agency’s financial plan predicted that tariffs would be about 6% of the total budget, or $ 8.3 billion, between 2017 and 2046. The pandemic questioned this assumption; employees said Thursday that revenue could drop to $ 6 billion over the same period.

CEO Peter Rogaff, who is due to leave the agency this spring, also expressed concern that fewer people were listening to their ORCA cards before boarding. Some members felt that this new policy would exacerbate the problem.

“I think it’s a little mild, in my opinion,” said Pierce County Board member and executive chief Bruce Domaier.

Under the recommended policy, drivers who do not pay will receive two warnings before being fined for non-payment, instead of one. The third warning will be followed by an administrative fine of $ 50, and the fourth will be followed by a fine of $ 75, as opposed to the $ 124 civil violations currently being noted. Racers may be sent for a fee if they either do not pay the fine or resolve the situation in another way, such as subscribing to a card at a reduced rate.

Each additional interaction could result in a $ 124 civil violation transferred to the district court.

One of the main unanswered questions is how Sound Transit will track alerts. The agency’s data showed that 76% of riders did not show identification when they were approached by the tariff ambassador, which board member and council member King Dave Aptegrav called a potentially “fatal flaw.”

Ragaf agreed that this was a “really unpleasant question”.

Katie Wilson, secretary general of the Transit Racers Union, said the policy would be improved. But she expressed concern that they could still send racers to the legal system.

“If someone can’t pay, they won’t pay, and then all they do is ruin their credit history and their ability to get an apartment,” she said. “I don’t think these consequences are effective in forcing people to pay for travel. Everything you do is harm poor people. ”

Board member and King County Council member Joe McDermott said Thursday he would make two amendments before the full board later this month to eliminate appeals to the judiciary and the ability of Sound Transit to send debt riders to the collection.

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