Fines, Fees, and Equity - Oh My!

Blue and white lights flash behind you. The weee-ooo, weee-ooo of sirens pierce your ears. Your heart races. You slowly pull your car to the shoulder of the road. Sure enough, you receive a ticket for your infraction.

Paying the ticket would take half of your grocery money for the month. Sadly, you cannot pay the exorbitant cost. Then a late fee gets added, then another, and another, until your license gets suspended or even worse, a warrant is issued for unpaid traffic tickets.

Unfortunately, this happens more than one might think. Across the nation, there has been a disturbing predatory trend - capitalizing on fines and fees as a mechanism to pad plummeting budgets. The enforcement system seeks to keep people safe from those who break the law, but the system itself is putting many people, especially in low-income communities and communities of color, in danger due to unmanageable debt. The criminalization and targeted, biased policing in these communities have a disparate and devastating contribution to weakened financial viability. Only rarely are these monetary sanctions income adjusted and people in low-income and communities of color are shouldering the burden of paying more than their fair share and are unable to recover from serious debt when they cannot pay.

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Why should this matter for walking and biking advocates?

As advocates, we believe everyone, regardless of race, age, or ability, should have the right to safe and affordable travel, free of harassment – by foot, bike, or transit. However, people in low-income and communities of color are unfairly targeted and criminalized, whether driving, biking, or walking. On top of this unfair, targeted enforcement, fines and fees put financial distress on those who must choose between paying the ticket and feeding their families.  

To weigh in on this topic, join us @SafeRoutesNow, on Wednesday, October 11 at 2pm ET/11am PT. Use the hashtag #MoveEquity to follow the conversation on Twitter, and share your stories and resources for engaging families.

For more information about fines, fees, and inequities, and to explore possible solutions, check out these resources:

Policy Link - Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees

Insight Center for Community Economic Development - Driving into Debt: The Need for Ticket Traffic Fee Reform

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – Targeted Fines and Fees Against Communities of Color