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.
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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.

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