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New Authority for Public Transportation Agencies to Curb Passenger Misconduct

February 19, 2016

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On October 10, 2015, the California Legislature adopted SB 413, a bill that strengthens a public transportation agency’s ability to curb passenger misconduct by giving transportation agencies the option of selecting one of two avenues for addressing certain passenger behavior. Specifically, an agency may choose to adopt an ordinance imposing administrative penalties for additional types of unruly behavior than previously allowed, for example, failing to comply with a transit official's warning against disrupting others with loud or unreasonable noise. Alternatively, if the agency chooses not to implement an administrative process for addressing the additional types of passenger misconduct, it may choose to adopt an ordinance allowing it to enforce as an infraction under the Penal Code a passenger's failure to yield a seat reserved for elderly or disabled individuals. Lastly, transportation agencies still retain the right to engage law enforcement should a passenger fail to comply with a transit official's noise warning or engage in any other conduct listed under Section 640 of the Penal Code. 

Existing Law

Under existing law, a public transportation agency may enact an ordinance to impose administrative penalties for specified fare evasions and passenger conduct. This subjects a person, who would otherwise receive a citation under the Penal Code, to an administrative process. A person who is issued a notice by an agency will not be subject to a citation for the same act under the Penal Code. Once the ordinance is adopted, authorized personnel witnessing fare violations or certain passenger misconduct may issue a notice to the individual.  All fines collected will be deposited in the general fund of the county where the citation is administered.  

New Authority for Public Transportation Agencies Under SB 413

SB 413 specifies that a public transportation agency may either adopt an ordinance to impose administrative penalties for fare violations and passenger misconduct or it may adopt an ordinance, after holding a public hearing, to enforce the failure to yield a seat reserved for the elderly and disabled as an infraction under the Penal Code. This gives a public transportation agency the option either to utilize the judicial system to penalize one particular type of conduct, or to utilize the administrative process to respond to more than one type of passenger misconduct, which now includes the failure to comply with a transit official's noise warning and the failure to yield a seat reserved for elderly or disabled persons. If a public transportation agency decides to adopt such an ordinance imposing an administrative penalty, the new law is helpful in that it gives bus operators and agency personnel greater enforcement power to ensure that transit facilities remain a comfortable and safe place for all passengers. Additionally, this expanded power is administrative and consequently less confrontational than enlisting the assistance of law enforcement.

If an agency desires to avoid developing and implementing a system of administrative penalties compliant with the Public Utilities Code statutory requirements, it can still adopt an ordinance to enforce the failure to yield a seat reserved for the elderly and disabled as an infraction. While the new law grants agencies greater flexibility, it may be challenging, and potentially undesirable, for bus operators and personnel to issue infraction citations. To better equip decision makers, agencies should evaluate which types of passenger misconduct arise most frequently on their systems and present the greatest challenges to passenger and employee safety and comfort.  

In addition, agencies retain the right to engage law enforcement to address passenger misconduct listed in the Penal Code, which now includes the failure to heed a transit official's warning related to noise. While the new authority under SB 413 grants agencies greater flexibility, it remains unclear whether this process will practically be more effective and efficient than existing agency policies, which may include removal from the transit facility or contacting law enforcement.

Additionally, agencies may now apply all administrative penalties to minors as well as adults which grants agencies the authority to include minors in any administrative process rather than only having the option of subjecting minors to the judicial system for misconduct.

Conclusion

This new and expanded authority may prompt many agencies to review and revise their existing policies and practices related to fare violations and passenger misconduct to determine whether the existing systems are sufficient or could benefit from amendment. It will be important for agencies to  thoroughly consider the benefits and costs of implementing the new authority granted under the law. In particular, how to take advantage of the new authority while still maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for employees and passengers alike.

For more information, please contact:

Alexandra Atencio

415-995-5870 Direct Phone
415-995-3495 Fax

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Nicole Witt

415-995-6454 Direct Phone
415-541-9366 Fax

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