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

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