Proof of Pay in Pgh: Can Random Checks Exist Without Racial Profiling?

April 27, 2017
By Marni Fritz

On Friday, March 31st, activists and community members attended the Port Authority board meeting to address their concerns regarding the new Proof of Payment on the T policy.

This policy will be put in action starting July 1st and would require riders pay their fare in advance rather than when they enter and exit the T. Armed port authority police will do random checks on the T to see if riders have paid their fare in advance. If a person hasn’t paid, their name with be run through criminal records to check for outstanding warrants.  According to Board Chairman Bob Hurley in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, if there are no outstanding warrants, “they will be issued a citation, which calls for a maximum fine of $300 for a first offense and could involve up to 30 days in jail for repeat offenders, both at the discretion of a district judge,” thus criminalizing fare evasion on the T.

Molly Nichols of Pittsburghers for Public Transit stated that “we’ve been concerned about a lack of transparent processes for developing the policy itself… We know these systems are on the rise across the country but we have heard in other cities of instances of racial profiling and questions about the relationship between fare inspectors and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)… We understand that riders have to know there are consequences to not paying fare but should that [mean] being brought into the criminal justice system or going to jail?” It is possible for these issues to be addressed, but Nichols is concerned that a three-month implementation plan is too fast to consider such concerns and get feedback from the community.

In a statement to the Pittsburgh Port Authority Board, Monica Ruiz of Casa San Jose shared her concerns regarding the new policy: “You will be using armed police officers to patrol public transit during people’s daily commute. This is not an appropriate way to collect bus fares and it is hard to believe it will not increase racial profiling. The Port Authority has a history of acting without accountability. These upcoming plans make it even more urgent for the Port Authority to develop policies that protect the civil rights of its residents and that includes immigrants. I work with the undocumented community and these people are being victimized by agencies every day and I do not want the Port Authority to be another one.”

Ruiz brings up the important consideration of racial profiling. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pittsburgh Port Authority said it “did not intend to use racial profiling or other methods to identify [undocumented] immigrants.” Implicit bias exists and can manifest in the form of racial profiling whether that was the intent the individual law enforcer or not. If the Pittsburgh Port Authority’s intentions are true, what policies will be put in place to take an active stance against racial profiling?

Christina Castillo of the Thomas Merton Center echoed Ruiz’s concerns: “We the public are worried about the role of police departments and ICE policing and likely profiling riders on the T and we are here to acknowledge that this will be harmful for people of color and immigrants and specifically undocumented immigrants if the Port Authority and ICE work hand-in-hand. We would like people to ride public transit without fear of deportation. We want to make sure Port Authority police do not collaborate with ICE in any way.”

Proof of Pay systems have been shown to make transit more efficient, but have also served as a mechanism for discrimination in places such as Los Angeles. An effective Proof of Pay model to look consider is San Francisco’s. In July of 2012, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) implemented their All-Door Boarding policy systemwide. This policy was the first of its kind nationwide and led to shorter stops, faster trips and a decrease in fare evasion, according to the SFMTA Evaluation Report. Penalties for fare evasion are strictly administrative, rather than criminalization.

“In San Francisco, their ultimate goal is increasing ridership and making the system run more smoothly. They have un-armed fare inspectors who check for fare evasion. If someone has failed to pay, they escort them off the bus or train and show them how to pay their fare. Or they may issue a ticket. If this ticket is not paid, a third-party vendor is assigned to collect the debt. The processing overall mirrors that of parking violations. No one ends up in jail for not paying a transit fare,” said Nichols to the Pittsburgh Port Authority Board.

“The SFMTA  system has shown  many benefits, including: reducing the burden on the criminal court system, more convenient and flexible payment and protest options. In addition, the revenue is retained by the issuing agency. Their policy also does not allow fare inspectors to share the names or addresses of those who received tickets with any other agency, including ICE. And the fare inspectors are trained in de-escalation to avoid unneeded conflict with riders.“

To see Pittsburghers for Public Transit’s demands and to stay updated on the situation visit To voice your concerns to the Pittsburgh Port Authority, please call 412-442-2000.

Marni Fritz is the NewPeople Coordinator and is passionate about racial justice issues.


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