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Groups ask Port Authority not to enforce cashless fares with armed officers

| Friday, June 30, 2017, 1:54 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
A Port Authority light-rail 'T' train arrives at Allegheny Station on the North Side on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.

Several groups are ramping up efforts to protest the Port Authority of Allegheny County's plans to use armed police officers who can issue criminal citations to enforce cashless light-rail fares.

More than 30 transit riders affiliated with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the Alliance for Police Accountability, Casa San Jose and the Thomas Merton Center signed up to tell Port Authority's Board of Directors on Friday that they oppose the enforcement policy.

“We take these concerns seriously and they are being reviewed,” Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said.

Port Authority officials have met with Pittsburghers for Public Transit members to hear their concerns, Brandolph said.

The cashless fare system for the T was supposed to begin in July, but it's now delayed until at least October, because a shipment of 10 ConnectCard dispensing machines didn't arrive as expected.

According to the Port Authority policy set to go in to effect when the T stops accepting cash payments, fare enforcement officers will check to make sure light-rail riders have paid their fares both on board the trains and in stations where payment is required.

Riders who are caught getting on the T without paying the $2.50 fare will get a verbal warning, the policy states. Second-offense violators could be issued a summary citation for theft of services. After three or more offenses, riders can be cited for theft of services and criminal trespass, and could be arrested. Riders trying to use fake fare cards could be cited or arrested for access device fraud.

The names of all riders who received warnings or citations will be recorded in the Port Authority Police Department's records system.

When issuing citations, the officers will compare riders' names to local and national databases to see if they have outstanding warrants.

“Port Authority says they want to keep their riders safe, but this dangerous method of enforcement does the exact opposite for communities of color, people with disabilities, undocumented residents and low-income families,” Christina Castillo, an organizer with the Thomas Merton Center, said in a news release. The center is a nonprofit that works to promote peace and to address social justice issues.

The authority's policy says officers will not discriminate.

It states: “In conducting compliance monitoring and inspections, FEOs are strictly prohibited from engaging in ‘selective enforcement' or other conduct that could be perceived as unfairly targeting or discriminating against any class of persons based upon race, color, national origin, immigration status, religious beliefs, physical or mental disabilities, sexual orientation or gender identification.”

In the release, the Thomas Merton Center made the following requests:

• The fare inspectors should not be armed police officers.

• There should be extensive, annual training for fare inspectors that includes: cultural responsiveness, preventing racial profiling, de-escalation, interacting with people with mental health challenges and disabilities.

• A model that encourages ridership rather than punishes fare evaders should be used.

• Fare evasion should be de-criminalized.

•The constitutional rights of all immigrants must be upheld.

• Port Authority police will not inquire about anyone's immigration status.

• The names and information of individuals who are cited should never be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

• External accountability measures must be in place for all fare inspectors and Port Authority police.

The T will remain free Downtown, from Station Square to Allegheny stations, but “the free fare zone may be reduced or expanded in the Port Authority's discretion in the future,” the policy states.

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

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