Council overrides Mayor’s veto, metro fare evasion decriminalized

Riders use SmarTrip card to pay metro fare. Courtesy of WMATA/Photo by Larry Levine

The District Council voted 11-2 to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of B22-0408 Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018 this week.  Phil Mendelson and Jack Evans, who voted against the bill originally, remained the only Councilmembers not in favor of the Act. With this majority, the bill becomes a law following Congressional review.

As introduced, the bill decriminalizes the charge of fare evasion by making it a civil offense punishable by a lesser fine, instead of a criminal offense punishable by a larger fine and a chance of imprisonment.  Previously, fare evasion was a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to $300 and potential jail time, now it will result in a simple $50 fine. 

Decriminalization does not legalize fare evasion.  Metro Transit Police Officers will stop fare evaders, write them tickets, and refuse them service by escorting them off the bus or out of the station. 

“This bill does not seek to provide an ‘out’ for riders looking to skip paying their Metro fare, but rather to… make the punishment fit the offense,” Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. said in a statement from his office.

Along with her veto, Bowser expressed worry that decriminalization could impact Metro’s bottom line and create potential safety issues: “We should not encourage lawlessness on Metro, which could exacerbate public safety concerns on our Metro and in our city.”

“It is just an attempt to scare people, and it doesn’t have a strong basis in fact,” Councilmember Mary Cheh rebutted, speaking of claims that decriminalization could make the system less safe. 

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs found in a recently released study that Metro Transit Police stopped over 30,000 individuals for suspected fare evasion, and issued over 20,000 citations, during the period from January 2016 to February 2018.