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The Evolution of Transit Fare Evasion
Riders pay less than half the cost of the ride. Some pay none.

As part of the growing trend of law enforcement reform, manifesting itself in -- let's be frank -- reductions in penalties for crimes and illegal actions, in 2017 TriMet asked the Oregon Legislature for a bill so that they could do their own enforcement on fare evasion. HB 2777 was passed authorizing mass transit districts to establish an administrative process to adjudicate ordinance violations. Oregon’s ACLU supported passage to increase access to TriMet passes for low-income individuals, seniors and people with disabilities, which they believed would reduce fare evasion.

In May of 2017, TriMet added 20 security personnel to respond to a knife attack that left two men dead and another injured. Drivers were told to let fare evaders on and push the “fare evasion” button. Drivers still feel they lack support and policies put them in danger by requiring them to tell confrontational fare evaders they didn’t pay enough.

On October 22, 2019 TriMet announced there were increasing fare inspectors to reduce the 14.5% found by a PSU study that ride without paying. The first month a homeless man was charged $175 fare violation even though he had a transit pass. TriMet discontinued an ad campaign in November that framed fare enforcement as a service to riders, after it generated substantial backlash.

Under Oregon law, a rider who fails to pay the transit fare or commits another transit-related violation can be cited in court and fined. HB 2777 gives mass transit districts the ability to create an alternative administrative process for resolving violations including reducing fines through an in-house hearing or order community service before taking the case to court.

When Governor Brown announced the stay-at-home order in March of 2020, people began working from home and ridership dropped 60%. Ridership has continued to stay at the 60% below 2019 levels. TriMet suspended cash fares for Hop Fastpass on March 26, 2020. This was done in response to COVID-19 to limit contact with boarders. Now that TriMet has a number of safety measures in place, and faces a lawsuit for violating state law by not involving the public in that decision, they are again accepting cash as of October 1.



During the pandemic TriMet fare enforcers issued fewer citations for fare evasion. It follows that reduced ridership would reduce fare evasion. However, TriMet board changed the approach of the fare enforcers to “fare informing, not fare enforcing.” Enforcement practices are still in place, but they offer more leeway to some riders using more of an education process. Part of that education process is making riders aware of the Transit Fare Programs that offers reduced fares for low-income riders, fare assistance, fare relief and a high school pass program.

TriMet received life support from a $185 million federal COVID-19 relief package, but are restricted on how it is used. The 2021 budget includes funds for hiring eight new security workers to perform fare checks. Until the pandemic lockdown is terminated, the determination of whether HB 2777 is beneficial remains in suspense.

--Donna Bleiler

Post Date: 2021-01-04 01:48:59Last Update: 2021-01-04 09:51:06

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