Light rail puts inspectors on trains to combat problem of free riders

Passengers will be asked to prove they paid fare

July 21, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The honor system is out and inspectors are on the job on the Baltimore area's light rail system.

The first 10 fare inspectors began work yesterday as part of an effort by the Maryland Transit Administration to crack down on free riders, a problem since the line opened in 1992.

Richard Scher, an MTA spokesman, said the agency expects to put 25 more inspectors on the rails by year's end.

The 35 unarmed inspectors will ask passengers for proof that they have paid the fare of $1.60 one way or $3.20 round trip. Passengers who have not paid will be asked to leave the train at the next station. The inspectors will not sell tickets.

Scher said passengers who refuse to show tickets or leave the trains will be met at the next station by MTA police officers, who can issue an illegal rider a $35 ticket.

The 30-mile light rail system, which runs from Hunt Valley through downtown Baltimore to Glen Burnie and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, does not have turnstiles like those on the Metro system.

"It's for the most part been based on the honor system," Scher said.

Transportation officials have decided that honor isn't enough.

"Like other light rail systems across the nation, we have had many people over the years attempt to board a train without paying," Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said in a news release. "Up until now, there has been no way to consistently police this practice. Having fare inspectors onboard will ensure that all riders will have paid equally for their trip."

Scher said he is unaware of any studies that show how many passengers have been riding free or how much revenue can be gained by employing the part-time inspectors, who will be paid a little more than $10 an hour.

The inspectors will do more than make sure fares are paid, he said. They will also check cars for unattended packages and report suspicious activities.

"Fare inspectors are going to have a direct line to the MTA police on matters big and small," Scher said.

The inspectors will also be trained to respond to medical emergencies and to answer passengers' questions about transportation and local landmarks, he said.

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