According to the staff report, the code amendments before the council on May 18 would:
- “Provide the Director with the authority to designate employees as ‘enforcement officers;’
- “Prohibit fare evasion, which includes, but is not limited to, entering a transit vehicle without valid fare, misusing a transfer pass, and unauthorized use of a discount ticket;
- “Prohibit willfully providing false identification to a peace officer or other designated representative of FAX;
- “Provide the City with discretion to punish fare evasion through issuance of a criminal or administrative citation.”
Accompanying the staff report was six pages of additions and deletions to Fresno Municipal Code.
The task before the council on May 18 was adoption of the proposed changes. The changes had been successfully introduced by council vote at a previous meeting. I mention this only to emphasize that nothing in this proposal was new to the council.
But, as we will see, the significance of this small slice of BRT policy was beginning to hit home among Fresno’s legislators.
The May 18 hearing began with Council President Olivier asking Assistant Transportation Director Greg Barfield to “bring us up to date” on proposed ordinance changes.
Barfield briefly summed up the staff report, adding that FAX must come up with a fare evasion policy. I took that to mean the feds, who are paying for most of BRT’s construction, don’t want to subsidize fare evaders.
“That’s why we’re here today – for the framework of what that policy looks like,” Barfield said.
Barfield added that policy details, such as penalties, are still to come. He noted that fare evaders sometimes plague current FAX routes. For example, Barfield said, the rider might pass a Chuck E. Cheese token as a legitimate FAX token.
Olivier made a motion to approve the staff’s recommendation.
Council Member Esmeralda Soria sent the debate in a new direction. She had read the entire framework. It wasn’t all that vague, she said.
“When I looked at it, it seems like the framework is pretty clear as to what we’re going to do” to fare evaders, Soria said. “I feel very uncomfortable, actually, after taking a look at it a little bit more.”
Soria’s concern: A fare-evader caught for the third time could be facing a misdemeanor.
“I don’t feel we should be in the business of criminalizing folks even if it’s for multiple (times),” Soria said. “I think we should exclude them (from the system), and figure out a way to punish them. But I think creating a misdemeanor – I don’t feel comfortable going in that direction.”
Said Barfield: “Council Member, we don’t feel that comfortable either, but that’s why we’re going through this process of trying to figure out what it looks like and….”
Soria interrupted Barfield.
“I would ask to exclude it (the misdemeanor provision) then, because I don’t think that it should be part of the framework,” Soria said. “I just can’t support it then. I would submit that we strike that out. I think there are a couple of ways that we can (regulate fare evaders) – double the citation and, at the very extreme, exclude them from riding the bus.
“I don’t want to be in the business of criminalizing people. We already know who are the folks riding the bus traditionally, and, really, what we have is low-income people trying to get to work, trying to get to school. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going out into the community and saying, ‘Hey, I’m criminalizing someone because they didn’t pay a dollar-something.’”
Soria made a motion to strike the misdemeanor part from the proposal. Council Member Oliver Baines provided the second.
Bredefeld was next up.
“If you take it out, I won’t support it,” Bredefeld said. “I think we should criminalize people who commit crimes. It’s a very simple thing. If we start deciding that we’re not going to prosecute people when they commit crimes – which the state is trying to do with Prop 47 and 57 and AB 109. That’s why we’re more unsafe. So, I support leaving it (the misdemeanor provision) in, and I support prosecuting people who commit crimes. I think it makes for a much safer society.”
Baines asked City Attorney Doug Sloan to explain the possible punishments in the proposed framework.
Sloan said a fare-evader on the first and second violations would be looking at an infraction. On the third violation, the fare-evader could face a misdemeanor or an administrative citation.
Baines suggested to Soria that her motion include a ban for the fare-evader on the third violation. Soria agreed.
Let’s take a break here and review things.