By Jasper Smith, student writer
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority seal. Photo courtesy of Metro Max/Flickr
Every weekday, Charay Allison wakes up at 8 a.m. Not to enjoy a home-cooked breakfast or complete any school work before class, but to prepare for a nearly hour-long commute to Howard University, getting there using two buses and a ride on the Metrorail.
For Allison, public transportation is the only feasible option for getting to school each morning from his apartment in College Park, Maryland. But with crackdowns on fare evasion on the Metrorail and the future of fare-free buses in jeopardy in the District, the junior music therapy major’s daily commute may become more complicated.
Allison shared that he occasionally jumps the turnstile at the Metro entrances as hundreds of other riders do daily. “When I first started taking public transportation I actually paid, but it was so stressful on my bank account to pay every single time,” he said, adding that he typically spent $4 to $8 a day commuting.
Allison continued by saying, “A lot of people that I know jumping the turnstile or not paying, it’s not for fun. It’s like ‘Am I going to pay for the Metro this week or am I going to pay for groceries?’”
According to Metro documents obtained by NBC Washington, riders took an average of 321,000 trips on weekdays starting the beginning of this year, “but 13% of riders did not pay the fare,” averaging more than 40,000 free rides a day. This seemingly common choice cost the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) an estimated $40 million in fare evasion.
With fare evasion on the rise and diminishing rider confidence, following multiple assaults and killings on the Metro, WMATA has turned to reducing services and implementing new, glass panel turnstiles to prevent riders from jumping the gates. Additionally, WMATA has increased the security presence at various stations as well as the fines for fare evasion. All of these have been done in an attempt to bring Metro’s profit back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Fare evasion is responsible for significant revenue losses and is part of the focus to close a shortfall of nearly $185 million in the upcoming budget. Using data from Metrobus and pre-pandemic industry averages for Metrorail, Metro estimates revenue losses due to fare evasion totaling tens of millions of dollars in the fiscal year 2022,” WMATA officials stated on their website.
For some Howard students, seeing an increase in police presence while commuting in D.C. makes them feel uneasy and criminalized.
“It gives a feeling of being watched and it is very uncomfortable sometimes,” Chandler Kinsey, a junior TV & film major said. “I feel like Howard should provide students with free Metro passes for students so we don’t have to deal with being heckled by police when we’re just trying to get to school. The Metro should just be free, period.”
Currently, American University provides their students with unlimited rides through the semester already incorporated into their student bill. A similar concept had been proposed at Howard through the Howard University Student Association but has not yet been implemented.