Rapid Ride lines including the C Line depend on the honor system for payment and fare enforcement officers to confirm riders have paid. The program costs $1.8 million per year and last year returned $484,964 in fines but also provided security, education and crime deterrent effects according to Metro.
Fare enforcement: Rapid Ride program will undergo top to bottom review
At $1.8 million a year it also acts as a deterrent to other crime
If you've taken the C Line in West Seattle or the D Line in Ballard to and from Downtown you've likely seen the Fare Enforcement officers from Metro moving through the coaches, usually in teams checking transfers and Orca cards to confirm payment. The program which costs $1.8 million per year, employs around 40 officers who must go through 160-200 hours of training including 80 hours of basic security training and 80-120 hours of on-the-job fare enforcement training. Their work is constantly under scrutiny.
As part of a regular process for the agency, Metro will give the program a top to bottom review in the next few weeks.
In 2016 they gave out 3,911 tickets, at $124 each which produced $484,964. To get a ticket, a civil infraction, you must fail to pay on your second failure to provide proof (a valid transfer or Orca card). You get a verbal warning the first time.
Repeat offenders (and there are some chronic ones according to Metro) can take it far enough to reach the level of "theft of service" making it an actual crime. The money garnered through fines however is largely "absorbed by the court system," said Mark Norton who runs the enforcement program for Metro.
But aside from the core mission of catching those who don't pay (and with the threat of being caught being good about paying in the first place), fare enforcement has a crime deterrent effect according to Norton. Officers also answer fare-related questions, provide guidance and education. Officers conduct hundreds of fare checks daily on RapidRide buses dealing with thousands of people. They carry no weapons but do carry handcuffs.
Ridership is up. The Seattle Transit Blog notes that C-Line ridership is up 26 percent and the D-Line is up 21 percent. That translates to 10,500 riders on the C and 14,200 on the D daily. That's a lot of people to check.
Security on buses is a serious matter. Given normal security issues and understanding that preventing all crime is impossible, the fare enforcement people do deter crime simply through their presence. But in July of 2014, a suspect shot a Link passenger on Sound Transit after being escorted off the bus by fare enforcement.
Fare enforcement began in 2009 with the introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the need for faster boarding on lines A through F. To accomplish that, Metro set up card readers at stops (and on board the bus) but relies on the honor system to get their fares. Hence the need for Fare Enforcement in which uniformed officers board the bus and request to see paper transfer tickets or Orca cards which they scan with portable readers.
When the system was introduced Metro said they would have readers at every door in addition to the Rapid Ride stops to make acknowledgement of payment faster, especially during peak times when seats are at a premium. That has not been the case. In fact some readers are chronically broken (notably on 3rd Avenue downtown) which, according to some riders causes people to just jump on board, taking the risk of being caught. Metro said about the systems on 3rd Avenue, "The outage on 3rd avenue appears to be a power problem that we've been communicating with the city on. And we're hoping for further information next week as to the progress they're making on the power issue."
Fare enforcement officers cannot accept payment, the readers they carry only confirm payment or lack thereof.
Metro's Public Affairs Coordinator Jeff Switzer provided some answers, information and insight on how the program operates.
What about the original plan to have card readers at every entrance of the Rapid Ride buses?
"We began exploring the idea of all-door boarding in our early RapidRide planning back in 2007. At that time, the ORCA card system was not yet operational and it was determined that installation of readers on all bus doors would require changes to the ORCA system design – changes that would delay the implementation of the overall ORCA system. As an alternative, we decided to place off-board ORCA readers at our most heavily used stations – where we have the most people boarding and as a result would achieve the greatest time-savings benefit. We are working on having readers at all bus doors as part of the next generation ORCA program."
When the ORCA card readers are broken, (the reader and information screen on 3rd Avenue downtown has been broken on both sides of the street for weeks) doesn’t this both:
a. Slow everyone down and
b. Lead to more people just jumping on without paying so they can get a seat?
"Yes, and maybe. Riders are still obligated to pay their fare or face a fine.... Riders can board and tap when able if very crowded, or choose to board at the front. They run the risk of having their fare inspected between the time of boarding and when they tap, so the risk belongs to the rider for that choice. We want off-board fare readers to function properly to make the system work its best. Sometimes it doesn’t and we need to make repairs. Unfortunately there is no automatic reporting of non-functioning readers, so we must rely on reports from riders and operators. There are 4 stops on 3rd Avenue that have had a power issue for quite some time. The power issue is with the utility and we cannot repair the ORCA readers until that is addressed. We have been in contact with the utility, but we still have not been given any definite time frame of when the power should be restored."
As RapidRide customers know, ORCA cards can be purchased online, at certain Bartell Drug stores or in the Bus Tunnel. But cannot be re-charged at the reader locations remotely, only low funds are announced. Is there a plan to permit cards to be recharged at reader stations?
"The technology isn’t in place to recharge ORCA cards remotely at card readers. We provide a network and choices for recharging ORCA cards, including online, auto-revalue, QFC and Safeway stores, the downtown Bartell Drug store, ORCA ticket vending machines at Link and Sounder stations and major transit centers, and the Metro Customer Service Office in the King Street Center . For riders who don’t have value or a pass on their cards, they can opt for paying cash or consider Metro’s new Transit Go mobile ticketing app
If the cost, broken out for Fare Enforcement, and overall security is enhanced are we paying too much for “security” ? Do Fare Enforcement people .. often three at a time, perform a function that’s worth what we pay?
