Metro bus line 7, by SDOT, used with a creative commons license.

Following years of local advocacy, as well as heightened scrutiny around enforcement practices by the movement for black lives, Sound Transit has announced a new approach to fare enforcement on public transit: the fare ambassador pilot program. The program will start in 2021 and represents a big move away from enforcement and punitive systems that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities, people experiencing homelessness, and people with low incomes. The fare ambassador program is a critical step for access and safety for all riders. 

The pilot will replace fare enforcement officers with fare ambassadors who will focus on distributing educational resources. In addition, the fare ambassador pilot program will:

  • Decouple security from fare engagement, by utilizing Sound Transit staff instead of an outside security contractor; this allows the agency to control priorities, training, and management
  • Issue more warnings and fewer infractions when a rider doesn’t present a paid fare
  • Continue to explore reduced fine options
  • Suspend escalation to law enforcement for fare issues alone, allowing fare evasion to stay out of the court system
  • Engage community further on key elements of pilot program and policy, prioritizing BIPOC voices

Coupled with the recent launch of Sound Transit’s subsidized annual pass program, which allows riders with no income or very-low income to receive a fully subsidized annual transit pass, we are starting to see true change toward access and away from punishment.  

Fare enforcement reform work with King County Metro and Sound Transit has been a long road. Many organizations and leaders have advocated for a new approach to fare enforcement for years, including Puget Sound Sage, Transit Riders Union, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, OneAmerica, and more. You can read about our past work on fare enforcement here

Last week’s announcement wouldn’t have happened without leadership from Sound Transit Board member Joe McDermott, who has organized fellow board members to push for reforms. Last week Councilmember McDermott, as well as a host of other elected leaders including Mayor Victoria Woodwards, Mayor Jenny Durkan, Councilmember Claudia Balducci, and Councilmember Dave Upthgrove also voiced strong support for fully divorcing fare citations from the court system, and issue which can perpetuate cycles of poverty. No one should end up in collections for not being able to afford fare.

Again, thanks to Sound Transit for making this critical shift, and all of the partners and electeds who have supported and advocated for change.

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