WASHINGTON -- aThe Metro Fare Evasion Decriminalization bill passed in D.C. Council on Tuesday.
“It’s time for a new strategy, one that doesn’t set people back for life over a $2 fare,” Councilmember Robert White said Tuesday in support of the bill.
The bill makes the $300 criminal fine now a $50 civil fine.
Proponents of decriminalization analyzed more than 30,000 citations given over a 25 month period and insist enforcement highlights a racial disparity. The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights found more than 90 percent of those cited for fare evasion were black.
But Metro believes it is losing $25 million in revenue each year from those who don’t pay fares – and that’s just from Metrobus alone.
Councilman Jack Evans, who voted against the measure, called it unfair to people who pay the fines.
Councilmember Mendelson attempted to introduce an amendment to the bill, which would keep fare evasion as a criminal offense, but lower the fine, but it failed. In its preliminary vote, he called fare evasion theft.
The ACLU of D.C. applauded the measure in a statement Tuesday night, stating: “Today’s vote is a significant victory for criminal justice reform here in the District. We’re gratified a majority of the Council saw past WMATA’s last-minute misinformation campaign and recognized that low-level offenses like fare evasion are not a threat to public safety, that enforcement unfairly targets black riders, and that our current system of criminalization is both ineffective and excessive.
The bill must be signed by the mayor.