Opinion: Fare Evasion Punished Disproportionately in California

A bill currently on Governor Newsom’s desk would replace punitive measures with more equitable and compassionate approaches to fare enforcement.

2 minute read

October 2, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Transit fare purchase box at above-ground transit station in Santa Clara, California.

Eric BVD / Adobe Stock

In an opinion piece for Streetsblog California, Haleema Bharoocha questions the policy of fining people who evade fares on public transit higher fees than people who speed in their cars.

California law punishes a failure to pay a bus or train fare with a $250 to $400 fine, a hefty amount for many of the state’s residents, as well as a misdemeanor criminal charge and potential jail time. “The juxtaposition with other types of violations within the state's legal framework is telling. Consider, for instance, traffic violations such as speeding or having an expired vehicle registration. These offenses do not carry the same severe criminal consequences as fare evasion. Instead, they typically result in the imposition of monetary fines.”

For Bharoocha, “The need for a reevaluation of this system is evident when we consider the relative levels of danger posed by infractions such as fare evasion.”

Bharoocha argues that fare enforcement disproportionately impacts minority and low-income riders, and can sometimes turn deadly during confrontations with law enforcement. Moreover, fare enforcement “diverts resources from vital safety concerns” and places a strain on local courts and administrative entities.

“In a state that prides itself on progressive ideals, we must confront the fact that these punitive measures perpetuate inequality and discrimination. These injustices are not isolated but systemic, demanding immediate attention.” Assembly Bill 819, now on the governor’s desk, offers an opportunity to decriminalize fare evasion statewide and institute more equitable, compassionate approaches.

Thursday, September 21, 2023 in Streetsblog California

Aerial view of Eugene, Oregon at dusk with mountains in background.

Eugene Ends Parking Minimums

In a move that complies with a state law aimed at reducing transportation emissions, Eugene amended its parking rules to eliminate minimum requirements and set maximum parking lot sizes.

December 3, 2023 - NBC 16

Green Paris Texas city limit sign with population.

How Paris, Texas Became a ‘Unicorn’ for Rural Transit

A robust coalition of advocates in the town of 25,000 brought together the funding and resources to launch a popular bus service that some residents see as a mobility lifeline—and a social club.

November 30, 2023 - Texas Monthly

Diagram of visibility at urban intersection.

How ‘Daylighting’ Intersections Can Save Lives

Eliminating visual obstructions can make intersections safer for all users.

November 27, 2023 - Strong Towns

View of wetlands with lilypads at dusk.

States Scramble in Wake of Clean Water Act Ruling

The removal of federal oversight of wetlands has left millions of acres unregulated and erected major hurdles for lawmakers seeking to protect them.

December 5 - Pew Stateline

Rendering of white, yellow, and purple Brightline West high-speed rail train speeding along highway median with blurred cars in foreground.

Brightline West Awarded $3 Billion in Federal Funding

The high-speed rail line will cut travel time between Southern California and Las Vegas roughly in half.

December 5 - Fox 5

Rapid bus at station at night in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

OKC Celebrates New Rapid Bus Line With Free Rides

The agency wants to showcase the benefits of a recently opened BRT line connecting the northwest part of the city to downtown.

December 5 - The Oklahoman

Senior Planner

City of Kissimmee - Development Services

Planner II

City of Kissimmee - Development Services

Senior Travel Demand Modeler

Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

"Rethinking Commuter Rail" podcast & Intercity Bus E-News

Chaddick Institute at DePaul University

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.