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‘Don’t Be A Thief’: GRTC Considers New Anti-Fare Evasion Campaign

The Greater Richmond Transit Company is considering a new marketing campaign aimed at people who don’t pay to ride.

The GRTC Board of Directors received three draft poster options at their monthly meeting on Tuesday. The anti-fare evasion posters had messaging ranging from “Don’t be a thief” to “You will be exposed and escorted off the bus.” While some board members suggested levying more fines on fare evaders could be more effective, GRTC Board Chair Gary Armstrong said he thought the marketing campaign was a more tempered approach.

Armstrong warned the board of the “unintended consequences” of fining people over unpaid bus tickets.

“We are worried about what people are saying, but what will they say about giving a teenager a ticket they can’t afford to pay,” he said.

The board did not take a final vote on any of the options at the meeting. Whatever they choose will appear on the Pulse bus-rapid-transit line, where riders pay their fare in advance and enforcement officers perform random spot checks.

The proposed marketing campaign comes after GRTC representatives told Richmond City Council that the transit authority spends $350,000 per year on fare enforcement, but has not issued a single ticket. GRTC says they wanted riders to become acquainted with what’s known as a “proof-of-payment system” before fining them. But some City Council members admonished the transit authority for what they see as lax enforcement.

A spokesperson for GRTC said the board hasn’t received any data suggesting fare evasion is a major issue in Richmond.

The draft posters drew immediate criticism on social media from transportation activists.

Ross Catrow, an organizer for the advocacy group RVA Rapid Transit, said he hopes GRTC can come up with a more compassionate marketing campaign.

“I don’t think we should shame transit riders, a significant number of whom are people of color and lower-income Richmonders,” he said. “We don’t use the same kind of language for people who park illegally and we shouldn’t use it for people who are trying to ride the bus.”

Catrow pointed to a transit study by officials in King County, Washington where Seattle is located. That study showed that  25 percent of people that avoided paying the bus fare faced homelessness or housing instability.

You can see the three draft posters presented at the meeting below:





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