John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
The MBTA’s new push to check tickets on commuter rail platforms has yielded its first arrest. Problem is, the passenger had a valid ticket — and a bit of an attitude.
Jim Yarin, a 58-year-old Acton resident and longtime commuter rail passenger, had already paid for an entire month of rides with an October pass. He was detained last week by Transit Police on a North Station platform and charged with trespassing after the ticket checkers said they could not verify that his paper ticket was valid.
Yarin concedes that he could have avoided arrest but says he escalated the situation out of principle.
“I figured, OK, fine, I’ll make a principled stand,” Yarin said. “I’ve been dealing with commuting for so long, and this is just one more thing. It’s an aggravation, and I put my foot down.”
Yet his act of personal rebellion highlighted that the private operator running the commuter rail for the MBTA, Keolis Commuter Services, is taking the checks seriously, while also exposing a flaw in the new system: The checks are based on a brief visual inspection of paper tickets, plastic CharlieCards, and mobile apps, and cannot definitively determine whether a passenger has paid a fare.
In Yarin’s case, the checkers could not verify his $318 monthly pass because the paper ticket had faded over the course of the month.
The ticket checkers were hired by Keolis earlier this year and deployed to the three busiest commuter rail stations because the MBTA believes it is missing out on millions of dollars in uncollected or deliberately evaded fares.
They ask passengers on select platforms to show proof of payment before boarding, eyeballing tickets and apps before ushering riders toward the train. Some passengers have complained that the process slows boarding and causes crowding at busy stations, whereas the old system saw passengers either show or pay for tickets once on board. (Even if passengers go through a ticket check on the platform, they still must show their tickets to a train conductor.)
Keolis spokesman Tory Mazzola acknowledged that the check is “not perfect” but noted that it is meant to condition passengers to buy tickets before boarding. It’s the first step toward a more comprehensive policy, which is expected to eventually include electronic fare gates similar to those on the subway.
Yarin, who works as a paralegal at a law firm that he declined to identify, said he has grown accustomed to the new checks and has often passed without issue. But last Thursday, after his ticket was questioned, Yarin was directed to the North Station ticket counter to obtain a new pass.
In a fit of defiance, he refused to go, his frustration with the ticket checkers compounded by other longtime commuting complaints such as delayed trains.
“I was pleading with them,” Yarin said, asking the checkers to take a close look at his ticket or ask a conductor if they recognized him.
Some of the details of Yarin’s standoff are under dispute. He said he wouldn’t go to the ticket counter in part because the train was leaving within five minutes and he might have missed it. The T’s Transit Police, however, contend that the incident occurred about 10 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart and that he could have received a new October pass at no charge from the ticket counter in two minutes.
Both sides, however, agree that Yarin argued with the checkers, and once the police got involved, he told them to either let him board or arrest him. Ultimately, he was given a final warning and refused to leave the platform.
“Civil disobedience, arrest me,” Yarin said, according to a Transit Police affidavit. He doesn’t dispute the quote.
While some riders have complained about the ticket checks, sometimes passionately, Keolis is not aware of any similar arrests.
“In exceptional cases when passengers become verbally or physically abusive, our teams are trained to remain calm, help to defuse the situation, and alert T police if necessary,” Mazzola said.
Yarin spent a couple of hours in a jail cell and appeared the next day in Boston Municipal Court. He said he refused a judge’s offer to dismiss the trespassing charge in exchange for a written apology and community service.
“I wasn’t going to write a lousy letter of apology,” he said. “It was saying I did something wrong, and I’m convinced that I didn’t.”
He’s next due in court later this month.
Yarin’s October pass was reviewed by a Globe reporter. It had indeed faded significantly, with orange blotches and mostly indecipherable lettering, but still featured the T’s logo and the pass’s distinctive orange arrow. And the words “OCT 2017,” indicating its validity in October, were legible — though barely so. Yarin proved the pass was valid by using it at an Orange Line stop, since commuter rail passes also give access to the subway.
Yarin said he typically purchases his monthly pass at the ticket counter, which still gives paper tickets. The tickets should be more durable to prevent the ticket-checking issues, he argued, or else Keolis should change how it inspects faded passes.
Commuter rail passes can be acquired in other formats — through a mobile app or on a plastic CharlieCard if purchased through the T’s website. After his arrest, Yarin is considering switching away from paper.
“Oh, yeah, I’m going to look into all of it,” he said.
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