Light rail passenger fares go unpaid

397 people were caught riding the light rail without valid fare during the fourth quarter of the 2017 fiscal year, acoording to Valley Metro. (Paul Slobodzian/DD)

Thousands of Phoenix residents break the law every day: They don’t pay their light rail fare.

According to statistics from Valley Metro 397 people were caught riding the light rail without paying the fare in the fourth quarter of their 2017 fiscal year.

Valley Metro’s data show 14.2 percent of the light rail’s 52,000 passengers per day were inspected. Of those inspected, 92 percent were found to have paid their fares.

For those who are caught without paying, repeat offenders are issued citations with fines that begin at $50 and increase up to $400, depending on how many times the rider has been caught without paying.

For first-time offenders, there is no punishment. Riders are escorted off the trains and shown how to purchase a fare.

“Typically, on their first offense, we feel like it’s best to engage the rider, and just educate them, and explain how to purchase a fare,” said Susan Tierney, Communications Manager for Valley Metro.

She explained for many riders, this is their first time coming to the Phoenix area, and Valley Metro wants those people to feel welcome.

Tierney said the amount of money lost from those who don’t pay is minimal in the grand scheme of the light rail’s operation. She said only 25 percent of the light rail system’s operating budget comes from fares, while the other 75 percent comes from local and regional funding.

“Public transit is similar to fire, police, libraries, it’s a city service. We don’t make money; We are here to serve the public,” Tierney said.

Light rail rider Nayeli Moreno agreed that the light rail should serve the public. She said she sees people ride the light rail without paying every time she rides it.

Although Moreno thinks people have to obey the law, she doesn’t believe people should have to pay to use the the light rail.

“I feel that that should be covered with the taxes that we pay,” Moreno said.

Moreno added many people who ride the light rail are homeless or elderly and do not have the money to pay the fare. She believes handing out citations that come with large fines is ineffective.

“Even if you go and give them a ticket, they’re still not going to have those $500 to pay for it,” Moreno said.

Vicki, a light rail rider who declined to give her last name, said she also sees people ride without paying the fare often. She said the system to pay for the light rail fare is confusing, which adds to the problem.

“I feel that the way this is set up, it’s just asking for that (people not paying),” she said.

She said she believes there are ways Valley Metro could ensure more people pay their fares.

“I think they’d have to set things up so that you have to go through a pay turnstile or something like that at each stop, or you have to pay for a whole lot more security people,” she said.

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