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Roughly every three days, one person biking or walking is killed by someone driving a car in the Chicago region.

Jumping the turnstile shouldn’t be a misdemeanor

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The growing attention on the dangers of excessive criminalization of low-income people and communities of color has extended into the world of public transit.

Last year the State of California decriminalized transit fare evasion for minors, making evading a fare a finable offense but no longer a misdemeanor. Around the same time prosecutors in Portland decided to stop pursuing charges except in extreme cases or cases of chronic offenders. In 2015, the Seattle region also decriminalized fare evasion for youth.

In Chicago, CTA and CPD currently support prosecuting transit fare nonpayment as a misdemeanor, according to reporting by Streetsblog Chicago. The agency says it’s unfair to paying customers for some users to get a free ride.

The agency’s position is reasonable given the severe budget crunch they’ve been under for years. Without a dedicated local funding source for transit upgrades and expansion, CTA struggles to maintain our legacy system, never mind expanding it so people in every Chicago neighborhood have access to rapid transit.

There’s no doubt the city should have a deterrent to discourage from evading fares, but it shouldn’t be a misdemeanor. The negative impact of decades of excessive criminalization of low-income communities and people of color is clear. Evading a transit fare is not an offense that should force people into our criminal justice system.

Maintaining a fine structure that grows with each additional offense would still be a strong deterrent, without placing an undue burden on vulnerable communities. CTA, Metra, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority should work with the state’s attorney to pursue reform in the Chicago region.

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