TriMet wants to make sure the punishment fits the crime when it comes to fare evaders, which is why the agency has decided to move the process out of the courtroom and provide alternative ways for offenders to pay.
The idea was created after several meetings with stakeholders, transit employees and community members.
TriMet will set up a process for reviewing citations received by passengers while in transit. They will still receive the citation, but will now have a 90-day period to pay a fine or engage in community service.
If that time frame passes, it would revert to the old system of going to court.
"The reason we are doing this is because of the secondary effects going to court can have on people," said Erik Van Hagen, TriMet senior deputy general counsel, during a meeting with East Multnomah County community leaders Thursday afternoon, Aug. 3. "Going to court with a citation can have a negative impact on employment, housing and military service."
The new program specifically has its sights set on fare evasion, though it would also cover citations for things like smoking while on public transit.
It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. There are still some decisions to work out, including the size of the fine and what the community service would entail.
Access to the new program may be voided if an individual is a repeat offender.
"We are excited about this, and we feel it will be a positive aspect for our fare enforcement," Van Hagen said.
Fares account for about 28 percent of TriMet's annual operating revenue, and the agency doesn't expect the change to increase that rate. People avoid paying for public transit every year. In 2016 about 14 percent of people failed to pay, which resulted in about a $7 million loss.
The idea of controlling access to the TriMet system via barriers at certain stops is being mulled by officials, as it would ensure people pay for their fare before embarking. This would expand upon the current proof of payment system used, which is much easier to abuse.
But those types of upgrades would require large station expansions and funding — both of which pose a difficult process.
"We are mindful of rush hour traffic, and one of our top priorities is on-time service," said Rob Wurpes, transit officer. "We are calculated about how we do fare enforcement because of that."
For now, turnstiles at the station are nothing more than a concept, as TriMet is focused on ironing out everything related to its new citation program.
"We hope a lot of people take advantage of this process," Van Hagen said.