Caltrain board adopts fare enforcement changes

in Community

Fines for evading the fare on Caltrain will reduce from a $250 criminal penalty to a $75 administrative fee, and conductors checking passengers for tickets will soon be using handheld electronic devices, as part of a newly passed ordinance that the transit agency says could potentially increase its revenue.

On Thursday, the Caltrain board of directors unanimously voted to adopt a new fare enforcement ordinance that will take fare evasion citations out of the courts and will instead handle them administratively.

Since 2003, fare compliance on Caltrain has been monitored by a conductor who writes citations for passengers who fail to show proof of payment. The fines, which are $250 plus court administrative fees, end up in one of three congested superior courts – one for every county that Caltrain travels through. That ticket-writing process has been prone to error, the transit agency’s staff says. Caltrain says the current system has a 65-percent conductor error rate, and that fines collected are used to support the court systems rather than the train system.

In addition, the current process for writing fare evasion citations is long and laborious, creating additional tension between conductors and unruly passengers, the agency said.

New legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown – SB 614 – has empowered Caltrain to take their fare evasion citations out of the court system and to handle them administratively, a more streamlined process that minimizes clerical errors, court congestion and passenger conflicts, the agency said.

“It’s going to allow us to deal with administration [of fare citations] locally,” said Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain’s chief operating officer. “SB 614 also allowed us to retain the fines that come as part of this process. Before, we had to support the whole court process.”

Caltrain expects to hire a third-party contractor to help administer the new system, which includes the use of handheld electronic devices that are intended to speed up proof of payment process.

“It’s incredibly fast, it’s great,” said Bouchard about the handheld electronic devices. “We’ll have access to all that data; figure out trouble spots and focus enforcement on that area.”

The new ordinance will go into effect in April in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.