From [WashPost] Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has rejected the D.C. Council’s decision to decriminalize Metro fare evasion, issuing her second-ever veto Wednesday amid concern the measure would exacerbate the transit agency’s financial problems.
Bowser’s veto sends the bill back to the council — which approved the measure 10 to 2 — for an override vote. If the same vote holds, it would meet the required two-thirds threshold to become law.
In a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who along with Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) opposed the measure, Bowser noted that the region had come together last year in a historic agreement to provide the transit system with $500 million a year in dedicated funding for capital projects. Decriminalizing fare evasion, she said, would set back the agency’s finances.
Fare evasion costs Metro $25 million to $50 million per year, Bowser said, “and I am concerned that [the decriminalization bill] would exacerbate the problem.”
Metro says the $25 million loss estimate is from bus revenue alone. Bus operators log every instance where passengers fail to pay. (Fare evasion is an operating loss, and while fare evasion on Metrobus is recorded — operators record instances with the push of a button — there are no reliable statistics on the extent of fare evasion on the rail system.)
“While I understand that [the] Council intended to change fare evasion to a civil offense, it is important to note that the bill simply removes criminal penalties while failing to set up a new civil adjudicative process,” Bowser wrote. “This leaves [Metro] without any meaningful tools to enforce the payment of fares and will encourage fare evasion, which will result in additional lost revenue for the Metro system.”
Bowser also made clear that her objections were not merely due to the potential revenue losses. “We should not encourage lawlessness on Metro, which could exacerbate public safety concerns on our Metro and in our city,” she wrote.
The existing criminal penalties of potential arrest, fines up to $300 and up to 10 days in jail, are overly harsh and disproportionately target African Americans, the bill’s backers argued. They pointed to a study from the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs that found 91 percent of fare evasion citations and summons from January 2016 to February 2018 were issued to African Americans.
White told his colleagues that inaction would amount to “condoning” a pattern “with an overwhelming number of black people being arrested unnecessarily.”