WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - Washington's Mayor has vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have decriminalized evading paying the fare on the Metro.
The move from Mayor Muriel Bowser comes after the city council voted overwhelmingly in November to decriminalize fare evasion.
Metro opposed the bill, saying it loses $25 million a year on people not paying their bus fare, and another $25 million on people evading their Metro fare.
Council member Trayon White told FOX 5's Josh Rosenthal that the veto caught him completely off guard.
"the community came out overwhelmingly in support to get rid of fare evasion as a criminal offense. I think we have to listen to the residents and get them back out to hear their voices and do what's right," he said.
He's confident that the council has the votes to override the mayor's decision, and said the city needs to prioritize its soaring homicide rate.
"We need to be talking about the 12 homicides that's happened in the district, not vetoing a bill about
fare evasion," he said.
Statement from the mayor:
The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Chairman, Council of the District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania, NW, Suite 504
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Chairman Mendelson:
I am vetoing Bill 22-408, the "Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018." As
you aware, our Metro system continues to experience significant financial challenges. This past
spring, I took a major step toward solving this problem by including dedicated taxes for Metro in
my Fiscal Year 2019 budget and partnering with Virginia and Maryland to make sure each
jurisdiction is paying its fair share. I applaud the Council's support for this landmark
accomplishment and will continue looking for ways to support our residents, workers, and
visitors who rely on Metro every day.
While we can certainly take pride in our accomplishment this past spring, there is more work to
be done to stabilize Metro's budget and operations. WMATA estimates that Metro loses between
$25 million and $50 million per year due to fare evasion, and I am concerned that Bill 22-408
would exacerbate the problem. While I understand that Council intended to change fare evasion
to a civil offense, it is important to note that the bill simply removes criminal penalties while
failing to set up a new civil adjudicative process. This leaves WMATA without any meaningful
tools to enforce the payment of fares and will encourage fare evasion, which will result in
additional lost revenue for the Metro system.
I want to be clear that I understand and share the Council's goal of mitigating the impacts of
criminal justice involvement, especially on people of color. With this goal in mind, I introduced
Bill 22-560, the "Second Chance Amendment Act of 2017," in November of 2017. This
legislation would have radically reformed the District's criminal record sealing process and
helped our citizens who still feel the impacts of past involvement in the justice system. I am
disappointed that Council did not pass this legislation before the end of Council Period 22. I have
reintroduced the legislation - which is a more appropriate and effective means of acknowledging
and responding to such offenses - and look forward to working with Council to move it through
the legislative process in Council Period 23.
While Bill 22-408 also has the aim of reducing the impacts of the criminal justice system, it
would be to the detriment of the Metro system and its users. We should not encourage
lawlessness on Metro, which could exacerbate public safety concerns on our Metro system and
in our city. As Mayor, I have worked tirelessly to make the Metro accessible to more District
residents for free through programs like Kids Ride Free, and targeted fare subsidy programs can
do even more - but everyone should follow the system's rules. Consequently, this bill does not
represent the best way to achieve our shared vision of criminal justice system reform. For this
reason, I am vetoing Bill 22-408.
Councilmember Charles Allen offered his own comment on Bowser's move:
Making fare evasion a civil fine - instead of a criminal charge that comes with a lifelong record - is the just and safe decision for the District and WMATA, and a supermajority of the Council agreed. We can't succeed as a city if we continue the failed policies of the past at the expense of our residents' futures. As the Chair of the Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and a daily Metro rider, I see the real-life effects of putting DC residents unnecessarily into our criminal justice system every day. It means jobs lost, financial aid lost, housing lost, reputations lost, and potential lost. The bill the Council passed holds people accountable for their actions with a civil fine, but without condemning them to a lifetime of doors closed in their faces over a $2 fare.
It does not permit fare evasion nor stop a Metro Transit Police Officer from doing his or her job to keep WMATA safe - they can still stop fare evaders, write a ticket, and refuse service by escorting a fare evader off the bus or out of the station. But the bill does change the consequence for fare evasion to better fit the offense and put an end to the failed policies of over criminalizing our residents. We create more public safety problems than we solve by criminalizing something as small as not being able to pay a $2 bus fare. I will be moving to override the Mayor's veto of this important criminal justice reform and working with my colleagues to ensure the will of the Council is upheld.