Advocates spoke out Friday against a proposed policy that would authorize Port Authority police officers to issue criminal citations to light rail riders who can't prove they’ve paid a fare.
At a Port Authority board meeting, about a dozen speakers said the policy could subject people with mental health issues, racial minorities, immigrants and young people to biased enforcement.
Fight for Lifers West organizer Jordan Malloy warned that the proposed measure could also contribute to the overrepresentation of people with mental health disabilities and racial minorities in prisons by increasing passengers' encounters with law enforcement.
“So many start with a routine and invasive and unnecessary police interaction,” she said. “This new proposal is a predictable disaster and in so many ways it could be avoided.”
Fight for Lifers West is an incarceration advocacy organization in Pittsburgh that focuses on prisoners with life sentences.
The Port Authority’s Interim CEO, David Donahoe, said that T passengers would not be arbitrarily asked to show proof of payment under the proposed policy. Rather, he said, officers would check passengers in the order in which they are standing or seated on a light rail platform or car.
“I have observed fare enforcement myself, on another system, and that’s simply what’s done – whoever’s on the car, you go from one end to the other.”
Advocates have urged the Port Authority to implement a program where riders without proof of payment would pay civil fines instead of going through the criminal court system. Donahoe said current state law does not allow anyone other than a police officer to cite people for not paying their fare.
Currently, there is no proof of payment system in place and passengers may ride for free downtown.
Donahoe expects the proposed proof-of-payment system to take effect in 2018.