Independent analysis finds no systemic racial bias in TriMet fare enforcement


Agency pursues opportunities to improve equity of overall fare enforcement efforts including making violations less punitive

TriMet has completed the most in-depth evaluation ever of our fare enforcement practices and according to an independent third-party analysis there is no evidence of systemic racial bias. We do, however, intend to use the report to make changes we believe will improve the equity of our fare enforcement efforts. The findings revealed a growing fare evasion rate, a need for more fare enforcement and opportunities to make consequences less punitive while still providing an effective incentive for riders to have appropriate fare.

No systemic bias, repeat offenders pose a challenge

TriMet heard concerns from the community that our fare enforcement actions were “uneven” across races and ethnicities. Working with the TriMet Board of Directors, our Transit Equity Advisory Committee and the community – we took an in-depth look at our fare enforcement program.

View TriMet’s guiding principles for fare enforcement program
today reported

That extensive review included an onboard survey to determine the demographics of our riders as well as a fare evasion study to understand who is riding without paying, how often and why. That survey showed an overall 14.5 percent fare evasion rate, which includes those without fare, expired transfers or inappropriate fare. To get a holistic view, we reached out to the community and our customers through listening sessions and an electronic survey of riders for their thoughts and feelings on our fare enforcement including whether people of color are treated fairly. TriMet then engaged Portland State University’s (PSU) Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute for an independent analysis to determine whether racial/ ethnic disparities exist in TriMet fare enforcement outcomes and, if so, what are the contributing factors.

The reports key conclusions:

  1. No systemic bias. “Conclusion 1: Differences between the fare evasion survey results and enforcement outcomes are small and indicate little disparity. Thus, it does not appear TriMet fare enforcement on the MAX is systemically biased towards certain races and ethnicities; however the elevated percentage of African American riders being excluded should be examined more closely.”
  1. Repeat violators pose challenge. “Conclusion 2: Repeat violations (i.e. getting caught without fare/improper fare more than once in the two years of data) comprise 25.5% of all enforcement incidents and 36% of African American incidents. This percentage appears high and represents a unique challenge for TriMet fare enforcement.”
  1. Continued assessment. “Conclusion 3: Although there were two positive significant relationships in the adult analysis, the size of the relationship and difference between significance and insignificance was relatively small enough that the results are unlikely based on a systemic bias in TriMet fare enforcement, future studies should continue to assess these relationships.”

View the PSU Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute analysis

Changing enforcement approach

While PSU’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute found no across the board bias in TriMet’s fare enforcement actions, it revealed opportunities for improvement as we strive to have enforcement that is equitably applied and not overly punitive, but that changes unwanted behavior.

“When it comes to fare enforcement, we do not want to set people on a path that puts them into the judicial system, rather we want practices that motivate riders to pay their fare,” said TriMet Chief Operating Officer Doug Kelsey.

We looked to our colleagues and reviewed fare enforcement practices across other transit systems including Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Buffalo, and San Francisco.  We are now pursuing a number of initiatives including:

  • Seeking legislative authority to pilot an administrative option that will allow first-time violators to pay a reduced fine prior to the citation being forwarded to the court.
  • Evaluating a community service option that could be used in lieu of payment.
  • Researching the feasibility of a new regional Low Income Fare program.
  • Bringing exclusion hearings in-house.
  • Expediting the exclusion modification process by granting the Administrator and the Hearings Officer the authority to grant exclusion modifications.
  • Expanding the amount of fare inspections on our system.
  • Conducting a review of staffing levels to determine additional personnel needs.
  • Increasing training for TriMet personnel who conduct enforcement, on de-escalation practices, cultural competency and mental health issues.
  • Creating an awareness campaign to increase customer education of fare requirements, consequences for violations and options for requesting an exclusion modification.
  • Continuing coordination with jurisdictional partners on consistent application of TriMet Code.

“With the findings of our in-depth evaluation into past fare enforcement practices and with the new initiatives underway, I am confident we will continue to ensure TriMet’s fare enforcement efforts are both effective and as fair as possible for all of our riders,” said Kelsey.