With several well-publicized violent incidents on Muni buses recently, including two brutal attacks and a videotaped fight, security has become a hot issue for the MTA. Though the agency actually reported a slight decrease in crime over the past fiscal year, it hasn’t matched the 13 percent citywide drop in the most serious crimes over the first half of 2009. The San Francisco Police Department responded in late September with a one-day sting called "Operation Safe Muni," and the MTA has scrambled to test its onboard camera equipment, which has failed during several incidents, including the stabbing of a young boy in September and the West Portal light rail vehicle crash in July.
Earlier this month, Sacramento Regional Transit launched a program it’s calling "Ride to Abide," which allows the agency to ban riders who misbehave on its vehicles for up to a year. Given the recent high-profile violent incidents on Muni, we decided to take a closer look at the policy, which VTA Watch highlighted earlier this week, and see if Muni could benefit from a similar rule.
The policy is the result of Senate Bill 1561, authored by State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacremento). From Regional Transit’s press release:
"Effective October 1, 2009, anyone arrested for a crime or cited on three separate occasions within a period of 60 consecutive days for infractions committed in or on an RT vehicle, bus stop or light rail station will now face a ban of 30 days. Offenders can be banned for up to a year if convicted of more serious offenses.
Interfering with an operator of a transit vehicle, willfully disturbing others on or in a system facility or vehicle, and defacing District property could all result in exclusion."
The policy also "provides an appeals process for individuals who opt to contest a prohibition order," according to the press release. Except in the case of the most serious offenses, banned riders can also petition for exceptions to their ban for absolutely necessary trips, such as to work.
Regional Transit’s Michael Young said so far the agency has banned one individual. "They’ve gone through the ten-day waiting period. They’ve gone through the Stay of Prohibition Order. They are currently excluded," said Young.
On a system the size of Muni, or even on a system the size of Regional Transit, which is about one sixth the size of Muni, it’s nearly impossible for drivers to identify all banned passengers. Young said the ban isn’t actively enforced, but rather is an additional tool for officers to deal with misbehavior. "If a person is excluded, we’re not going to be actively looking for that person," said Young. "But should they be noticed on the train during that time, especially disturbing other passengers, then we have an additional tool to remove them from the system."
Young said the policy wouldn’t solve all of the behavioral issues on Regional Transit buses and trains, or on all of Muni’s vehicles if the MTA tried it, but it’s helpful nonetheless. "It would at least give the Muni another tool to try and combat those riders who do not follow the rules and break laws on the system. It would just be another tool to help your officers deal with that behavior."
Without functioning onboard cameras, it might not even provide that, since the SFPD, lacking video evidence in some cases, has yet to track down some of the violent offenders in the recent incidents. But for more everyday nuisances, could it be useful for the SFPD and MTA?
"The idea has come up in discussions around improving safety and security on the system," MTA spokesperson Judson True said. He noted that Muni drivers can already have riders removed from transit vehicles for any reason, but that a ban policy might be valuable as a symbol that the agency takes passenger safety seriously.