But Metro Transit Police actually write few tickets for those offenses. Perhaps, the memory of a youngster infamously arrested and handcuffed for eating french fries on the Red Line 12 years ago still lingers.
The biggest offense these days, according to Metro, is consuming alcohol.
Ninety-seven percent of the roughly 1,200 tickets Metro Transit Police issued from January through October 2011 were for alcohol violations, which includes violating open container laws or consuming alcohol in a public space, according to records requested by The Washington Post.
Fifty-eight percent of the alcohol tickets happened at Metro stations, while 36 percent occurred at bus stops or on buses.
“It’s a matter of convenience,” said Deputy Police Chief Ron Pavlik. “You’re walking down the street. You go into a liquor store for a cold one. You walk to the bus stop, sit down and you crack it open.
“People feel like that’s not violating the law,” he said.
It isn’t a violation to carry the food or drink on board a train or bus, but if a rider consumes the item they can get a ticket of up to $100.
College Park, Addison Road and Anacostia ranked as the top three Metro stations where the most tickets were issued for all types of violations, ranging from eating food to drinking non-alcoholic beverages and alcohol. Fifty-three tickets were issued at areas just outside Metro stops and 50 were written on buses.
Branch Avenue, Dunn Loring, Rockville, Takoma, Virginia Square and Metro’s headquarters building, came in the lowest — with only one citation issued at each. Nineteen tickets were issued for eating food and 14 were issued for drinking non-alcoholic drinks on trains and buses.
Warnings vs. citations
The total number of tickets issued is small compared to the number of people who pass through the transit system. Metro records more than a million trips on the average weekday. The 450 officers on the transit force maintain regular watch for riders consuming food or drink on trains and buses, police said, but they issue more verbal warnings than written citations.
“We find that if an officer walks up and says, ‘It is illegal to eat or drink in the system. Put it away,’ most people do,” Pavlik said.
It can become a ticket, which can be on a person’s record and show up on background checks, depending on the circumstances, police said. If someone talks back or refuses to put away the food or drink, police are more likely to write a ticket, Pavlik said.
Metro Transit Police developed the warning system after they arrested 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth on the Red Line in 2000, generating cries of outrage around the world. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit later upheld the constitutionality of her arrest.