From court citations to administrative fines
Many transport operators in the US are changing their penalty system when it comes to fare evasion to avoid court

US transport operators are shifting to administrative fines

Many US transport operators are shifting from criminal citations to administrative fines for fare evaders. Transit agencies are giving more power to ticket controllers, who can now issue fines to those who do not pay for their use of public transport. There is no need to go to court, thus, payments are lower and the process speeds up.

Both Caltrain, in San Francisco Peninsula, and TriMet, in Portland, have changed their penalty policies recently. The first, introduced administrative fines late April, which up until this week acted as warnings. The latter, started the approach this July.


An expected fairer system

A court record can have a life-long consequence, affecting people’s ability to rent a house or to get a job. Furthermore, going to court is a considerable expense. Consequently, numerous organizations have asked for a change. They believe a court citation is a very high price to pay for skipping a fare of around $2.50 for a single ticket.

Administrative fines implemented in Caltrain and in TriMet remove the need to go to court and present lower bills. Before the new system, fines in San Francisco Peninsula were $250 plus court administrative fees. The new ordinance has reduced them to $75 and all revenue goes straight to the operator.

In TriMet, the new fee structure reduces fines by $100. It charges $75 to first-time offenders and, from there, tickets increase to $100, $150 and $175 for each successive violation. TriMet also offers community service as an alternative to paying a fine. The amount of hours depends on the offence.


Seeking efficiency

Since 2003, an officer monitored fare compliance by writing citations for passengers who failed to show proof of payment. This process was long -around 10 to 15 minutes- and created tension between inspectors and passengers. Consequently, in some occasions, the train had to be stopped and Transit Police had to interfere to make and arrest. Overall, affecting paying passengers.

Also, Caltrain operates in three jurisdictional counties in California: San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. This meant varying court procedures and penalties depending on jurisdiction.

The new policy takes about two minutes and only requires officers to scan an ID. Thus, inspectors can now check more tickets.  Furthermore, it creates a standardized electronic issuance procedure for officers and minimizes confusion for Caltrain passengers. Plus, it reduces court congestion for all three Superior Courts.