The Washington, D.C. Council overrode a Jan. 16 veto by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on a bill that would downgrade the penalty for fare evasion, or failing to pay for travel on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, on Tuesday.
Enacted in 1978, current D.C. Metro fare evasion law punishes Metro fare evaders with either a fine of up to $300, up to 10 days of jail time or a combination of both. The new bill will no longer allot jail time for Metro fare evasion offenders and decreases the punishment to a $50 civil fine with no possibility of indication on an arrest record.
Bowser vetoed the D.C. Metro Fare Evasion Decriminalization bill, which passed the D.C. Council on Dec. 4, citing its potential to perpetuate lawlessness, financial losses and crime in the District. After Bowser used her veto power on the bill, 11 of 13 councilmembers voted to override Bowser’s veto. The bill initially passed the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on Oct. 4.
The Metro loses $25 million a year because of fare evasion, according to The Washington Post. WMATA has expressed disapproval of the bill because of the potential for lost revenue. This concern comes at a time when WMATA is already financially threatened since ridership has plummeted because of the government shutdown, according to DCist.
The amount of money lost through Metro fare evasion is not worth the cost of persecuting individuals who fail to pay for travel, according to Emmanuel Brantley, communications director for Councilmember Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who endorsed the bill.
“The Councilmember was concerned with removing the criminality associated with fare evasion, and she was particularly concerned that prosecuting an individual who has committed fare evasion (an act that may cost between $2 and $5) would end up costing us tens of thousands of dollars and leave the individual with a criminal record, something that can be quite burdensome in the long run,” Brantley wrote in an email to The Hoya.
There are other methods of enforcing fares that do not criminalize Metro users, according to Councilmember Robert White Jr. (D-At Large).
“We must override the Mayor’s veto of the Fare Evasion bill. There are alternatives to enforcing fares that aren’t drivers of discrimination & incarceration,” White wrote in a Jan. 17 tweet.
Bowser highlighted past projects she has implemented to make the Metro more equitable but continued to express concern for the bill after her veto was overridden in a press conference Tuesday. Although D.C. can work towards making the Metro more affordable for everyone, current rules must be enforced, Bowser said.
“It is possible that as a city we can decide to support free Metro for whomever we want, to customize a program that works, but I am concerned that making sure that everyone follows the rules of the road, or the rules of the Metro as it were,” Bowser said.
D.C. councilmembers such as David Grosso (I-At Large) have discounted Bowser’s opposition to the bill, instead focusing on the benefits that the bill would provide to low-income communities in the District. The bill plans to break down systematic mass incarceration, Grosso wrote in a Jan. 17 tweet.
91 percent of criminal citations issued for Metro fare evasion are directed toward black residents, with citations disproportionately affecting black youth, according to a Sept. 13 report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.