WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said it plans to get tough on people who try to ride Metro without paying.

WMATA said that Metro Transit Police could issue fines to people who attempt to use Metrobus and Metrorail for free. In the District, the penalty is $50. In Maryland and Virginia, the penalty could be as high as $100.

A warning campaign to let people know about the stepped-up effort launched on Tuesday, Oct. 4 with notices displayed on digital signs throughout the system. After the digital signs run for two weeks, Metro Transit police officers and other Metro staff members will start distributing flyers with the same warning information to people who don’t pay to ride.

“If I have to pay, you have to pay too. Nothing’s free in this world. You have to pay,” daily Metro rider Linda Green said.

Some riders, like Linda Green who rides the metro every day, support the move.

“Well, I get angry because I don’t think it’s fair for them to be jumping over the turnstile and just disrespecting the system,” Green said.

Other riders expressed their disappointment, highlighting that those jumping turnstiles and evading bus fares make matters worse for everyone else.

“It is frustrating because we’re trying to get the metro back to where it used to be and the more that people jump that turnstile, the more expensive it gets and the less frequently it runs,” Stephen Cobb, a daily Metro rider, explained.

“As I mentioned previously, the region needs to decide what we want Metro to be, and fare policy should be part of the conversation,” said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Randy Clarke. “Many people have mentioned going to a fare-free model, but fare-free does not mean free. There are costs associated with running the community’s transit system and therefore the necessary revenues must exist to deliver the services the community needs.”

WMATA said the warning period would end in November. From that point on, officers will issue citations to anyone caught not tapping SmarTrip® cards or mobile phones at fare gates, exiting emergency gates in stations, and not tapping fare boxes on Metrobuses.

Some goals of the campaign are to raise awareness of the fines currently associated with Maryland and Virginia and inform fare evaders of the new civil penalties in the District that will take effect in November.

Fare evasion is a criminal offense in Maryland and Virginia. The District recently put procedures into place that allow the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) to enforce civil citations systemwide. Until the recent steps taken by the District, Metro did not have tickets to use, so, Metro did not have the ability to issue fare evasion citations in the city.

WMATA said 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. It said the revenue loss due to fare evasion in Fiscal Year 2022, conservatively, is $40 million. That’s about 22% of the upcoming budget gap. New technology being installed at fare gates should allow WMATA to gauge the scale of the problem more accurately.

“The community actually wants more service and we are lacking the revenue to deliver that service,” Clarke explained. “So for if we don’t collect our fares in our current model, our only option left would be to cut service.”

As part of its campaign, WMATA said it is working with its partners to offer resources to make public transit more equitable and affordable for those in need. A low-income fare pilot is getting underway in the District, in addition to a proposal to provide $100 in SmarTrip credit for qualified residents to ride buses and trains.

WMATA also said it is exploring other ways to prevent people from entering rail stations without paying. It is expected to begin testing fare gate modifications in November. Prototypes will be installed at a selected rail station for employees to test. Some of the modifications being explored include tactile deterrents on top of fare gates and higher barriers. Once the initial round of testing is completed, customers will be able to try the modified fare gate and provide feedback early in 2023.