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Fare enforcement is an important and highly visible part of Transit’s RapidRide system, but Transit is not able to determine if it is effective. Transit uses fare enforcement to reduce the likelihood that riders will not pay their fare, and evasion appears low compared to other jurisdictions. However, Transit is not using the most accurate method to estimate fare evasion, has not set targets for what it is trying to achieve, and is missing key performance information such as benchmarks and output measures. As a result, Transit cannot understand if its efforts are working and if enforcement resources are above or below what is actually needed. The direct costs of the current fare enforcement model are about $1.7 million per year. This includes over $300,000 in court costs to process evasion fines, the vast majority of which go unpaid.

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Summary

RapidRide is a significant and expanding part of the local transit system. In 2016, RapidRide accounted for about one in six weekday boardings on Transit. Fare enforcement costs roughly $1.7 million a year. Fare enforcement officers are visible to hundreds of thousands of Transit passengers every year and have the ability to enforce infractions that carry monetary and criminal consequences. These officers also perform duties beyond enforcement like reporting damage to Transit facilities and responding to emergencies. This report comes right before Transit is set to expand fare enforcement activities with more RapidRide lines and off-board payment on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Transit cannot determine whether its model of fare enforcement makes sense, in terms of costs and outcomes, or identify ways to improve it. Since fare enforcement started in 2010, Transit reviewed some performance information as new lines were added, but has not developed a more robust performance management framework or reviewed the enforcement model for equity impacts.

We looked specifically at equity outcomes for riders and found that people experiencing homelessness or housing instability received nearly 25 percent of citations between 2015 and 2017. As fare enforcement expands with the expansion of RapidRide and off-board payment, these impacts will likely continue and affect more people.

We also found that the technology used by fare enforcement officers is dated and leads to time-consuming data entry, making it more difficult for fare enforcement officers to check fares.

We make a series of recommendations for Transit to align its fare enforcement model and activities with agency and county goals and monitor progress toward those goals. We also recommend that Transit prioritize the implementation of technology projects to improve the ability of officers to do their work and collect useful data. Taking these steps will help Transit improve the efficiency and effectiveness of fare enforcement and reduce negative impacts prior to expanding the service.

Reports related to this audit

Follow up work is in progress. A report will be available as soon as it is complete.

Currently, there are no related reports to this project.

Audit team

Sean DeBlieck, Elise Garvey, and Ben Thompson conducted this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email KCAO@kingcounty.gov.