BART needs to fully understand fare evasion numbers

The media has talked a lot about fare evasion at BART stations recently, and rightfully so.

If you are a paying BART rider or a taxpayer of any kind, you should care about this. It’s your money being lost.
It’s unclear how much revenue BART is losing because of fare cheats. BART staff has estimated $10 million to $25 million per year in lost revenue, but one recent conservative estimate puts the number of fare evaders at 4 to 5 percent of overall ridership. At that rate, the loss is in the range of $22 million to $35 million a year.

In other words, losses could easily exceed the structural operating budget deficit of $327 million projected by BART over the next 10 years.

There are many ways riders cheat on BART. Most commonly, they hop over, slide under or simply push open the barriers. In some stations, the elevator sits outside of the fare gate system and serves as a free ride straight to the platform. Other evaders simply walk through unlocked emergency swing gates or piggyback on fare-paying passenger ahead of them.

Two avenues to explore

BART’s proposed solutions to fare evasion generally fall under two categories: prevention and enforcement.
One prevention option would upgrade the gate system and make it more difficult to enter or exit without swiping a ticket. Efforts are under way to replace the emergency swing gates with electronic ones controlled by station agents, which riders could not open. Meanwhile, BART is developing plans to enclose elevators that sit outside of the paid areas, part of a significant station modernization program.

BART staff and board members are still debating how to best crack down on fare evaders through enforcement of existing laws and regulations. In 2017, BART hired a team of fare inspectors – non-sworn civilian personnel – to issue non-criminal tickets similar to parking tickets to violators. But after one full year, the program has proven not to be cost effective because only about 10 percent of the 9,790 tickets issued have been paid. And fare evasion has not been deterred.

In years past, BART officers issued criminal infraction tickets to evaders that were handled through the court system. If left unpaid, or if multiple tickets were issued, the violator could face misdemeanor charges. This process proved effective and also resulted in the apprehension of parole violators and other wanted criminals.

Time for accurate figures

Whether to continue the fare inspector program at a rate of almost $2 million a year will be the subject of a lively debate during upcoming budget discussions.

But there’s a bigger issue. If we can’t properly estimate the amount of lost revenue from fare evasion, we can’t really know how much to spend on solutions. Should we spend $250 million or $5 million a year on fixing the problem?
That’s why I, along with BART board members John McPartland and Liz Ames, have recently called on staff to develop a concise methodology for more accurately estimating fare evasion and including the results in quarterly financial reports to the board.

I firmly believe it’s time BART took fare evasion seriously. Let’s support the vast majority of riders who always pay the correct fare.

Contact Debora Allen at ­

Debora Allen