SEPTA is changing how it handles riders who try to skip paying fares.
Instead of a criminal citation with a fine of up to $300 and a court hearing, evaders can now expect a $25 fine from SEPTA transit police. The agency hopes the change will allow officers to focus on other duties, ease the burden on the courts, and prevent one-time offenders from facing criminal charges. The policy was developed with the help of the District Attorney’s Office, SEPTA said in a news release.
PlanPhilly first reported this week that SEPTA had quietly decriminalized turnstile jumpers and reduced fines.
The new policy “imposes a reasonable fine to someone who makes a mistake and wants to be able to pay it, move on with their life and not have a criminal charge on their record,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III said in a statement, adding that it would let officers “focus more on chronic offenders.”
There were 3,628 citations issued for fare evasion in 2018, a SEPTA spokesperson said.
Violators now have the option of paying the $25 or challenging the citation at a hearing. Chronic offenders — those who get caught four times and don’t pay the fines — will be barred from using SEPTA for a year and could face criminal charges.
Of course, fare evaders aren’t unique to Philly. Here’s how other transit authorities treat violations.
PATCO lists jumping the turnstile or entering or exiting “improperly” as a violation that could end in an arrest, fines, and/or ejection. Similar violations include smoking, vandalizing, unreasonable noise, and panhandling.
Fines are $10 to $25 for first offense and up to $50 or 30 to 60 days in jail for a repeat offense, as outlined in a New Jersey statute.
New York City
Fare evaders on New York City subways and buses can expect to pay $100. That also applies to people whose MetroCards aren’t working, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Fare dodgers on subways and buses cost the MTA about $215 million in 2018, up by $110 million from 2015, according to MTA figures.
Andy Byford, president of the MTA’s New York City Transit Authority, told Bloomberg News that the increase could be related to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s decision to not prosecute most fare evaders.
“The assumption is, it’s always poor people," he said. "Quite often you find people who are well off and could have paid the fare.”
The District of Columbia Council overrode Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto and decriminalized fare evasion in January, making it a $50 civil infraction, the Washington Post reported. Previously, evaders had been subject to possible jail time and a $300 fine.
“This bill does not advocate lawlessness; rather, it advocates for fairness," Councilperson Vincent C. Gray told the Post.
Riders are fined $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $600 each time afterward. Delays in paying could result in your driver’s license being suspended, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority website.
The MBTA will hike some of its fares this summer, a decision being criticized by state lawmakers, WBUR in Boston reported.
“It is not fair to raise the fares on those riders of the MBTA, utilizers of the MBTA, where there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are just avoiding the fares altogether,” said Senate budget chief Michael Rodrigues, according to the station.
In 2016, officials estimated the cost of evaded fares on commuter rail and the subway was more than $40 million annually.
In Austin, officials will occasionally check proof of fare — those who skipped the payment should expect a $75 administrative fine, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority says. Those who don’t pay within 30 days could get a misdemeanor municipal court fine as high as $500.
Staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.