Sound Transit’s new fair ambassadors feature uniforms that no longer look similar to police officers. COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s new fair ambassadors feature uniforms that no longer look similar to police officers. COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit

Sound Transit Fare Ambassador Pilot Program begins

Fare ambassadors will start checking fares on Link and Sounder Sept. 13

Starting Monday, Sept. 13, new Sound Transit fare ambassadors will begin conducting physical fare checks on Link light rail and Sounder trains.

This marks the start of an eight-month pilot program in which fare ambassadors will replace fare enforcement officers as part of Sound Transit’s ongoing efforts to create more equitable fare collection processes, according to a Sound Transit news release.

“Fare revenues are critical for operating a fast-expanding regional transit system that increases mobility and opportunities across the region, especially for populations that depend most on transit,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “It is critical that we foster a welcoming environment for every rider and ensure that transit is accessible and affordable for all. Our initiative includes expanding access to more affordable ORCA LIFT fares for low- income riders, as well as our partnership with King County Metro to provide subsidized annual passes to qualified riders. The Fare Ambassador Pilot Program supports this ongoing transformation and reflects Sound Transit’s deep commitment to equity.”

The Fare Ambassador Pilot Program grew out of passenger feedback and community engagement that expressed discomfort with fare enforcement officers who resemble law enforcement, according to the news release.

In response, fare ambassadors wear bright yellow caps, and carry yellow messenger bags that make them easy to recognize. Their focus is on passenger education and customer service rather than enforcement, with particular emphasis on how to purchase ORCA cards and passes and how income-eligible passengers can obtain ORCA LIFT cards.

“We want all passengers to feel comfortable asking fare ambassadors for assistance, whether they need help getting to their destination, or they’re having trouble purchasing fare,” said Russ Arnold, Sound Transit chief passenger experience and innovation officer. “Fare ambassadors are here to provide help.”

Fare ambassadors will enter trains from both ends of the car, and ask every passenger for proof of payment as they work their way toward the center. This is the same process that had been used by fare enforcement officers previously to ensure equal treatment of all passengers. As in the past, fare ambassadors will use hand-held devices to check fares.

Citations are not being issued during the pilot program. Fare ambassadors will give passengers they interact with a card containing a QR code linking to the fare engagement website, where passengers can complete a satisfaction survey.

Throughout the pilot, Sound Transit will continue to engage with passengers and the community including BIPOC-led organizations, to learn about their experiences with the program and gather feedback that will be used to refine the program, and develop long-term approaches to addressing non-payment, according to the news release.

At the conclusion of the pilot, staff will evaluate the results, including farebox recovery, and propose policy changes for consideration by the Sound Transit Board of Directors. Policy updates could include lowering fines, implementing a new citation resolution process without court adjudication and making the fare ambassador positions permanent.

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