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Port Authority may nix plan to use armed police for fare enforcement |

Port Authority may nix plan to use armed police for fare enforcement

Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Port Authority of Allegheny County CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman speaks to a Tribune-Review reporters at Port Authority's offices Downtown on Monday, March 5, 2018.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County, under new leadership, might nix a controversial plan to use armed police officers to enforce payment of light-rail fares.

Port Authority staff, under the direction of new CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman, for the first time is collecting data about the extent of fare evasion by observing passengers as they board and depart light-rail train cars..

“It turned out, the vast majority of people we observed were tapping (their ConnectCard),” Kelleman said.

If the number of riders not paying is under a certain percentage, Kelleman will scrap a proposal to instruct officers to charge those caught riding without paying, she said.

The Port Authority would not be able to hire more officers to check fares on the T, Kelleman said.

“If we’re hitting our goal for fare compliance, do we really need to be taking someone out of their job where they could be something of more value and put them on that vehicle?” Kelleman said.

Kelleman pointed to an incident Feb. 20, when officers rescued a man who was lying on the light-rail tracks on the North Side.

“If they had been at McNeilly doing fare enforcement, they’d be doing something, but we’d still have someone laying across the tracks,” Kelleman said.

Kelleman said she expects to have fare evasion data to share with the Port Authority’s board of directors by the March or April meeting.

The decision to nix the proposal would not require a board vote, Kelleman said.

“It’s a pretty lively issue, and I think the sooner we can reconcile it, the sooner we can move on to the next conversation of how can Port Authority be a great partner to all the awesome stuff happening here in Pittsburgh,” Kelleman said.

Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, an advocacy group that has raised concerns about the plan, said a re-evaluation is a step in the right direction.

Under the policy proposed in April, first-time violators would receive a warning. On their second offense, violators could be charged with theft of services. Offenders caught three or more times could be charged with trespassing and access device fraud.

The theft of services charge could carry a fine of up to $300 and 90 days in jail, as determined by a judge.

“(That) is overly punitive for failing to pay a $2.50 bus fare, and while we know it’s at the discretion of a judge, we also know that people of color consistently receive harsher penalties for the same crime,” Wiens said.

Kelleman might also cancel a plan to stop collecting cash on the light-rail system — which was supposed to start in summer 2017 but has been delayed because of issues with a contractor that was supposed to provide equipment and services to operate a cashless payment system.

The authority provides about 26,000 light rail rides per year, said Adam Brandolph, authority spokesman.

In fiscal year 2017, the authority collected $79.9 million in fare revenue from the entire system — bus, rail and incline. The authority’s budget does not break down the figure for just light rail.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift.

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