The number of fare evaders on Sacramento Regional Transit light-rail trains dropped precipitously this summer after RT quadrupled its fare checker force, district officials said Thursday.
An agency analysis showed that 5.1 percent of riders were traveling without a valid ticket in late August, compared to 15.5 percent during a similar study period in early May.
RT officials attributed the drop to the 25 new fare checkers stationed on trains since early summer, increasing the transit officer force from eight to 33. RT police report they now often have inspectors on every train during peak hours and on many trains during midday and evening hours, a notable change from recent years when fare-checking was spotty.
Agency security chief Norm Leong said RT was able to increase its force by reducing the number of private security company guards it employs at stations and replacing them with new RT hires who have the authority to check riders on trains for fares and cite them if they don’t have a valid ticket.
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The changes are part of a push to improve cleanliness and a sense of security on trains, as well as to boost revenue for the district, which has struggled with budget deficits and sagging ridership for several years.
A group of downtown business leaders publicly criticized RT early last year, saying the bus and rail agency’s customer service was poor. The group said non-ticketed riders seemed to be using the system with little risk of getting caught.
The recent analysis took place at four stations: Meadowview, Mather/Mills, Marconi and Power Inn. During one week in early May, 692 inspections found 107 riders without paid tickets. A follow-up in late August found 36 riders without fares among 705 riders.
The agency notably increased citations issued by 600 percent, security chief Leong said. The citation count was not immediately available Thursday. Leong said the number of citations that inspectors have issued in recent weeks has started to drop, probably because more riders are aware of the crackdown.
“If we are successful in changing the culture, people no longer will contemplate boarding without paying for fare first,” Leong said.
The fare evasion enforcement emphasis comes just months before the opening of the Golden 1 Center arena downtown, when more people are expected to ride trains. But officials say the effort also is focused on a long-term goal of improving service, image, ridership and revenue.
“Ensuring that all passengers have tickets or passes on every trip not only benefits RT financially, but it also improves safety, which is one of our key initiatives,” RT General Manager Henry Li said in a press statement Thursday.
RT officials say riders who do not have a valid ticket or pass can be cited and fined $150. Fare checkers have been allowing some riders to disembark trains and buy tickets instead of issuing them a citation.
RT recently added a mobile fare app, RideSacRT, to allow riders to buy tickets via smartphone.