By Anna Toth
A decision by Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Emanuella Groves ruled that the HealthLine’s “Proof of Payment” decision was unconstitutional in late October. HealthLine riders now have to show their bus passes to the driver, slowing down service and causing confusion.
The HealthLine runs right through Cleveland State’s campus on Euclid, from Public Square to East Cleveland and vice versa. Previously, the Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Transit Police were used to check all passenger’s bus passes at randomized stops.
A fare enforcement case recently prompted Judge Groves to request a constitutional review. The decision was that using the Transit Police to check whether or not people have paid their fares infringed on passengers’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and siezures according to a report by Cleveland Scene.
Almost immediately, the RTA changed their system. Instead of boarding the Healthline through any one of the three doors, passengers had to go in through solely the front door and show their pass to the driver.
However, many people remain confused as to why the HealthLine changed their boarding policies. When asked, some Cleveland State students thought that this recent change in boarding was to prevent people from boarding for free. These students even had ideas to help make buying an RTA pass more efficient, such as adding boxes at each entrance or a smart card that would swipe quicker.
No student said that anyone should ride the bus for free, but several students expressed concern with the way that fare enforcement was handled previously.
“Being harassed by the Transit Police is not an acceptable alternative to just letting someone ride the bus,” Cameron Tolbert, a operational systems management major at Cleveland State said.
Tolbert is very blatant with his dislike of the RTA and the use of the Transit Police specifically.
Transit Police were the main issue that Judge Groves saw as well. In Groves’ decision, having law enforcement officers require every passenger to present a fare card without reasonable evidence of fare evasion is an infringement of the Fourth Amendment.
Even with his immense dislike for the Transit Police, Tolbert doesn’t agree with the current procedure of having to show your pass to the bus driver. His biggest problem is that it slows down the HealthLine.
Ideally, he’d like to go back to the honor system that was used before for efficiency – just without the Transit Police.
Jose Feliciano, external affairs manager at the RTA, agrees with him.
“This is a temporary solution,” Feliciano said.
Feliciano explained that ideally, the RTA would like to go back to the previous proof of payment system – an honor system with either randomized checks or a different method of checking. He said that he wouldn’t mind having citizens be a part of the process.
“Some other transit agencies have people that are sort of ambassadors who check passengers fare cards,” Feliciano said.
Having ambassadors check fare cards wouldn’t infringe upon Fourth Amendment rights as the ambassadors are not law enforcement officers. In fact, it would create an additional layer between the passengers and the Transit Police.
The Transit Police wouldn’t go away totally. In this hypothetical return to the honor system, ambassadors would still be able to call the Transit Police should the situation arise as well as make the driver aware of passengers who haven’t paid.
However, Feliciano said that these discussions are very preliminary and nothing has been decided yet. While the RTA is working on a solution, he emphasized that this was a process.
“We’ve been trying to work to make this system more efficient and evaluate if this is what we want to continue with long-term,” Feliciano said.
As confusing as the initial switch was, Feliciano says that overall, HealthLine ridership or efficiency hasn’t decreased aside from a small dip right after the announcement.
Until a more permanent solution can be determined, people are going to continue to show their bus passes to the driver as they board.