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November 15 2017

D.C. City Council's Latest: Decriminalizing Turnstile Jumping

by Charlotte Hays

Jumping turnstiles is thuggish behavior.

It is a form of theft.

So naturally, the D.C. City Council is considering decriminalizing turnstile jumping, which currently is illegal. The public transit agency--WMATA--has recently asked the public for another $30 million to keep going. The estimated loss rom riders who avoid paying their fares is $25 million a year.

Ethan Epstein explains the situation in the Weekly Standard:

Currently, the maximum fine for turnstile jumping is $300, and includes the possibility of jail time. The D.C. government is considering lowering that (theoretical) max to $100 and eliminating the possibility of jail for people who skip out on paying for the train.

San Francisco and Portland have already taken similar measures. But Washington’s bill is being debated even as WMATA says that the system loses about $25 million a year thanks to fare scofflaws. The agency opposes the current bill because it fears that decriminalizing fare evasion will encourage more free riding.

So why would the city even consider the idea? The argument for decriminalizing fare evasion comes down to worries about disparate impact. The lion’s share of fare evasion arrests are concentrated in specific age and racial categories. And not just in Washington.

In Brooklyn, for example, “half of all fare-evasion arrests in Brooklyn involve black men between the ages of 16 and 36, but they represent only 13.1 percent of poor adults.” So even if the law about having to pay to ride public transportation is not, in itself racist, the effects of it are.

But of course, as Epstein points out, the requirement for all citizens to pay the same fare is anything but racist. It is the essence of democracy:

Fundamentally, fare evasion is a form of theft, and not at all a victimless crime. Turnstile jumpers penalize those who do pay—particularly those of modest means, who have no alternative to public transit—because it results in higher overall fares and reduced service. It’s also an attack on the public sphere. The glory of public transportation is that it serves everybody, for the same price: It’s a truly democratic institution.

Encouraging some groups to ride for free is yet another way that the American social contract is breaking down.

It strikes me that decriminalizing something that is both theft and thuggish behavior will further erode decorum in this public space.

I don't own a car and I am a frequent user of WMATA. If the Council takes this action, it will be a slap in the face to people like me, law-abiding citizens who depend on public transit. You might say it will have a disparate impact on us.  

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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