On July 27, BART’s Board of Directors voted 5-3 to oppose Assembly Bill 819, a state bill created by Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan with the purpose of decriminalizing fare evaders.
Traditionally, the penalty for the first and second times any fare evader is caught is a low-level infraction, said District 4 Director Robert Raburn.
After a second warning, there may be a fine attached, and those caught will receive a reminder that a third infraction could result in a misdemeanor with harsher penalties, he added.
Any third and following infractions would typically mean a fine of up to $400, up to 90 days in jail or both.
However, AB-819 would allow the misdemeanor penalty from the third and subsequent infractions to be rebuked, Raburn said. If the bill passed, the harshest punishment for three or more evasions would essentially remove any jail time, though it could still result in a fine of up to $400.
“The issue that we’re facing is that not only is fare evasion a costly burden for a public agency to allow, but it also allows a number of people into the system who absolutely disregard all rules,” Raburn said.
Additionally, some riders smoke, commit vandalism and engage in several criminal activities in the stations, for which they would not receive misdemeanors, he said.
The bill would give impunity to a serial fare evader, as anyone could easily disregard the mail they received for evading, Raburn said.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are afraid to come into the system and return after the pandemic because they’re aware of the rapid fare evasion going on, and they see this as an indication of lawlessness in the system,” he added.
In its current state, the bill must still pass through the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full Senate before it hits the governor’s desk, Raburn said.
District 8 BART Board President Janice Li believes BART’s stance on the bill will not change its outcome. Li said at the July 27 BART Board of Directors meeting that she prefers not to take a position on the bill. Other BART members, as well as BART PD, also did not reveal a position on the bill at the meeting.
According to Li, BART operations are a very small part of the criminal legal system when it comes to fare evasion. Additionally, the general public isn’t saying that they wish the third citation would remain a misdemeanor, Li said.
“They want BART to be safe,” Li said during the board meeting. “They want to know that if their partner, their kid (and) their grandmother, is taking BART it is a safe, reliable transit option for them.”