Black Friday Fare Strikers Protest Against Enforcement Policies

by Alex Garland

Shouts of, “Nobody pays!” and “Black Friday deal, 100 percent off Light Rail fare!” could be heard as the doors opened at light rail stops from Mt. Baker to the University of Washington, when between 30 and 40 activists took their fight against what they considered to be class warfare on Nov. 29.

Filling a single car, the protestors refused to pay on principal. As they rode, they shared their views with the Emerald.

“Fare enforcement does not make sense,” one masked protestor who preferred to remain anonymous said, “It costs more than is actually saved, and is mostly used to keep poor people out of the city.”

Protestors against Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policies pack into a Link Light Rail car on Friday, Nov 29. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Sound Transit estimates it loses about $1.9 million to fare evasion each year and spends about $1.4 million a year on fare enforcement, with operating costs totaling $501 million last year. The punishment for failing to pay fare can escalate from a verbal warning, to a $124 ticket, to a misdemeanor theft charge.

In 2018, out of 29,036,077 riders, fare enforcement officers issued 58,098 warnings and 4,923 citations to passengers unable to show proof of payment.

Ethan Cantrell, 19, believes fare enforcement is a blatantly intentional way to prevent economic mobility, and that fare enforcement laws constitute class warfare.

Critics have also called out the disproportionate punishment meted out to black riders who account for 22% of those snared by the fare-enforcement system, while making up only 9% of total riders according to Sound Transit data the past 4 years. The transit agency is currently reviewing its fare enforcement policies in response.

Other protestors focused on Jeff Bezos as the possible funder of the city’s transportation, because Amazon employees who generate wealth for the shipping magnate use it. Still others aimed their ire at Tim Eyman, the anti-tax activist who spurred Initiative 976 that passed in November and could mean $35 million in lost funds for Sound Transit, if not struck down by the State Supreme Court.

“I don’t think transit should be something that’s a regressive tax on poor people,” said protestor Will.“The people who make their money off of the working people like us should be paying for the transportation that gets us to those jobs that make them money. If they’re going to get rich by us working for them, they better [freaking] pay for us to get to that job.”

While fare enforcement officers weren’t seen checking tickets or ORCA cards Friday, there was an abundance of transit security officers and King County Sheriff deputies, one of whom said the large number of security was due to the large crowds expected for the parade, tree lighting, and the football game. One deputy said they were also keeping an eye out for vandalism, as they followed the protest to every stop.

Transit Security posted at the Capital Hill Link Light Rail Station on Friday Nov 29. (Photo: Alex Garland)

The protestors also remembered Oscar Perez Giron, who, at age 23, was killed by King County Sheriff Deputy Malcolm Elliot in July 2014.

Officers found a gun on Giron, yet many argue that had fare enforcement not stopped him to check his ticket, the deputy would not have gotten involved and the shooting could have been avoided.

Sound Transit has not announced any plans to get rid of fare enforcement.