Fare Evasion and Fairness on a DART Train

Since “My Ride on DART Today” anecdotes seem to be FrontBurner staples, here’s another: Nearing the Mockingbird station headed toward downtown this morning, a white DART cop on the Blue Line train started asking passengers for their proof of payment. (The law says you have to have a ticket or a pass to ride.) All was fine until he got to a black woman seated in front of me, who pulled out a couple of old tickets, then finally admitted she hadn’t paid for this ride. The cop calmly took her ID and retreated to the boarding step to write out a $50 fine. (It’s actually called an “administrative fee.”)

At that, a heavily tattooed white guy sitting next to the offender started lecturing her about her “Constitutional rights.” A black woman in the next seat shook her head solemnly and said, “If you were a different color, you wouldn’t be gettin’ no ticket!” Nearby a third black woman agreed: “Sheeee ….” she muttered. At that, I thought back to how I (a pasty-faced Anglo) had been ticket-less one morning after the machine rejected my seven quarters, and how the black DART cop had let me go after I proposed to try another machine once I got off. Then this: No matter how much we may all wish and hope and work at it, racism and accusations of it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.


  • She didn’t offer up any explanation of equipment malfunctions or attempts to pay. She just didn’t pay.

    I think you are reading too much into this.

  • Sybil’s Beaver

    How nice that the fare cop let you off at the next stop to buy one. Multiple monthly pass holders at my office have been ticketed for not having their monthly pass for various reasons…left it in other purse, in a different pair of pants. And dont try to fight it, they tell you, you arent getting an “administrative fee” for failing to have a pass, you are getting it for failing to show the pass to the fare cop. pffft

  • Brent D.

    Only $50? My ticket for forgetting my pass (actually company ID) cost me $220. The DART cop was black, I’m a well-tanned (most of the time) white dude. The judge was white and he wouldn’t let me off when I showed him the ID/pass. I don’t think that makes a point; however, for this once, Glenn, I’ll agree with you.

  • CraigT

    So when you didn’t have your ticket you admitted fault and promised to make restitution. When the lady you witnessed didn’t have her ticket she attempted to deceive the officer and defraud the system.
    The color of the people involved seems irrelevant there.

  • Wes Mantooth

    So if I take two isolated anecdotes, I can draw a very broad but accurate conclusion about social trends? Awesome! Somebody should alert the American Political Science Association that they can stand down.

  • Tom

    I thought Glenn stopped riding DART when it failed to provide enough security for his parked car at White Rock Station.

  • Odie

    The honor system only works if it is randomly enforced without exceptions. Try riding without a ticket in Switzerland. Not only are you heavily fined if you are caught, the controllers have the authority to check for outstanding warrants and immigration status as well. It happens quite frequently that people are caught without a ticket, yanked off the tram and within 48 hours find themselves on a plane back home. If a Swiss controller had failed to issue a fine to someone without a ticket he would have been fired. In Zurich it is simply a matter of doing your job and following the law, but just imagine the cries of racism if we asked people here to do the same.

  • Kk

    What would have happened if she didn’t have any ID? This comes to mind due to the ongoing voter ID law and the new “show your papers if you look foreign” law in Arizona. I would think there are a fair amount of DART passengers that don’t have drivers licenses. What are the laws regarding carrying ID in general if you aren’t driving?
    I agree with @beav, she offered no excuse and flat out admitted to intentionally riding without paying, no matter her race she left him with no choice but to ticket her.

  • Avid Reader

    Race War.

  • Glenn Hunter

    @Tom: You’re right that I vowed to do that, a couple of years ago (?). But it was a dumb overreaction (first time that’s happened) and have taken the train once in awhile since. Still haven’t parked again in a DART lot, though.

  • Chuck

    Yeah, accusations aren’t going anywhere because YOU’RE writing stuff like this.

  • Peterk

    ‘What would have happened if she didn’t have any ID?” apparently you are clueless as to how the Arizona law was set up. it is not “show your papers” rather the officer can’t just ask for your “papers” he has to have a reasonable suspicion. in other words they must have stopped you for a valid reason, jaywalking, running a stoplight, speeding.
    as for the voter id law it has no role in this instance

  • wlubake

    My wife was studying pastry at El Centro and rode DART to class (El Centro students ride for free). Her mini semester ran six weeks, and ended on June 2. For some reason, the pass El Centro issued her ended on May 31. When DART police asked her for her pass on June 1, she confidently handed them her student pass. Expired, they wrote her a $220 ticket for fare evasion. This despite the fact my wife presented a semester pass expiring the day before and was currently wearing her El Centro chef’s coat (with the school’s logo ebroidered on the coat).

    Now the cop was black and my wife is white, but I don’t blame the cop for enforcing the rule. Instead, it is a broken rule when enforced against a person who has their fare paid for properly, but due to clerical error cannot provide current proof thereof. The fact that my wife couldn’t get something from El Centro to cure the ticket shows that the law is poorly written and discourages the use of DART. No one from my family has stepped on a DART train following the aftermath of that violation.

    I get that my wife was technically at fault. We accepted the situation and paid the fee. However, we have chosen to avoid using the city’s public transportation system. Maybe if they set up their system a little better, they wouldn’t have to spend so much ad money begging people to ride.

