Although a round-trip ticket on the light rail is just under $5, fare evasion is still something that CATS and the city of Charlotte have to deal with.
Speaking to a woman that routinely rides for free, she didn’t have much to say on the matter other than that the choice to do so shouldn’t depend on any factor other than how she feels about it.
“The vast majority of people think that when people have money, they should just spend it and that things like this are merely ‘pocket money’,” she explained when speaking to the cost of a roundtrip ride. “But I feel very differently about that opinion.”
When it comes to enforcing the policy, the city has contracted G4S, a security company, to patrol the trains. In the first four months of 2015, they handed out more than 1,000 citations.
So how are people still getting away with it?
This week, I decided to find out how easy it is to get away with and what happens should someone get caught.
Because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of not paying and refuse to let what could have been a simple $4.40 purchase put a blemish on my record, I bought a ticket on the off-chance I was asked to produce one.
I boarded twice, once in the afternoon before rush hour hit and again in the middle of rush hour. Neither time was I asked to prove I’d paid to be there, which might be due to the possible safety risks and sheer volume of passengers during peak hours.
Had I been caught without a ticket, the repercussions would have been ugly.
G4S officers work in pairs and have a random selection process. If they find a passenger that hasn’t paid, he or she is asked to get off at the next station, where they’ll be issued a $50 state citation and a court date.
According to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecutors often dismiss the citation if the defendant can prove that they’ve paid the fine, for which the company that provides security on the light rail sends a representative in order to make sure payment information is accurate to help everything along.
Should the defendant not pay the fine, his or her criminal record is inspected and, depending on the record, be offered participation in a diversion program.
And if everything about the citation is ignored, CATS will put out a warrant for your arrest.
The verdict: Easy, but risky. So how many people are still skipping the ticket dispenser?
According to Krystel Green, Public & Community Relations Manager for CATS, 4.8 million people rode the light rail between July 2015 and June 2016. In 2015, 5,472 citations and warnings were issued and another 6,617 were issued in 2016. That’s a steady rise, considering there were 5,264 issued in 2014.
I asked five random people on both rides I took if they’d paid for their ticket. Each one said that yes, they had – and then proved it.
One woman, on her way home from her job in Uptown, said it best: “Sure, it would be easy to get away with, but it’d be my luck that the one time I tried would be the time I’d get caught. And there’s no way that’s worth it.”