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County Seeks to Criminalize Bus-Riders Through Bus-Fare Policing

We recently learned that Montgomery County is searching for a firm to provide “Fare Evasion Security Services.” On June 26, SSJC and several member groups sent the following letter to the Director and Division of Transit Services Chief of Montgomery County Department of Transportation objecting.

Director Conklin and Division Chief Hibbert,

Montgomery County intends, via a newly issued request for proposals, to contract with a firm to provide Fare Evasion Security Services for the FLASH service, with the capacity to expand the security program to other Montgomery County Transit Services. 

Silver Spring Justice Coalition and the additional undersigned partners call for the cancellation of this solicitation and for reform of Montgomery County’s Transit Services fare policy, including an immediate end to police referral of fare evasions that are not accompanied by violent crime or the threat of violent crime. As soon as feasible, we also call for free bus service for all riders, building on existing free and reduced-fare programs. The reasons are as follows: 

  • Fare enforcement is discriminatory. Studies in Washington DC, New York City, Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Cleveland have shown that fare enforcement disproportionately targets Black and Brown people, and that people of color face harsher penalties when they are stopped. In Washington, a report found that 91% of citations and summonses were issued to Black people, according to a article.
  • Police referrals risk escalating minor incidents into problematic encounters. These problematic encounters are likely to disproportionately harm Black and brown people.
  • Fear of fare-evasion challenges could discourage immigrant use of transit. Some community members fear that interactions with authorities could lead to referral to immigration enforcement. 
  • It has not been established that fare enforcement affects evasion rates. 
  • Enforcement actions, even educational interventions, may disrupt transit service and degrade performance. This will harm riders who depend on punctual service.
  • The loss of revenue due to fare evasion will not pay for contemplated enforcement action. Enforcement is costly, and fares are set at approximately $2.

By contrast, free FLASH service (and making Ride On service free permanently) would have a host of benefits. It would boost ridership and lead to fewer cars on the road, decreasing traffic congestion and transportation energy consumption. It would eliminate the question of enforcement and its assorted costs. Further, free service would disproportionately assist Montgomery County’s most needy residents and visitors. It would help the County recover from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many thousands of our neighbors unemployed or barely getting by.

In short, the cancellation of the fare-evasion solicitation, an immediate end to police referral of fare evasions that are not accompanied by violent crime or the threat of violent crime, and free bus service would have enormous benefits for the County and its residents. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

The Silver Spring Justice Coalition
Christ Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Racial Justice Circle
Democratic Socialists of America
IMPACT Silver Spring
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
Defending Rights & Dissent  
Progressive Montgomery
Racial Justice NOW
Showing Up for Racial Justice – Montgomery County, MD
Sisterhood of Salam Shalom Silver Spring
Takoma Park Mobilization

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