BART prepares stiffer enforcement for fare evaders

Fare cheats who ride on BART could be in for a surprise if agency officials approve an ordinance that would slap adult fare evaders with a $120 citation, and a $60 citation for minors.

Paul Oversier, BART’s assistant general manager of operations, presented to the agency’s Board of Directors on Thursday a proposed ordinance that would create a proof of payment system where six community service officers would ride the transit system to check if riders paid their fares inside paid areas of BART using handheld devices.

The transit agency estimates it loses up to $25 million in lost revenue because of fare cheats.

Other transit agencies, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, have adopted a proof of payment system where riders must show a valid fare on transit vehicles or on paid areas when asked by fare inspectors.

Oversier said fare cheats for years have been able to ride the transit system since BART opened 45 years ago because of its low railings, cheats going over, under through fare gates, or entering through the swing gates:

“The swing gates are the direct path for fare evaders.”

Using a video pointed at one of the swing gates at the Embarcadero Station, the agency observed 600 riders pass through the swing gates in one day.

Currently, the only way to catch fare cheat offenders is for BART police officers to observe a person not paying, or an agency employee or rider make a citizen’s arrest, and hope that a police officer is nearby, said Oversier:

“The bottom line is that without proof of payment, fare evaders only have to be concerned at that very brief moment in time as they evade into or evade out of the system.”

BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said community outreach will be important if the board passes the ordinance:

“This is going to be a big change, not only for BART, but for our ridership.”

The six community officers would be able to write a citation to fare evaders or issue a warning in paid areas or onboard trains, said Rojas.

He added that the citation would be non-criminal. Minors cited would be given an option of working off the citation through community service under new state legislation that will go into effect on Jan. 1., 2018.

Rojas said inspections by the community service officers will be fair and unbiased, and officers will rotate through different stations. Officers will activate video recorders while checking proof of payment from riders.

Board directors supported the general idea of a proof of payment system, but also wanted to see some refinements in the proposal before the board sees the proposal again at its Oct. 26 meeting.

Director Nick Josefowitz wanted staff come back to see if offenders could pay the citation based on what they can afford to pay, citing that San Francisco has a task force looking to reducing fines and fees for low-income residents.

BART board President Rebecca Saltzman said she would not be ready to vote on the ordinance in October without a clear enforcement plan from Rojas. Saltzman referred to one slide in the presentation that said enforcement would be unbiased and fair:

“I just can’t take that at your word. I need to know what the plan is and what officers are going to be told and how this actually going to work.”

Director Debora Allen said she was interested in increasing a second offense citation for minors to $120 if minors are able to work off the first offense with community service.

Coinciding with the proposed proof of payment system, Oversier said BART is currently working on a number of physical changes inside several stations. BART is planning to install higher barriers between the paid and unpaid areas at the Fremont and Pittsburg/Bay Point stations.

In July, BART debuted a Clipper card-only entrance at the south end of the Downtown Berkeley Station that also included higher barriers.

Higher barriers are also planned for the Powell, 19th Street Oakland Station and the El Cerrito del Norte stations, said Oversier. BART is also working on putting existing elevators at the South Hayward and Downtown Berkeley stations inside the paid area.