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Metro Light Rail CEO Admits Ticket-Inspection Process Severely Undercounts Freeloaders

We heard back from Rick Simonetta, CEO for Metro Light Rail, this week in response to our questions about the six-month-old system's ticket-inspection processes.

Or rather, the near-absence of any such processes.

As we reported, Metro says that going by data from its random ticket inspectors, the light-rail system has a "fare evasion rate" of much less than 1 percent. Simonetta had referred to that low rate back in a February newspaper article. Yet Metro officials know with certainty the rate is 50 to 100 times higher, because they're being shorted on fare collections from transit pass-card holders.

We asked Simonetta (pictured below) why Metro officials even mention the "less than 1 percent" figures from inspectors, when they know they're so wrong.

The simple answer: Inspectors report those numbers, and Metro releases them.

"We're not saying they're meaningful," Simonetta quips.

 Truth is, the ticket inspectors are not scanning in transit pass cards like they could -- or should, he admits.

It's not necessarily easy... Imagine trying to inspect tickets in a train packed with D-Backs fans just after a game gets out.

In any case, Metro officials and police believe in a good margin of leniency. The goal is not to ticket hordes of freeloaders in the short term, but to educate the riding public over the long haul, Simonetta says.

"I'm not sure if that's a mistake, or not," he adds candidly.

The hope is that -- someday -- riders will pay for about 25 percent of Metro Light Rail's operating costs. A July 1 fare increase is intended to help boost the parts of the revenue stream that don't come from taxpayers.

Unfortunately for the system's goals, ridership fell in May over the previous month, Simonetta says.

Even the freeloaders are cutting back on their rides.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.