How does punishment for transit fare evasion compare to similar offenses?

It currently carries a stricter penalty than a parking violation or using a MNPass lane without a subscription.
Publish date:
Transit parking mnpass

The proposal to reduce the level of punishment for people who use the Twin Cities light rail without paying has generated a lot of debate since it emerged.

Currently, transit fare dodgers are charged with a misdemeanor and ticketed to the tune of $180. It's often the case that a first offense is just a warning, though that's not written into state law but is rather a Metropolitan Council policy.

Under the plan proposed by DFL legislators and backed by the Metropolitan Council,  the penalty for fare dodging on the light rail would be reduced to a petty misdemeanor. while the fine for first-time offenders would be reduced to $35.

The idea behind the plan is to ensure that those who don't pay their way – who are typically lower income people – aren't too punitively punished for dodging a ticket costing only a few bucks.

A petty misdemeanor won't go on their criminal records, which means it's less likely to have a knock-on effect to the individual's employment.

Currently it's a misdemeanor, and Rep. Brad Tabke (D–Shakopee), who is the lead author on the bill, points out that this puts it on a par with a DWI or a $500 property theft.

To put it in clearer context, we've compared the punishment as it currently is to the punishments levied from similar offenses, namely not paying for a parking meter, or using a MNPass (HOV) lane without a subscription, or when not carpooling.

Here's how it looks:

Transit fare evasion (currently)

Level of offense: Misdemeanor (goes on criminal record).

Fine: Varies depending on jurisdiction, but light rail fines can reach $180.

Transit fare evasion (proposed)

Level of offense: Petty misdemeanor (doesn't go on criminal record).

Fine: $35 total ($10 fine + $25 fee), rising up to $100 for subsequent offenses.

Not paying for parking meter

Level of offense: Petty misdemeanor.

Fine: $45 (in Minneapolis, varies in other cities).

Using MNPass lane driving alone/without subscription

Level of offense: Petty misdemeanor

Fine: $100 plus $76 surcharge in Hennepin County. Judge can go up to $300 depending on case. Penalty varies in other counties.

Only 3 percent of fare evasion fines are paid

The changes proposed in the legislative bill would mean that fare evasion would become a petty misdemeanor throughout Minnesota, not just on Metro Transit services.

As it will still involve a fine, the new transit fare evasion bill wouldn't mean fare dodging will go unpunished, but it will provide what supporters feel is a more proportionate fine level for the crime. 

It's being combined with the creation of "Transit Ambassadors," whose aim is to connect those who can't afford to pay with the relative services, as well as reduce crime on light rail trains.

Rep. Tabke points out that under the current system, only 3 percent of fare evasion fines are actually paid, and that it's putting a strain on the judicial system to pursue and prosecute offenders.

It's hoped that reducing the penalty amount and making it payable online will ensure in greater compliance and reduce administrative costs.

While fare dodging has been on the rise in recent years, evasion is still at a lower rate on transit compared to carpooling lanes, with this Star Tribune article from October revealing that one in seven users of MNPass high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes during rush hour does so illegally. 

Republican legislators are expected to release their own plans for improving light rail safety in this legislative session, with Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville) criticizing the DFL plan for its timeline of 2022 for its introduction.

Here's the press conference where Rep. Tabke and more revealed the legislative bill.

Next Up

closed sign

What's open and closed in Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day 2020?

Most services will not be running on Thursday and unlike most years, many stores will be closed, too.


How a turkey's brush with celebrity in Bloomington came to a tragic end

DNR: if you care about wild animals, stop feeding them

TCF Bank Stadium

Saturday's Gophers/Badgers football game canceled due to COVID-19 issues

The Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe will not take place for the first time since 1906.

coronavirus, Iowa

MN health officials don't think downside of COVID-19 peak has arrived

We could be in a trough between a series of waves, Jan Malcolm said.

covid-19, coronavirus

Wisconsin reports record 104 deaths from COVID-19 Tuesday

That's roughly 10% of the total in the nation in a 24-hour period.


Husband and wife sentenced for fraud scheme through their drywall firm

The Annandale pair bilked an insurance company out of more than $300,000.


4 pedestrians suffer life-threatening injuries after being struck by vehicle

Two vehicles crashed into a car that was on the side of the road after striking a deer.

Marcus Carr

Gophers season preview: New lineup, deeper bench, more questions

Mathew Goldstein takes a deep dive into the murky waters of the college hoops season.


Photos: ViV!R, Minneapolis' new Mexican cafe and shop, is now open

The team behind the acclaimed Popol Vuh have opened the cafe in the same space.


At Wiscoy Township's sole precinct, election judges ditched masks

Voter and Wiscoy resident Kaitlyn O'Connor took a photo of the judges after asking them to wear masks, she said


Plan to decriminalize fare dodging on light rail trains

The offense would still carry a fine, albeit a reduced one.

Here's how Metro Transit intends to improve safety on buses, light rail

It comes after a series of high profile incidents on Metro Transit services.

Republicans urge 25-cent fare increase for metro buses, rail

Supporters say higher gas prices justify higher fares, but the Metropolitan Council argues the move would violate a deal that Gov. Dayton and Republican legislators reached to help end the historic state shutdown.

Teens charged over violent attacks on Metro Transit light rail train

Four juveniles have been arrested over two separate assaults.

Metro Transit confirms it'll cut some overnight Green Line services

There will be no services between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on weekdays.

Transit ride tedious? Try it sans pants!

A group of Twin Cites light rail riders decided to spice up their trip by taking off their pants. Once down to their skivvies, though, they sought a return to normalcy, chatting on cell phones and playing some Angry Birds.