"Off-board fare payment is a key element of Bus Rapid Transit - one part of increasing the speed and reliability of RapidRide . It is common to use a Proof of Payment system with fare enforcement officers on buses since bus stops don’t have the option of a physical fare barrier system to enforce fares. I am not aware of any transit agencies that have POP without fare enforcement.
Compared to national averages (Transit Cooperative Research Program Synthesis 94, 2012) Metro has been achieving a reasonable evasion rate on RapidRide with a lower than average fare inspection rate. Based on a 2014 analysis, at Metro there was an overall fare evasion rate of 2.2% on RapidRide which is a slight decrease in fare evasion (about 1% combined all lines) when comparing RapidRide to its predecessor routes. Our inspection rate was 2.9%. The TCRP synthesis states that of the thirty surveyed agencies with POP, the average evasion rate was 2.7% with an average inspection rate of 11%.
Our annual cost for Fare Enforcement Officers is $1.8 million for labor and expenses, one part of our contract with Securitas, which also provides tunnel and park and ride security and 24-hour-a-day monitoring of many Metro facilities.
What can you tell us about the future of Rapid Ride?.. with the letters going all the way down to Z.. what are the rough plans for the expansion of the service...the timeline and areas to be served?
"RapidRide is envisioned to expand to 26 lines by 2040. The Metro Connects long-range plan outlines the plan, the result of working with jurisdictions, riders and elected officials. In the 2024 timeframe, we are looking at implementing 13 new RapidRide lines; seven in Seattle and six in other areas of King County. The first two new lines to be implemented are the G Line serving the Madison corridor between downtown Seattle and First Hill planned for 2019 and the H Line, between downtown Seattle to Delridge and Burien in 2020. Implementation schedules for the remaining lines are still fairly fluid at this point.
What is the cost of the on board card scanner? The next gen readers are not scheduled for another 3 years.
"All buses have a front door on-board reader so there is no added cost for RapidRide Proof of Payment. It is not possible to add our current readers to multiple bus doors ."
Looking at Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere.. the presence of Fare Enforcement officers cuts down on fare cheating.. but it also at least in New York leads to the discovery of other crimes such as carrying a weapon.How many times has Fare Enforcement called Seattle Police regarding a rider or other crime on board or near a transit station?
"KCM does not have any statistics that would specifically tell us how many times SPD was contacted to assist the FEOs. We do collect statistics on the number of times our FEOs request police assistance through the KCSO Dispatch Center. In 2016, this number was 269 times. The majority of these calls were to assist in identifying someone who failed to provide valid proof of payment. A small percentage of these calls were to report the type of situations described in the question above. Please note that all FEO calls for police assistance are placed with the KCSO Dispatch Center via radio. If KCSO dispatch does not have anyone available to respond to the Fare Enforcement Officers, they contact the local jurisdiction for assistance."
What is the value assessment of a program like this?
Rationale for fare enforcement policy: As a result of having proof of payment fare inspections, Metro is better able to collect fare revenue in addition to avoiding loss of fare revenue. We are not expecting that the costs of fare enforcement would be fully recovered by decreased fare evasion. Note that we have seen about a 1 percent decrease in full fare evasion with the implementation of RapidRide. Based on 2016 RapidRide ridership levels and the 2016 estimated average fare per rider, that 1 percent decrease in evasion equates to about $270,000 more fare revenue. We get many other benefits from Proof of Payment/fare enforcement such as less dwell time at the busiest stops which helps us keep our buses on schedule, less likelihood of operator-rider fare related incidents, an increased security presence on buses and at stations/stops, and helping to reinforce the rider perception of RapidRide being a better service that other Metro routes. In the end, with the overall package of RapidRide elements, we continue to see ridership growth on the six RapidRide lines be consistently higher than other Metro routes - which is likely due in part to the benefits listed above. Comparing 2016 RapidRide ridership levels to the pre-RapidRide baseline ridership, we carried an additional 8.7 million riders. Using the 2016 estimated average fare per rider, this increase accounts for $11.4 million in additional fare revenue.
Fare Enforcement people can’t arrest someone for a crime but can they detain or restrain someone with handcuffs until your officers or others arrive? Can they detain someone whose repeated offenses on fares have risen to the level of theft of service so it’s a criminal offense.. then call your officers?
"Fare Enforcement Officers don’t have authority to enforce criminal issues. The handcuffs are intended to be used for their protection or that of a customer if detaining someone is required for safety reasons. They have lawful authority to protect themselves or others. They can instruct a rider to stay and identify themselves. If they do not stay, they commit a second violation failing to identify themselves. They do not use handcuffs to detain someone for this purpose. Metro Transit Police are an enhancement to local law enforcement. If there’s a major crime, local law enforcement shares responsibility for the Metro system.
Mark Norton said that the secondary mission of those officers is to act as a deterrent, not only to fare evaders but to other crimes but they are only on the Rapid Ride buses so are there Metro Police who ride in plainclothes or in uniform on routes where trouble is common or at times when issues are more likely to take place?
"Metro Transit Police ride in uniform, including bicycle deputies and plain clothes. They focus on routes with higher numbers of security incident reports, and also hotspots around the system where there are more reported crimes from riders. Studies show uniformed visible presence of security is a deterrent for crime and disorder."
In the case of other civil infractions do they call your department if they see someone ignoring their request to stop committing an infraction?
"Yes. Certainly they can call, and also notify the bus operator."
Is there a schedule of offenses and their fines you can share for the civil and criminal infractions?
"$124 is a common fine under the Code of Conduct. This link has sections for civil and criminal: http://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/about/safety-security/code-of-conduct.aspx "
For more on Fare Enforcement see this story from Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times from 2014
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