The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Metro’s new leader takes on brazen fare evasion

A rider jumps over a turnstile at the Silver Spring Metro station on Oct. 4. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
3 min

It is clearly too soon to tell whether Metro’s new general manager, Randy Clarke, will be successful in getting the troubled agency back on track. He has been on the job less than three months, and the challenges facing Metro are formidable. But credit Mr. Clarke for squarely facing up to one of the more nettlesome problems facing the transit system, which was largely ignored by his predecessors: fare evasion.

Metro last week rolled out a multifaceted plan to address the problem of people not paying fares on trains and buses. The first stage is an education campaign with Metro posting digital signs urging riders to pay their fare and warning them that Metro Transit Police officers could fine them if they don’t. Transit officers will hand out fliers with the same message, and the system will install cameras and monitors to deter gate-jumping. Next month, transit officers will start issuing tickets.

Transit police had already been writing tickets in Maryland and Virginia, where fare evasion is a criminal offense that comes with a fine of up to $100. But after the District decriminalized fare evasion in 2018, making it a civil offense subject to a $50 fine, Metro took no enforcement action. It claimed that no process was in place to handle adjudication and appeals. Mr. Clarke figured out a solution with the city’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

Metro, which faces a funding gap of $185 million in the next fiscal year, estimates it lost $40 million to fare evasion on buses and trains during the fiscal year that ended this summer. While some applauded Mr. Clarke’s new initiative, others found fault, arguing the problem has been inflated. There was also concern that transit officers would, as has happened in the past, disproportionately target Black riders and that the stops could result in excessive use of force. Clearly there should be oversight of how the policy is implemented, a task that will be made easier when transit police in the next few months are equipped with body cameras.

Follow Editorial Board's opinionsFollow

But Mr. Clarke is right to recognize the harm caused by nonpaying riders. Those who use the system and who do pay feel they are being taken advantage of, and rising fare evasion, The Post’s Justin George reported, adds to perceptions of disorder and disarray in the system. Indeed, some suburban Washington officials have said fare evasion is among the problems Metro needs to resolve before requesting subsidy increases.

It’s unclear how well the initiative will succeed; skeptics point to the millions of dollars in unpaid speeding and red-light camera tickets as evidence of the inherent weaknesses of a civil ticketing system. Metro says other fixes are underway, including testing prototypes to make station fare gates more difficult to jump. (Metro should have thought about this before replacing many of its fare gates with nearly identical models.) But Mr. Clarke’s new enforcement campaign has at least sent an important and overdue message to Metro riders: The rules are there to be followed.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).