There's no free ride on the new metro Phoenix light rail system after Jan 1. If you get caught without a ticket, expect a stiff fine, possibly as high as several hundred dollars.
The light rail's fare setup has been called an honor system because riders are expected to be on their honor and buy a ticket to ride. Those who think they can get away with a free ride risk a fine of up to $500 plus court fees.
Metro opens Dec. 27, but Metro isn't charging riders until Jan. 1.
"It's a proof-of-payment' system," said Larry Engleman, director of safety and security for Metro light rail.
The fare system requires riders to buy paper tickets or use smart cards that they must activate at station platforms before boarding a train.
Spot checks will be performed by uniformed fare inspectors on the train to see if riders have paid.
Light-rail systems from Minneapolis to Denver use similar fare systems. The percentage of riders who try to snag a free trip ranges from 2 percent to 10 percent, depending on the city and the percentage of riders checked, transit officials said.
"We get substantially more complaints by people who feel that there isn't enough fare checking, said Scott Reed, assistant general manager of public affairs for the Regional Transportation District in Denver.
First-time offenders in Denver are given a warning and their names are entered into a database. Those caught a second time face a $26 fine.
Additional attempts at riding for free and getting caught can means fines as high as $100 but the real trouble starts when a rider is caught for the fifth time. That's when a warrant and a no-trespassing notice are issued for a rider's arrest.
Metro's Engleman said fare inspectors will conduct ticket checks after an unspecified grace period.
"It's going to be an educational process," he said. "We'll have ambassadors to help riders learn how to use the system."
Along the Phoenix portion of the 20-mile route, sworn police officers will check passengers.
Paid security guards will be used by Tempe and Mesa along their portions of the line.
The officers will do double duty by providing security on board and at the stations.