SEATTLE - Ticket cheaters sneaking on to Sound Transit be warned; the agency will start checking passengers for payment starting Wednesday.
According to Sound Transit, about 45% of riders aren’t paying their way. That money adds up quickly, especially when fare revenue makes up 15% of the Sound Transit budget.
"They get on the trains at either end," said Sound Transit spokesperson Rachelle Cunningham. "They will introduce themselves and announce to folks that they'll be checking fares."
Riders can show their proof of payment through an ORCA card, the Transit Go app, or a ticket.
"If they do not provide ID or they refuse to provide ID, they could be asked to leave the train," Cunningham said. "Other than that, people who don't have proof of payment, they're allowed to continue their journeys and get to where they're going. We don't ask people without fare to leave the train."
Fare revenue is currently projected at $5.5 billion in Sound Transit's financial plan. The agency said removing fares would make Sound Transit’s financial plan unaffordable.
Fare evasion isn't just a Puget Sound problem.
In California, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) estimates it loses $15 million to $25 million dollars annually due to fare evasion. The BART Board of Directors passed the proof of payment requirement in 2018. For the Bay Area, anyone caught without proof of paying their fare gets a $75 fine.
In New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority lost an estimated $690 million last year to fair evasion on subways and buses. The fine is up to $100 per citation, if you're caught riding without paying.
As far as safety on Sound Transit, fare ambassadors are there solely to enforce fare rules. They are not trained to handle violent situations or drug-related activity.
"They do have de-escalation training, but if something were to get to the point where it was an issue or a safety concern, they would call Sound Transit security and security would meet them at the next stop," Cunningham said.
According to Sound Transit, fare evasion cost the agency almost $2 million in 2018. FOX 13 News was not able to get numbers for post-pandemic, but the farebox is larger now, so it's estimated the revenue loss is also bigger.
People caught without proof of payment get two written warnings in a year. The third is a $50 fine, the fourth is $75, and a fifth could get you a trip to district court with a $124 fine.