It’s time to end to make the punishment fit the offense.
Currently, fare-evasion in the District is considered a crime that can result in arrest, up to 10 days in jail, and a fine of up to $300.
The Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017 (Bill 22-408) makes fare evasion a civil offense punishable by a fine of no more than $50. Bill 22-408 recognizes that no one should have to face arrest or jail time for not affording a fare. The punishment does not fit the offense, and enforcement of such laws disproportionately impacts poor communities and communities of color. The bill also reduces to civil infractions other minor offenses that are currently categorized as crimes, including eating and drinking, playing a radio, and operating skateboards.
- Fare evasion stops and arrests target District residents. Fare evasion is not a crime in Virginia, and WMATA’s own reports show that most enforcement takes place in the District.
- Fare evasion enforcement is racist. A recent report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights and Urban Affairs found that fare evasion in DC is enforced almost exclusively against black riders, and studies of other jurisdictions (such as New York, Portland and Minneapolis) reveal that people of color are stopped more often than their white counterparts on suspicion of fare evasion and are arrested and cited at much higher rates when they’ve been identified as evading a fare.
- Fare evasion arrests harm those who rely on metro the most. One in five District residents live in poverty, and many rely on metro transit as their primary mode of transportation. Because metro fares are distance based, these residents also have the highest cost burden because they must travel long distances to get to jobs, schools, doctors, and other services they rely upon. By continuing to criminalize fare evasion, we are saddling the most economically insecure with the threat of jail time and unreasonable fines. Someone who cannot pay a Metro fare certainly cannot pay a $300 fine.
- Fare evasion arrests are costly. A simple citation or misdemeanor arrest can affect a person’s livelihood, can lead to parole being revoked for a returning citizen, and can affect a person’s immigration status. In addition to the human cost, arresting and jailing people for fare evasion diverts critical D.C. resources from addressing serious crimes, and ultimately harms public safety efforts. Taxpayer funds would be better spent investing in underserved communities in the District.
- Fare evasion arrests are not an effective means of deterring fare evasion or of preventing other crimes. The belief that penalizing low-level crimes will prevent worse crimes, known as broken-windows policing, is a failed and discredited approach that led to the mass incarceration epidemic in this country.
- Fare evasion stops have resulted in excessive use of force against riders by police. There have been multiple news stories in recent years of Metro transit officers using excessive force on riders they stopped on suspicion of fare evasion. Interactions like this are not only dangerous, they harm community trust in law enforcement. There is also no independent civilian oversight of Metro Transit Police when riders have complaints about officer misconduct, harassment, or discrimination.
- Fare evasion arrests do not make money for Metro. WMATA makes the claim that it is losing $20 million annually from fare evasion, but it has been unable to back this up with evidence. The fact is that we don’t know how much fare evasion costs, but we do know that WMATA’s ridership has decreased over the past few years, and that has been attributed to service cuts, crashes, general unreliability, and the rise of ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. WMATA should not make fare evasion the scapegoat for its shortcomings.
- D.C. would not be the first jurisdiction to decriminalize fare evasion. The District would be joining several other jurisdictions that have already decriminalized fare evasion.
A parking ticket does not result in potential jail time, and failure to pay Metro fare should not either. It’s time to change our broken system.
What Can I do?
- Contact the members of the D.C. Council TODAY and tell them to vote for Bill 22-408 at second vote on December 4.
- On social media, tweet or share your support for the bill, using the hashtag #itsnotfare
- Read this letter signed by local organizations urging councilmembers to support the bill
- Print out this sheet and post a photo of why YOU support the decriminalizing fare evasion.
- Read "Unfair: Disparities in Fare Evasion Enforcement by Metro Police," by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
- Read the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association's letter to Councilmember Charles Allen in support of the bill
- See the ACLU-DC statement following the bill's passage out of the Judiciary Committee
- For more information, read the ACLU-DC’s testimony on Bill 22-408 here.