Fresno leaders decide punishment for fare evaders before Bus Rapid Transit system rolls out

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When the new bus system rolls out in November, you will be banned for a year if you get caught not paying three times. (KFSN)

The streets are being prepared for Bus Rapid Transit, and the buses are waiting in the yard.

New Q buses will be quicker because you won't pay the driver, you will put your money in a machine before you get on the bus and that means some folks may be able to get on board without paying at all and the city is debating how to deal with that.

"I think we should criminalize people who commit crimes, it's a very simple thing," council member Garry Bredefeld argued.

The Fresno City Council got wrapped up in a debate over how to make sure riders pay. While Bredefeld backed a plan to make it a misdemeanor crime to ride without paying, Esmerelda Soria wanted a softer approach.

"But I don't want to be in the business of criminalizing people," she contested. "We already know people who are folks riding the bus traditionally, what we have is low-income people trying to get to work trying to get to school."

Councilmember Oliver Baines suggested banning anyone who got caught riding for free after three times, rather than making them a criminal.

"If you want to take out the misdemeanor section of that then I would add a banning, a banishment," he argued. "A year or two, whatever."

Council President Clint Olivier wanted to take all the punishment out and make the bus system free.

"There's only one answer to fixing the problem of fare evasion, and that's to make the Bus Rapid Transit System complimentary for our constituents," he said.

However, deputy transportation director Greg Barfield explained, the city must get at least 20 percent of its revenue from riders in order to secure state and federal funding for the $60 million project.

In the end, the council voted not to make fare-evaders criminals but said if they get caught not paying three times, they are banned for a year.

The city will have employees on buses randomly collecting tickets and hope to get the system worked out before the buses are rolling in November.

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