The headline on azcentral.com today sure got our attention: "Light-rail riders who don't pay will be fined $500."

Light-Rail Freeloaders to Get $50 Fine, Not $500 as today's Arizona Republic Reports

That's a whole lot more for the same offense than people pay in other cities. For example, New York City charges scofflaws who "jump the turnstile" only $100, bumping up the fine last summer from $60.

Then we noticed the article by veteran Arizona Republic reporter Kerry Fehr-Snyder dilutes the strong headline with the phrase "up to $500 plus court fees..."

We checked in with Metro light rail spokeswoman Hillary Foose to find out the real story behind the fines.

In fact, Foose explains, light-rail freeloaders will be handed a ticket with a more reasonable fine: $50.

Now, if you're the type who'll get tons of these tickets, and when you get them, you'll have a habit of failing to pay the fines (and you anger a municipal judge) -- yes, then maybe you'll get a $500 fine.

But that's a lot different than getting a $500 ticket. In fact, the Republic's headline is kind of like saying motorists who get a speeding ticket will be arrested the next time they get stopped by a cop. Sure, it

Foose says the ticket-collectors will be randomly dispersed so that frequent light-rail riders will face a one-in-five chance of getting questioned. Even then, folks who seem to have honestly forgotten to pay won't get a fine at all -- they'll just be asked to step off the train at the next station, pay, then re-board, Foose says. It's only the habitual freeloaders who'll end up in the most trouble. -- Ray Stern

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