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‘It’s good to remind folks how the system works’ — On first day of school, students get lesson in Sound Transit fare enforcement

The start of the year for Seattle Public School students who rode Sound Transit light rail to school Wednesday included an important lesson. The fare enforcement process deployed by the transit agency is draconian.

And you can’t trust adults.

A photo posted by SPS educator Jesse Hagopian showing an enforcement employee reportedly requesting and photographing student IDs on light rail Wednesday morning sparked backlash about the practices and policies deployed by the agents.

Under one of the major planks of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s efforts to address affordability and equity for Seattle students, the ORCA Opportunity program was started last year to give every high schooler in the city free access to public transit. Students were set to receive their free cards at school. Kids who rode light rail to school Wednesday didn’t have a card to tap. Some were greeted to the system by Sound Transit’s fare enforcement brigade.

In a statement sent to CHS, Sound Transit defended the security activity and said that it has asked the contractors to back off for the first day of school.

“Sound Transit is not ticketing students on Link light rail today. No riders of any age are ever ticketed without getting a warning in the previous 12 months,” a spokesperson wrote. “But today we are not even issuing the formal warnings to students.”

Fare enforcement for Sound Transit and Metro is provided by Securitas, a private company under contract with the agency and King County. “Eighteen Securitas USA officers, all with at least two years of structured security or military and strong customer service experience, were hired as fare enforcement officers,” the company reported in a case study (PDF) on its work. “Their training involves extensive role-playing scenarios, including dealing effectively with disruptive or malicious behavior, as well as report writing that is appropriate for court proceedings.” Securitas USA officers “balance their role of outreach to riders needing assistance with enforcing rules that maintain a safe and pleasant riding experience,” the study reads.

On social media, meanwhile, Sound Transit also tried to smooth over the issue but the responses did not go over well. “If they’re like my kids, SPS gave them a one-day paper ORCA card that covers today,” the Sound Transit Twitter account initially replied to Hagopian. “It’s good to remind folks how the system works. And officers have discretion to issue warnings instead of fines.”

Later in the day, Sound Transit managed a softer approach that still maintained the focus on rider education. “The Fare Enforcement team knows it’s the first day of school,” @SoundTransit said. “They are using today as an opportunity for customer service and education – not issuing formal warnings or citations.”

Sound Transit’s approach to light rail fares differs from King Count Metro where the bulk of responsibility falls on drivers. Metro’s direction has also been to create more opportunities for no-fare service like its new initiative to provide free rides during snow emergencies. Sound Transit has no such policy at this time. Fare enforcement contracting, however, might be a growing industry. The Seattle Times reported that SDOT is considering adding fare enforcement staffing to its streetcars citing security concerns.

UPDATE: Mayor Durkan has asked Sound Transit to “expunge any warnings” issued to students. “Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention,” she wrote in a message posted to Hagopian. “Even without handing out tickets, warnings generate citations and contribute to a potential future fee for students. I am asking Sound Transit to expunge any warnings issued to students during this first week of school.”

Mayor Durkan also sent the following letter to Sound Transit about the situation:


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4 thoughts on “‘It’s good to remind folks how the system works’ — On first day of school, students get lesson in Sound Transit fare enforcement

  1. Ok so Sound Transit not as evil as I thought based on everything I could find on Twitter. But seriously no talking to was needed.

  2. False narrative. It’s disturbing how activists such as Jesse intentional spread them to generate outrage. These enforcers are on the bus everyday. They usual give people warnings but today didn’t do even that. What is he outraged about? They are getting a free service.