To Reduce Delay and Fare Evasion, Muni Considers All-Door Boarding

boarding.jpgSource: National Transit Database.

There are plenty of eye-popping statistics in the MTA’s new proof-of-payment study [PDF]: 9.5 percent of Muni riders don’t have valid proof-of-payment, costing the agency $19 million in missed revenue annually. The fare-evasion rate is even higher among riders who illegally board buses through the back door: 55 percent don’t have valid proof-of-payment. As the MTA looks to address the problem with back door boarding, staff has its eyes on another illuminating statistic in the report: on average, about 70 customers board any given MTA bus each hour – more than any other large transit system in the nation.

"It shows that Muni is an incredibly productive system, but a key source to maintaining that productivity is to maintain quick, efficient service," said Julie Kirschbaum, manager of Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project. The study notes that an "immediate shift to exclusive front-door
boarding could result in longer times at stops and slower travel
times." In dealing with the high percentage of back door boarders who evade fares, said Kirschbaum, "we want to make sure we do it in a way that doesn’t slow down our vehicles."

One potential solution the MTA is considering is to make back door boarding on buses and the F-line historic streetcar legal, and enforce fare requirements by implementing a proof-of-payment system similar to the one in place on Muni’s light rail vehicles. Other than at underground Muni Metro stations, Muni customers can board LRVs without proof-of-payment, and fare payment is enforced through random checks by transit fare inspectors. That significantly reduces dwell time. The fare evasion rate on trains is less than five percent, and generally remains low even outside the subway.

backdoor.jpgImage: SFMTA proof-of-payment study.

Kirschbaum points out that a proof-of-payment system was identified
as a priority in the Transit Effectiveness Project, so the MTA is
already working on figuring out the details of how such a system would
work. All-door boarding was endorsed in the TEP because it speeds up
vehicles and "better-distributes customers across the vehicle," said
Kirschbaum. "You have the potential to leave more space for our more
vulnerable passengers, like seniors and people with disabilities" in
the front.

Switching
to a proof-of-payment system on buses and allowing customers with valid
fare media to board through the back doors of buses could speed Muni
up, but there are several challenges to implementing such a system,
said MTA spokesperson Judson True. "Right now, we have fare inspectors
facilitating rear-door boarding at certain key locations, but that
isn’t a scalable approach."

"The design of the bus creates new and interesting challenges to doing proof-of-payment, but it’s certainly challenges that we could overcome," said Kirschbaum.

For one, there are far more bus lines than rail lines, so enforcement would be much more dispersed, and the MTA would need to ensure inspectors are deployed effectively. TransLink cards also pose a problem: though they can’t be counterfeited like paper fare media, they’re slower to inspect since they must be scanned using a portable reader.

"I think we do have a lot of lessons to learn related to doing proof-of-payment on the bus system. We can look to European models that have successfully rolled out proof-of-payment on the bus system, and carry heavy numbers of riders, like we do," said Kirschbaum.

One closer-to-home example the MTA can look to is Ottawa’s transit system, which allows rear-door boarding on its articulated buses for riders with valid proof-of-payment. Like Muni’s LRVs, customers board in front if they still need to pay their fare, and everyone must be able to present valid proof-of-payment to fare inspectors at any time.

For now, the MTA is weighing how best it can capture more of the fare revenue it’s owed, while not paying for that gain with more delay to buses. "We’re trying to take a nuanced look at a complicated problem," said True. "I think a lot of people think it’s an easy question, and it’s not."

  • Nick

    MUNI has 700,000 boardings daily. If 70,000 don’t pay and each get a $75 ticket, then it would bring in $5.25 million per day.

    I think the MTA should offer the option of defering the ticket by voluntering to clean a MUNI bus or something.

  • patrick

    This sounds like a great idea, if LRV have much lower fare evasion via this system it makes total sense to apply this to the whole network. Faster buses and lower fare evasion sounds good to me.

  • Alexei

    Do it. Do it now.

    Nick: that’s a fantasy number. If there was enforcement and everyone who didn’t pay got a ticket, the number would drop to zero very fast. So it’s closer to $140,000/day, minus youth, seniors etc.

    In any case I like this idea. Yes, add more enforcers. The advantage does not lie in the extra revenue, but in the speeded-up service and also in the intangible goodwill that is lost every time paying passengers see someone jumping into the back door, and get pissed off.

  • Michael P.

    Wait, rear door boardings are illegal? Then why are there TransLink readers at every single door? I almost always get on in the back ever since I got my TransLink card.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Or they could just make muni free.

  • Peter Smith

    i like the idea of making all public transit free, except, initially, for high load times — we don’t want to build out infinite capacity — too wasteful/inefficient.

  • Dave

    @ Michael P.

    There are translink boarders at rear doors just in case Muni were to implement all-door boarding in the future.

    Believe it or not, it looks like there was some fore-thought here! ūüôā

  • political_incorrectness

    I am not exactly sure if this would work.

    In British Columbia, they have a rapid bus line that goes out to University of British Columbia with all door boarding. It would allow for those without passes to board via the rear doors and still evade fares unless fare inspectors come on before a key stop. When I took their rapid bus line 98 b line from Richmond to Vancouver, there were no fare inspectors even though they clearly state you must have valid POP.

