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Richmond Auditor Finds Lax Fare Enforcement On GRTC Busses

pulse bus

An audit of GRTC revenues highlights a need for better ticket enforcement for bus passengers. 

The audit, conducted by Richmond City Auditor Lou Lassiter,  was released Tuesday afternoon. According to the report, employees from the City Auditor’s Office said they rode the Pulse Rapid Transit line nearly 60 times and encountered fare enforcement officers on half of those rides. Only once did an officer catch that they had an invalid ticket. 

The report recommended that GRTC develop a better oversight of enforcement officers and conduct an independent study to see how widespread fare evasion actually is.

GRTC CEO Julie Timm said she agreed that there is a need for better supervision of fare enforcement officers and has relayed that concern to Top Guard, the transit agency’s enforcement contractor. But Timm also said the GRTC board has to weigh how expensive it would be to have more officers on busses and if that could alienate potential riders.

“Maybe we need an extra ticket vending machine on the platform to help people get on. Maybe we need to look at an account-based fare system to help people pay,” she said. I’m less interested in how we force people to pay, rather than how we help people to pay.” 

The audit also raised concerns that enforcement officers aren’t authorized to issue civil summonses because they aren’t trained to do so. Timm said GRTC’s enforcement consultant has been given until next week to provide officers with that training. 

The issue of ticketing fare evaders played prominently into Richmond’s budget negotiations earlier this year. Mayor Levar Stoney proposed giving nearly $1 million in additional funding to the agency. Some city council members threatened to withhold the increased funding after hearing that GRTC spends $350,000 per year on fare enforcement, but had not issued a single ticket.

At the time, GRTC board members questioned the practice of ticketing fare evaders, given that  studies show many are homeless or face housing instability.

Timm said the discussion about whether or not to step up fare enforcement will continue internally at GRTC.

“The fare policy and the fare structure for the agency are on the table for us to discuss in this coming year,” Timm said. “As we implement more strategies to decrease the impact of fare evasion, we’ll look at how can we also implement strategies to assist people of extremely low incomes to have better access to transit.”

GRTC also expects to put it’s fare enforcement contract out for bid next year.