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Seattle’s transit system struggles as riders refuse to pay

Seattle’s transit system struggles as riders refuse to pay
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Seattle’s transit system struggles as riders refuse to pay

Seattle’s transit system struggles as riders refuse to pay

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Seattle’s Link Light Rail is a freeloader’s paradise.

There is no turnstile, so passengers either have to buy a ticket or tap on their pre-paid card. But with very few riders paying, the rent currently covers only 5% of the system’s operating costs, a fraction of the 40% mark sound transit set as needed.

At a recent Sound Transit Board meeting, the outgoing CEO highlighted the situation. “Our rent collection system relies heavily on an honors system, and our increasingly acute problem is that our riders are not respecting the system,” said Peter Rogoff.

By one measure, about 70% of all passengers are free riders. But even this is only a guess because there is almost no rent applied. Sound Transit has moved away from fare enforcement officials when a survey revealed that people of color are being unfairly fined. Instead, the system now relies on hired ambassadors. There are only a few for the whole light rail system, so riders will rarely encounter them. They currently employ only 2% of all riders.

Seattle's Chinatown-International District Light Rail Station.

Seattle’s Chinatown-International District Light Rail Station.
(Google Earth)

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When the fare messengers board the train, they ask the passengers if they have paid their fare. Most do not. But instead of removing the fare evaders from the train, the envoys ask multiple questions, starting with the identification request. About 76% of free-riding passengers refuse to create a valid ID, making it impossible to issue a warning.

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Sound Transit approves two warnings before the first fine is imposed. But with very few people being identified, fines are seldom paid and even rarely paid.

Hired ambassadors may not get a lot of jokes, but they do collect information. They ask non-providers their address, race and gender.

King County Council member Reagan Dunn sees the lack of rent enforcement as part of a larger problem.

“What we’re seeing here in Seattle is the systematic criminalization of everything from rent box recovery to failure to register as a sex offender, and using the disguise of equity and social justice to make sure no law is enforced,” Dunn said. What you get is higher crime and more fraud. “

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There are several other light rail systems in Portland, Denver and Dallas that rely on respect systems. But when they are all caught for the first time, the rent evaders are fined heavily. Most members of the Sound Transit Board do not seem to be bothered by poor fare collection performance. Claudia Balducci is among those who support the light touch of the hired ambassador.

“People feel more welcome in our system and are less afraid to use it because there is less fear of rent enforcement,” Balducci said.

But the only Republican on the Sound Transit Board says taxpayers have forged more than $ 168 billion for the system.

“It has to be safe, secure, reliable and sustainable, or it’s the biggest waste of money we’ve ever seen,” said Bruce Damier.

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Sound Transit raises money from virtually everyone in Pierce, Snowhomish and King County. Those who live within a special taxing district will have to pay extra property taxes and much higher fees for their car tabs. It can cost an extra-200- $ 300 per year to register easily, depending on the Blue Book price of the car. And everyone pays an additional 1.4% on their sales tax for the Sound Transit Fund.

Tax revenue continues to rise as rental revenue continues to decline. In 2019, Sound Transit collected $ 96 million from users. In 2020, it received only $ 30 million from riders. Some of these epidemics have been explained by declining riderships at the top. But in recent months the ridership has increased again even though the rent has not been collected.

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