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Cleveland reduces penalties for public transit fare evasion

A picture of a GCRTA bus.
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's Health Line started operating in 2008, providing faster service between Downtown Cleveland and the hospitals on the city's Eastside. Advocates criticized RTA's decision to change to front-of-bus boarding as a way to cut down on fare evasion.

Cleveland City Council voted during its meeting Monday night to reduce the penalties for failing to pay for a trip on public transit.

Under state law, fare evasion carries a criminal penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Under the new Cleveland ordinance, the penalty in the city is reduced to a civil fine of $25, no jail time and no criminal record.

According to Cleveland City Councilman Kerry McCormack, the new law is the product of discussions among council, the mayor’s office and community advocates like Clevelanders for Public Transit.

“As we look at our books, whether it is marijuana or other types of systems that have unequally impacted some folks in our community, really much of it generated through the history of systemic racism in our community, we are looking at ways in our laws that we can reduce those impacts,” McCormack said.

The new ordinance will initially only have a symbolic effect. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority says it will continue to write tickets under state law with the higher penalties.

According to RTA spokesman Robert Fleig, the agency operates in 59 municipalities across Cuyahoga County and has to remain consistent across its coverage area.

RTA has reduced the number of tickets it issues over the last few years.

Only 17 people were issued tickets for fare evasion last year, 16 people the year before, a substantial drop from 2018, when 89 tickets were issued.

Between 2018 and 2022, RTA’s police department has arrested a total of 8 people for fare evasion.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.