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RTA rider group says fare enforcement unfair to minorities, poor

Posted at 10:46 PM, Jun 22, 2020

CLEVELAND — RTA rider group, Clevelanders for Public Transit, believes current fare enforcement by RTA police is unfair, too aggressive, and disproportionately penalizes black and lower-income riders.

Dana Beveridge, lead organizer with the group, told News 5 riders are unfairly being hit with a misdemeanor charge, face a court date, and up to a $250 fine just because they didn't pay a $2.50 fare.

The group is calling on RTA to reduce its $14 million budget for RTA police by 50% and put the money into increasing service, which was scaled back by COVID-19.

The group would also like RTA to appoint bus ambassadors to assist riders who may have lost their fare, forgot their fare, or unable to pay.

Beveridge said armed RTA officers is not the way to approach those who haven't paid their fair, she believes it sets-up a potentially hazardous, unneeded confrontation.

“It's disproportionately targeting people of color, it’s our black and brown riders that are most at risk," Beveridge said.

“They’re having to have these interactions with armed officers about fare enforcement, and we think that’s inappropriate."

“It’s putting people in danger. Two dollars and 50 cents, is that really what’s worth getting someone into the criminal justice system, giving them a criminal record.”

Chris Stocking, Coordinator with Clevelanders for Public Transit told News 5 his group is hoping RTA and the city will appropriately scale back the penalty for failing to pay a fare to a fine that's similar to a parking ticket.

"We need fare enforcement that’s not criminalizing people for being poor,” Stocking said.

“We have riders who are spending the night in jail for being a quarter short. This needs be looked at, but we need to speed up the process.”

“To put this on someone’s record, a misdemeanor, just because they didn’t know how to use the app or even if your phone died and you had a ticket on there is just unfair."

Ward 3 Cleveland Councilman Kerry McCormack agreed current fare enforcement is unfair and needs to be changed as soon as possible.

McCormack said he'll introduce legislation this summer calling for the penalties to be reduced, and keep people out of the criminal justice system for such a small offense.

"Look this is not saying that people aren’t responsible for paying their fare, everybody is,“ McCormack said.

"But current fare enforcement is clogging up our criminal justice system with folks who simply don’t belong in it.”

"This is an example of one of the laws on our books that is simply unjust, doesn’t make sense and we need to correct it.”

RTA responded to our story and said it will issue a statement on fare enforcement on June 23.

Meanwhile Clevelanders for Public Transit will hold a rally outside of Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority headquarters, at 1240 W. 6th St., on June 23, 2020 at 8:15 a.m., to deliver a letter to RTA’s Board of Trustees demanding the immediate cessation of armed fare enforcement and the reallocation of 50% of the transit police budget toward restoring service and reducing fares.