The Washington, D.C., City Council on Tuesday voted 11 to 2 to pass a measure to decriminalize Metro fare evasion.
The bill, which requires one more vote before becoming final, would change fare evasion from a criminal offense to a civil one and reduce maximum penalties from $300 to $50.
Soaring enforcement levels and disproportionate targeting of African-Americans were the main arguments for those supporting the bill.
Statistics about fare evasion arrests show citations and warnings having risen dramatically from 4,000 in 2013 to 15,000 in 2017, according to The Washington Post.
“It is endemic of a systemic issue and problem which this legislation is trying to get at, and decriminalizing is an appropriate and necessary way of trying to get at the problems we’re trying to solve,” said Councilman Charles Allen (D).
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans (D) — who also is a Ward 2 council member — and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) cast the dissenting votes.
Evans argued that the arrest stats were inflated and that decriminalizing fare evasion would hurt Metro.
“I don’t buy these numbers. They’re inflammatory,” he said.
“By decriminalizing fare evasion we are only encouraging people to not pay their fare,” he added. “Because there is absolutely no mechanism to collect from a civil infraction.”
Mendelson called fare evasion theft and said that while the reduced punishments were good, it should not be decriminalized.