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TriMet

TriMet just got a little more just.

Skipping out on paying a bus or MAX fare used to land you with a court record, and the $175 fine for fare evasion would show up on background checks.

But now TriMet is trying to skip the court system. Starting July 1, those charged with fare evasion have a 90-day window to resolve their citation with TriMet before it goes to court, and the charge now starts at $75 for first-time offenders (or four hours of community service). In 2017, 17,838 citations were issued related to TriMet, including both fare and behavior-based citations.

Up until 2017, fare evasion and other minor public transit offenses could land people in court. Some were even jailed for "interfering with public transit"—a misdemeanor charge for the crime of riding the bus after being told not to because of fare evasion. District attorneys in three counties agreed at the time to stop prosecuting those crimes.

The 90-day window will go a step further in decriminalizing those who don't pay to ride the bus. “We heard from folks that the citations were putting them into the court system and affecting their ability to get a job, get an apartment, [or] join the military,” says Roberta Altstadt, TriMet's spokesperson. “We believe this will help people avoid unnecessarily entering the court system. We wanted to align the punishment with the violation.”

Fare evaders will now have alternative options for resolving their citation—including performing community service and enrolling in a reduced fare program for low-income riders, if they're eligible.

The reduced fare program also just expanded to low-income riders. Where it used to only apply to the elderly and disabled, low-income riders making less than double the federal poverty level are now eligible for significantly reduced fare. A day pass is half of the cost of an adult fare for those qualified, according to Altstadt, and instead of $100 for a month pass, riders pay $28.

“That’s a great opportunity to help those who might be evading fare not necessarily by choice but because they don’t have the money to pay for it,” Altstadt says.

The shift came after years of advocacy work by OPAL Environmental Justice, a public transit advocacy group.


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TriMet's rule change doesn't help past offenders, those who already have a court record due to fare evasion, Altstadt says.That means people like Ana del Rocío, the woman who was stopped for fare evasion in March, are stuck with the fare evasion citation on their records.

Those caught for fare evasion while breaking other TriMet rules, like smoking at the bus stop, will still go to court. And fare evasion charges intensify after the first offense. A fourth offense can stick a rider with a $175 fine. "Fares are still required on all our vehicles,” Altstadt says. But, she adds, “this is giving people who may chance it an avenue out and an opportunity to correct their behavior.”