  • Beda

    wlubake, it wasn’t a technicality; your wife’s pass was good only through May 31 and she was doing just like the woman at the center of this story did: she attempted to ride without paying. She didn’t have a valid pass and she didn’t buy a ticket, they asked for her proof that she paid, they fined her. I’m not sure why that alone would cause you to quit riding DART.

  • wlubake

    Beda, while I will readily admit that my wife was not careful, she certainly was not trying to ride without paying. El Centro pays for its students to ride under an agreement with DART. While currently enrolled as a student with qualifying credit, you are paid for. It happens automatically for every student so enrolled. The problem was that my wife didn’t pay attention to the fact that for some reason the noted expiration on her pass didn’t coincide with the end of the semester. Had she gone to the appropriate office at El Centro, they would have issued her a pass to cover June (or at least the first two days of June), as it was already paid for under its agreement with DART. We were told this much by the school.

    So no, she did not attempt to ride without paying. Payment had been made. At worst she attempted to ride without carrying proof of her payment (which is the statutory requirement). So DART collected its fee from El Centro and a penalty from me. That is a flawed system, regardless of whether it was performed consistently with the laws creating that system.

  • Edward

    I’m stunned that if you have a pass but forget it that you still have to pay a $220 fine. When you don’t have your insurance in your car and get a ticket, you just have to prove you had insurance.

    So is it written in the code that you have your pass ON YOUR PERSON AT ALL TIMES, or just that you have to have a pass?

  • Stells

    I will attempt to counteract your ancedotal evidence with some of my own:

    About a year ago (back when you could only buy passes at the station with cash), I was riding DART to work while my car was being repaired. Well, I dropped my pass somewhere in Mockingbird station and didn’t realize it until I was asked for my ticket. I reached into the pocket of my purse where I’d been keeping all my passes and grabbed the one on top, but it was the one from the day before. I pulled out everything in my purse and told the woman that I must have dropped it because I had indeed purchased the ticket. I told her that I would immediately get off and purchase a new one (because it was a full day pass and I’d need it to get home). She told me she was going to write me a ticket regardless of what happened. So I ended up paying $220 because I dropped my pass and DART didn’t have the equipment for credit card purchases (and didn’t issue receipts for cash purchases) which meant I had no evidence to fight the ticket.

    Oh, and I’m as white as they come, so it definitely wasn’t about race.

    Glenn I think you just got a lucky break that day…or they knew you worked for the press….

  • Reader

    It doesn’t sound much of an issue of fairness rather the variability of Who is doing the inspection and the moo they are in. Lets face it, if you had 5 fare enforcement officers in there, it’s likely they each would handle the situation differently baed on how they interpreted the situation.

    The only garuntee is if you have your fair/pass, you will not get a citation. Anything other than that, is a gamble.

  • Craigt

    Isn’t there just a tiny bit of difference between ON YOUR PERSON AT ALL TIMES (caps yours), making it sounds like some sort of authoritarian power grab. It is simple logic. When you ride our conveyance you are required to have paid for and have proof of payment upon demand while on our conveyance. If you bought a pricey seat at Jerry world and threw away the stub while you were getting beer, if an usher demanded to see your stub you would be out of luck, same with a movie theater, or almost anywhere else with paid admittance.

  • Avid Reader

    @Craigt, Don’t go trying to be all logical and use common sense; how is Glenn going to start a Race War when you do that?

  • ket

    @CraigT: Since this isn’t asigned seating and there is no such thing as a “movie pass” it is a bit different than your examples. And, wouldn’t it make more sense to treat pass riders with a modicum of respect?

    Give them a ticket, but then let them out of most of it if they can come down to the office and show that they have a valid pass. That way you don’t encourage them to just ignore the requirement of having the pass, but you also don’t punish a frequent user of your service for a mild lapse. Customer service, it isn’t hard.

  • D. Shapiro

    I’ve been checked for my pass before. Twice on the same ridiculously long trip. The officers were both black males. They appeared quite bored and yet were extremely polite. I had my pass and so did all the other people on the train. Some of them were black. Some were white. A few Hispanics too. All of them rather responsible it seems. At first I just thought of it as normal, but now after reading this article, I suppose it was just an anomaly.

    Time for a DART rail scofflaw expose. For the next 30 days I’m going to ride DART, keep extensive stats and get to the bottom of this. All for the simple reward of 1 day pass and sponsored by Patron XO Cafe.

  • B

    Are you now going to do the ‘right’ thing and go ahead and remit the $220 to Dart? If you see the woman who received a ticket, perhaps you should offer to pay it for her? Assuage your white guilt for a brief time.

  • john

    Why don’t they just put turnstiles up at each stop like most other transit systems have? The honor system system doesn’t work.

  • Blake

    @John. I’m guessing you don’t ride on DART often.

  • Jerome Weeks


    People would just jump the turnstiles because in many cases, there’s no one else there. It’s too costly to have every station staffed with ticketsellers/officers. So random checks on board the trains has been DART’s remedy.

  • Daniel J. Caldwell

    I have gotten fined 35 minutes after buying a pass with ticket in-hand.