    Is there anyway to force riders using other doors to validate their fare?

  • SFResident

    “It would allow for those without passes to board via the rear doors and still evade fares unless fare inspectors come on before a key stop”

    I would suggest that people on muni already do this with frightening regularity. But heck, sometimes I’ll board a bus using the rear doors (and I have a fast pass) because the front of the buss is too crowded or there’s a wheelchair boarding, or I’m running to the bus at the last minute – people on the bus probably think I’m a fare evader.

    I’m not sure if MUNI should be free, but it certainly shouldn’t cost more than about 50 cents. It’s usually cheaper for me to drive around the city than it is to take transit. That’s tragic.

  • Caltrain has gone to POP and fare evasion is really pretty low. Perhaps due to a more homogenous (read: more affluent) clientele but this is not universal. Then again, it’s harder to get away with it because stops are farther apart, there are inspectors on every train, and there is room for them to move around and inspect. I’m probably checked 75 percent of the time.

    And the cost of fare evasion is high even for those really ducking the system. If you decide to just run away, you are probably miles from where you started and miles from your destination.

  • Tom Brown

    Translink makes it worse? Touching the card to the reader is much faster than cash. Only an unlimited pass that needs only a visual check is faster. A fare inspector could give out tons of tickets hanging out by the back door going down Market St and questioning people that board without getting a beep from the Translink reader or showing a pass. I think the inspectors will get faster with the reader as they and riders get used to its range and sensitivity. It’ll never be as fast to check as a paper transfer but more accurate and harder to fake.

  • Sean

    FWIW, I’ve only had my TL checked by a inspector on Muni three times, and each time they opted not to scan the card.

  • huh

    the whole notion of paying fares on board of busy buses is antiquated and dumb. All major stops for all high-use lines should have ticket machines at the stops. Fare machines should only be used on board of low-frequency, low-use lines, where efficiency is not compromised by paying on board.

  • Sean

    Carl & Cole has a low-tech ticket meter in the mornings — a Muni employee who sells transfers so you don’t have to buy them on the LRV.

  • I agree they need more coin op machines like they have at LRV stops. Now we need two crumpled bills for a cash fare, that is a ridiculous added dwell time if 15 people get on aboard. Or you can bring quarters, its like a reverse jackpot! Tokens need to be reinvented, as well as group fares (getting $20 in change at Powell Station for a family ballgame trip is CRAZY!). All of these options can be accomplished with an automated machine, that doesnt take sick days or require $50,000 a year with only a high school education.

  • ZA

    I’m not sure if the economics would justify it, but it seems to me that the reasonable solution is to remove the ticketing process from the buses.

    Instead have ticket machines at the sheltered stops.

    The machines could issue proof-of-purchase receipts.

    I appreciate the threat of vandalism, but pushing an electronic transaction could cut down the risk of theft. Additionally, increasing police enforcement at stops that DPW reports frequent cleaning can play its part.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    POP on buses?

    You mean like pretty much every train, tram, bus, ferry in Germany or Switzerland has had for a couple decades now? With a single PAPER-BASED ticketing system and integrated timetabling? WIth 70+% weekly/monthly/yearly pass use?

    It can’t be done!

    Unique Local Conditions! Not Invented Here!

    There is a real problem nevertheless: our local buses are simply wretched: high floors, too few doors, too narrow doors make for an operational nightmare POP or not. And then we get to the disaster of systematic bus speed anti-prioritization on “transit first” San Francisco streets. Look to AC Transit’s splendid modern Van Hool fleet for how urban transit buses are supposed to look — even if the bozos at AC are unable to operate them as the efficient, high-throughput, POP-ready workhorses they are.

  • Brian Neilson

    1) Publicize the advantages of the Translink system and build a sales infrastrucure that encourages its use. Allow boarding of rear doors exclusively to Translink card holders.
    2) Paint more bus-only lanes around town and really ENFORCE them with surveilance cameras. The car-priority culture must be changed.

    The London bus system with its rechargeable Oyster card is a model of speed and efficiency.

    3) The hardest part: Changing the culture of MUNI so that the agency serves the needs of the public first, not itself.

  • patrick

    I don’t really think it’s so much the MTA. Now the MTA has it’s problems, but any time they try to make the slightest change to improve efficiency you have hundreds of people screaming “how dare you take my bus stop”.

    Then you have the politicians who kowtow to every union out there making it impossible for the MTA to make changes to staff and pay people according to their skillset, rather than the unions ability to threaten the politicians.

  • RachaelL

    Speaking of London’s Oyster card, it turns out you pay more to ride a London bus if you pay a cash fare — two pounds versus one. I’m not sure that’s workable here, but I bet it speeds up boarding.

  • If they want to increase the use of Translink cards, all it would take would be to give a teeny, tiny discount for Translink users–even 2 or 3 percent off each ride or monthly pass would do the trick.

    Sadly, getting a Translink card for a youth/teen is like pulling teeth. Muni acts like they seriously do not want anyone under 18 to have them.

  • Coop Schu

    Instead of spending all this money on glorified bus shelters with the wavy red roofs and soon-to-be wifi, why doesn’t Muni start using the money to implement POP? They would recoup the costs quite soon with improved efficiency and the crackdown on evaders…

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