Transit connects us. It is foundational to strong communities, a resilient climate, and a thriving workforce. But there are many ways that our current system falls short. For example, existing laws make fare evasion a crime, which creates permanent criminal records for people who can’t or don’t pay a $2 fare and exposes communities to unnecessary policing.
That’s why earlier this year, Move Minnesota and partners helped develop a bill to simultaneously decriminalize transit fare evasion and create a transit ambassador program to replace threatening and unnecessary police presence on transit lines.
During the legislative sessions, the bill got watered down (no version of the bill has yet passed). The last version of the bill retained a form of the ambassador program but did not remove the existing criminal penalty for fare evasion; instead, the final bill proposal effectively left the decision about whether fare evasion should be a crime or administrative penalty to Metropolitan Council leadership and individual police officers.
Move Minnesota supports a complete solution—that provides ambassadors and fully decriminalizes fare evasion—because the problems created by a partial solution are too big to ignore. We demand that the legislature do their job and fully fix our fare enforcement system:
- Multiple penalties for the same offence make no sense and will exacerbate patterns of unequal enforcement and racism. Two parallel systems of separate and unequal punishment left to individual or administrative discretion has always proven less punitive for white people and more punitive for Black adults, Indigenous adults, and other people of color.
- We should create long-term solutions that change the system, not short-term ones that are dependent on individual goodwill. Current Metropolitan Council leadership wants to put more resources into ambassador programs and focus less on policing, which is good news. But administrative directives only last as long as the administration. We need permanent solutions.
- If the legislature continues to fail to act, it will ruin lives. As George Floyd’s murder and subsequent police responses demonstrate, police presence does not equate to safety for too many people, especially in communities of color. Similarly, criminal records destroy people’s ability to get housing, get a job, and more. The legislature needs to create an ambassador program and fully decriminalize fare evasion to protect out communities’ futures.
Transit systems across the nation have started to focus on underlying social, health, and economic issues by implementing support programs around housing, mental health, crisis assistance, and healthcare. These make our transit system—and our society—truly welcoming for all community members.
Decades of failed state mandated tough-on-crime policies have created problems, not solved them. To truly address issues of homelessness, domestic violence, or mental health, we should be moving to focus our resources and our attention away from criminal punishment and into proven-effective systems of support—on transit and elsewhere in our communities.
Our fight continues. With the special sessions spilling over into the summer, we will continue to push for fair transit fare enforcement.
Everyone should be able to ride our public transit systems with dignity. It’s time to end the current fare enforcement practice that further criminalizes poverty, and replace it with a support-based ambassadors system that addresses underlying causes. Minnesota legislators can take an important step toward ensuring transit systems in both the metro region and across our state are welcome to all and work for all. Download our handout to share with friends, neighbors, and your elected officials. Stay involved and in the know about the latest legislative updates by signing up for our newsletter today.