Metro pushes back on DC Council plan to decriminalize fare evasion

Metro is reiterating its position on the D.C. Council's pending plan to decriminalize fare evasion by pointing to recent incidents where fare evaders went on to commit more serious crimes.

A spokesman for Metro says in many cases, people who are arrested for fare evasion often are discovered to have warrants for more serious crimes.

"Most serious crime on Metro starts with fare evasion," said Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel. "So if you address fare evasion, you actually drive down crime on Metro."

Stessel says Metro believes decriminalization will lead to more rampant fare evasion, which the authority estimates already costs more than $20 million annually.

Stessel says Metro Transit Police data show when instances of fare evasion rise, so do other crimes aboard Metro. Although he admits the numbers do not prove causation.

This month, the council voted 11 to 2 to decriminalize fare evasion, which now could result in arrest and up to a $300 fine. If it passes a second vote Tuesday, the infraction would be civil, carrying a $50 fine.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is the chairperson of the Public Safety Committee, supports the decriminalization effort.

Allen says the simple fact that fare evasion has always been a crime and has reached near-record levels proves that treating it as a crime is not a deterrent. He suggests that Metro find a way to rebuild the gates to make it harder to evade fares.

Allen says a $2 or $3 fare is not worth giving a young person a criminal record for life. He also points to data that show African Americans are disproportionately arrested for fare evasion on Metro.

"Ninety-one percent of people who are arrested for fare evasion are people of color," Allen said. "So there is a significant racial disparity that is taking place right now. That is not fair and what we are trying to get at is to help change the consequence from this to help match and be more appropriate to that."