According to a report that will be released to King County Council's regional policy committee tomorrow, about 53,000 Metro bus riders per week refuse to pay any fare, and another 33,000 pay only partial fare.

According to the report, "The total of 88,000 is about 4.8 percent of total Metro boardings ... of which 2.9 percent paid no fare and 1.9 percent paid a partial fare." Fare evasion costs Metro an estimated $62,000 a week, or about $3.2 million a year. King County Metro faces an estimated budget shortfall over the next two years in the hundreds of millions.The routes that had the highest rates of fare evasion were: The 7 (8 percent; represent!), the 26 and 124 (7.9 percent), the 358 (7.2 percent), the 120 (5.6 percent), the 2 and 13 (4.9 percent), 3 and 4 (4.9 percent), the 1 and 36 (4.7 percent), the "family of 15 routes," (4.7 percent), the 5, the 54, and the 55 (4.2 percent), and the 71-74 and 76-79 (2.8 percent). Those numbers don't include counterfeit passes, transfers given by one passenger to another, faulty ORCA equipment, or people who get off the back door outside the ride-free area.

Drivers aren't supposed to challenge people who refuse to pay. According to Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, "We don’t encourage them to get in fights with people over fares, and that’s the bottom line."

The report recommends a number of steps that could reduce fare evasion. Among them: Simplifying fares and transfers between Metro and other agencies; studying the extent to which the downtown Ride Free Area contributes to fare evasion; putting transit police on fare-enforcement duty for a limited time and studying how it works; and studying proof-of-payment on new RapidRide bus routes, along the lines of Sound Transit's fare enforcement system on light rail.

The study also surveyed bus drivers about what they'd like to see done to reduce fare evasion. Fully half of all drivers said Metro should eliminate the downtown ride-free area, thus eliminating the "pay-as-you-leave" policy. Drivers also recommended making all of King County one zone and getting rid of higher peak fares, eliminating paper transfers, and adding more transit police.

The RTC will get a briefing on the report tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 in King County Council chambers.