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Legal, civil rights advocates keeping a close eye on how Metro's fare evasion campaign is enforced

WUSA9 set up cameras to see how rampant the problem is and in just 20 minutes, we recorded 26 people hopping the turn style at the West Hyattsville station.

WASHINGTON — There is no such thing as a free ride, or at least there won't be on Metro starting in November, when Metro Transit Police begin issuing fines to people looking to avoid paying to ride.

But for now, fare evaders are still abundant on the transit system. Metro said people who skipped out on paying fares cost the system $40 Million in lost revenue during fiscal year 2022.

“It makes me feel like, ‘why am I paying full price for service that’s subpar?’" questioned rider Rbeka Wiggins. "Why shouldn’t I jump too?!” 

WUSA9 decided to try and witness the phenomena ourselves. Our reporters placed cameras in plain view at three stations representing all lines throughout the region Wednesday afternoon. It didn’t take long for our cameras to capture fare evasion. 

In just 20 minutes, we recorded 26 people hopping the turn style at the West Hyattsville station -- an average of 78 people per hour. Based on what we gathered, Courthouse in Arlington sees an average of eight jumpers an hour and three an hour at the Van Ness/University of the District of Columbia stop.

“There is no such thing as free,” said Metro General Manager Randy Clarke, “There are ways to do fair free and if the region decides to do that than the region can do that, but there’s nothing free and we need the revenue to run the service a service that is critical to this community.”

Clarke said fare evasion doesn’t add up to all of Metro’s financial troubles, but the shortfall does affect service and the only other “savings” he can find is through cutting rail/bus service which he does not want to do. Clarke said in November, transit police will begin passing out information, then issuing warnings, followed by fines.  

It is a crime in Maryland and Virginia to skip the fare and those who do so will be fined up to $100.  In 2019, the DC Council made fare evasion a civil infraction so police will fine District residents $50.  

RELATED: Metro begins warning campaign to stop fare evaders

Jonathan Smith, executive director of Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said they will be paying close attention to that campaign because of Metro’s history with cracking down on fare evasion.    

“That enforcement effort had a profoundly discriminatory effect on people of color,” Smith SAID.

The Committee conducted a study in 2018 that found 91% of the people cited were black and 46% of those cited young men under 25 years old.

“Fare evasion wasn't targeted throughout the entire system," Smith said. "It was really targeted those neighborhoods and those metro stops, where you saw a congregation of young people of color." 

The data shows nearly 30% of the stops occurred at the Chinatown Gallery Place and Anacostia stops.

“Metro wrote the Council and said, one of the reasons we need to have a crime of fare evasion is so we can stop people that we think are suspicious and run their names through the warrant system to determine whether or not there's a warrant for their arrest,” Smith said. "We're sort of targeting and demonizing young people who are jumping the turnstile as the problem where the problem is that it's too expensive to get around the city to live your life if you don't have a high income, and that we're just focusing on the wrong on the wrong side of issues.”

Metro says they have fare programs to subsidize rides for seniors, weekend rides on rail are a flat $2 fee, and bus rides are free if you already travelled on rail.

Clarke said he spoke to transit police officers and hopes there will not be any conflict with the community when they begin to issue fines in November.

“I expect our police department to follow the highest standards and treat every member of the community with respect and follow the law,” he said. “I would ask all our customers and community member to respect police and their tough role they have.”

Metro will begin to modify its turn styles to make it more difficult to skip the fare. WMATA upgraded the gates just last year and while the design did not change, they include technology that tracks fare evasion; that data is not yet available. 

RELATED: About 34% of Metrobus riders are not paying for their rides, new report shows

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