Will Metro Transit address racial disparities in fare evasion?

On a very cold day near the end of winter in Saint Paul, a low-income woman of color on her way to work races across the street on Dale and University to catch the light rail while pushing a stroller with her seven-month-old daughter in it. If she does not catch this train she will be fired and terminated from her job. This will cause a ripple effect in her life.

The loss of employment oftentimes leads to the loss of housing for many low-income people in Minnesota. She drops her transfer on the ground unknowingly right before she gets on the train. Moments later, Metro Transit police hop on the train and start checking passengers to see if they have a ticket showing that they have paid their fare. They approach the low-income woman of color and ask, “Can I see your ticket ma’am?”

The woman begins to search for her ticket but cannot find it. She is escorted off the train by the Metro Transit police and cited for a ticket for fare evasion that will cost her $180. Since she was asked to leave the train, she is now late for work, which will subsequently cause her to lose her job. Now she is unemployed and has a court date and the rent is due.

The Twins are playing this weekend and Twins fans are boarding the light rail by the hundreds. A family dressed in Minnesota Twins garb enthusiastically boards the train near University and Snelling. However, the dad forgets to pay their fare.

Metro Transit police board the train and start checking fares. As the police get closer to the family headed to the Twins game, the dad realizes he is about to be asked to show his ticket that proves he has paid the fare for his family.

The police say, “Sir, we need to see your ticket.” The dad responds, “Gosh darn it, you know we were in such a rush and excited to get to the game that I totally forgot to get us tickets.” The officer responds, “Sir, I understand. You are headed out for a nice evening to enjoy the baseball game with the family. I will let you off with a warning this time, but please, next time make sure you pay the fare. Enjoy the game and have a great evening.”

In December of 2015 Metro Transit’s research and analytics team conducted analysis of police incident data provided by the Metro Transit Police Department. Here are some important numbers from that data:

  • According to the study regarding all incidents, Black adults are estimated to be 16 percent more likely to be cited rather than warned when compared to White adults.
  • Black adults are estimated to be 38 percent more likely to be arrested rather than warned when compared to White adults.
  • Native Americans are 55 percent more likely to be cited rather than warned when compared with White adults.
  • Native Americans are 93 percent more likely to be arrested for fare evasion when compared to White adults.

I give credit to Metro Transit for taking the initiative to conduct this study. Besides giving first-time offenders a warning, I don’t think much has been done since the study was conducted to change its policies that lead to these disparities.

It is very important for Metro Transit to continue to engage the community with these findings and gain community insight on how to develop equitable solutions to close the disparities that exist concerning fare evasion, citation and arrest among people of color. Most community members of color want equal protection under the law, meaning we want the police to treat us and respond to our concerns the same way they would to a White citizen’s concerns or mistakes.

My hope is that in the very near future Metro Transit and its stakeholders start to view public transportation as a way to lift individuals out of poverty, not as a mechanism that punishes poor people and pushes them further into poverty.

I believe Metro Transit has the abilities to create the amenities that can help the poor, the youth, and the disabled navigate themselves to the resources they need to achieve ones goals. These same amenities can and should be used to help public transportation riders who are interested in enjoying the night life, museums, soccer games, and any other activity, a safe enjoyable ride to the passenger’s destination.

 

Trahern Crews is the Community Liaison at Dayton’s Bluff community council, the owner of Original Man Farms, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Saint Paul, the chairman of Insure the Police Saint Paul, and an organizer with Black Truce/BlackSaintPaul.