Washington DC Metro Trying Another Strategy to End Fare Evasion

Washington DC Metro Trying Another Strategy to End Fare Evasion
Escalator at the D.C. metro on March 16, 2016. (Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Masooma Haq
The D.C. Metro train system, WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), just announced its plan to spend an additional $40 million to install newly designed fare gates at all of their stations, making it more difficult to evade fares and curb revenue loss.

The installation of the new gates, which were tested last year at a handful of stations, will include 48-inch-high laminated safety glass doors. The project is slated for completion in the next 15 months.

In addition to the new gates, Metro has warned fare evaders that they will be subject to fines if caught. Fare evaders can incur a $50 fine in Washington D.C. and up to a $100 fine in Maryland and Virginia.

Apparently, the previous 2022 overhaul of the fare gates, which include larger displays, bi-directional access, and improved safety features, did not prevent fare evasion but did help detect when a fare was not being paid.

Since the D.C. City Council overrode Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto and passed the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017, fare evasions have increased and become a much-debated issue.

One of the DC City Council members for Ward 5 at that time, who is now at-large Council member Kenyan McDuffie, said there was no evidence that the decriminalization of fare evasion would lead to more people cheating the transit system.

“There are some people who say that this invites more people to evade fares. I don't believe it. I don't think there's any evidence that supports this,” he said.

However, WMATA's own data shows that fare evasion on the Metro rose sharply after 2019, even before the sensor system was put in place.
 Metro employee shuts down escalators to the McPherson Square Station in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Metro employee shuts down escalators to the McPherson Square Station in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
In 2022, sensors were installed on all fare gates, which enabled the agency to get more accurate data about fare evasion. That data showed that 13 percent of Metrorail riders did not pay to ride the trains, resulting in a total of 40,000 fare evasions each weekday during the first two-and-a-half months of 2023.
The agency estimated that revenue lost from fare evasion was roughly $40 million in FY 2019.

After Bowser’s veto was overturned by the D.C. Council, the mayor said she fundamentally disagreed with the Council members on the issue.

“We have a metro system that has a system of rules. It has fares and we should expect everybody to abide by the rules of the system. I also believe that lawlessness begets lawlessness,” Bowser said during a 2019 interview with NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show.
 McDuffie said he voted to override Bowser’s veto because he does not want criminal actions taken against fare evaders because it impacts Black people more.

“[What] I am supporting is the notion that this policy that's been in place for all these years clearly isn't working. I support consequences for folks who evade fares, I just don't support criminal consequences,” McDuffie said during a 2019 council meeting. “'I’m going to support it [overriding the veto] again today. I think that the criminalization of fare evasion does significantly more harm to folks that look like you all,” McDuffie said, speaking to the largely Black audience.

Meanwhile, Bowser said there is no data that shows Blacks and Hispanics evade fares more on the D.C. Metro than other ethnic groups.

“I don't think that anyone has provided that information of who are the fare evaders. So, I think the better question is, how can we target our subsidy programs toward people who need it?” Bowser said.

According to WMATA data, just from Jan. 1 to March 8 this year, all Metrorail customers took an average of 317,000 trips on weekdays, 196,000 trips on Saturdays, 144,000 trips on Sundays, and 167,000 trips on holidays.

The 2022 upgrades to Metro fare gates across all 97 stations cost $70 million.

Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.