Metro officials claim the transit agency loses $36 million annually because of those who avoid paying fares, with the majority from Metrobus at $26 million and the remaining $10 million in Metrorail service.
Joseph Leader, chief operating officer for Metro, said some of the goals to decrease fare invasion are installation of passenger counters on buses; locks on swing gates at 45 of the 82 Metrorail stations; video cameras at some stations; and a pilot program to install sensors on at least 1,000 rail fare gates to count riders.
Leader stressed that Metro isn’t the only large organization that deals with fare evasions. For instance, San Francisco’s transit system annually loses $15 million to $25 million, while New York City, which has the largest transit agency in the nation, says its amount is $215 million.
Although Metro has its own police force, it must follow the laws of the respective jurisdiction.
In the District, fare evasion is only a civil violation, with fines not to exceed $50. In Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, fare evaders can face up to 10 days in jail, depending on the type and number of infractions. Fines range between $10 to $100 in Prince George’s and $50 to $75 in Montgomery County.
In Northern Virginia, the law in Arlington County mirrors Montgomery County. Criminal and civil charges and fines up to $100 fine could face those in Fairfax County; the city of Alexandria records criminal charges and the highest fine amount up to $250.
“It’s a much larger issue than just us. It’s a community issue,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Thursday, July 11 after the agency’s committee sessions at its Northwest headquarters. “We need to do the best we can to make sure we are recording and have a sense of scale. We will enforce the laws that are in the books.”
Board member Michael Goldman of Montgomery County asked for more information such as whether the percentage of fare evasion ranks higher in the D.C. region than other locations.
He said the estimated $10 million loss could be more because riders are resourceful to avoid paying fares. For instance, he said, two people can walk through a turnstile inside a Metrorail station if they correctly time the opening of the turnstile paddle.
Also, “if you are thin, you can go right through the paddles,” he said.
Board member Christian Dorsey of Arlington County understands the revenue losses. However, he stressed to not speed up gate closings to allow customers who need more time to walk through the fare gates.
Additionally, civil and criminal charges stemming from fare evasion have disproportionately affected people of color, Dorsey pointed out.
“We need to understand why people [don’t] pay fares,” he said. “I would hope that we would recognize that it’s in our best interest as a community [and Metro] not to be spending tons of our resources, particularly police resources, on this issue. I would rather devote those resources to other purposes.”
In other business, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn joined the transit agency’s board of directors.
Rahn immediately jumped in as a member of the board’s Finance and Capital Committee last week, asking how much a proposed project to replace a nearly 60-year-old bus garage in Bladensburg would cost.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of history behind these issues and I’m coming into them as a newbie,” he said. “I’m impressed with the staff and their ability to answer questions so far. This will be a productive experience for me and I hope that I will be able to add a different perspective to the board going forward.”
Rahn replaces Clarence Crawford, who represented Prince George’s County and was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in April 2018.
The committee recommended Crawford and board member David Horner, who represents the federal government, receive attorney fees after they were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the ongoing ethics case involving former Metro board Chairman Jack Evans.
Crawford led the board’s Ethics Committee investigation and found Evans, also a D.C. Council member, used his public position for his personal benefit and help a client. Evans faces a D.C. Council investigation and was removed as chair of council’s Finance Committee.
With the Metro board restructuring, the county will now only have one representative in Thomas Graham, a nonvoting member. Graham replaced Malcolm Augustine of Cheverly, who was elected last year as a state senator to represent District 47.
Prince George’s County Councilwoman Deni Taveras, who found out from a reporter last week about Crawford’s exit from the board, said Graham should be a voting member to ensure the county has equal representation.
“That’s a great loss to Prince George’s County when we have tied our economic growth to the growth of Metro,” Taveras said. “That’s evident in our investment in transit-oriented development. To not have a say in the matter when we have such a deep investment? That’s unacceptable.”