Fare Evasion is Down as Muni Steps Up Collection Effort

popcops.jpgTransit fare inspectors on the F-line — looking awfully similiar to police. Image: SFMTA

After months of non-stop bad news, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, announced something positive for a change: Fare evasion is way down from a year ago.

That’s thanks to some major changes in the agency’s fare inspection program, as well as the decriminalization of fare evasion, which greatly reduced the overhead cost of citations.

Before February 2008, a fare evasion citation meant a trip to court for the violator, and a lot of extra hassle for the SFMTA. That netted just $909,135 in court revenue for the agency from 2000 to 2009.

Between February 2008, when the SFMTA began handling citations in-house through its customer service center, and December 2009, the agency collected $1.7 million in citations, almost double the amount it collected in a decade through the court system.

Muni also expanded its transit fare inspection program, from 35 inspectors in 2007 to 55 in 2008, with a dip down to 46 in 2009 and 2010. While the program used to focus exclusively on trains, inspectors now spend 60 percent of their time on buses.

The result has been a drop in the system-wide fare evasion rate from 9.5 percent from April through July 2009, to 2.6 percent from July 2009 through March 2010.

The SFMTA used the results of its proof-of-payment study conducted last year and Transit Effectiveness Project ridership data to focus fare inspection efforts. Between July 2009 and March 2010, the agency conducted 326,293 inspections during 130 sting operations, and 1,276,593 inspections during regular inspections. In total, 28,169 citations were issued to people who didn’t have valid proof of payment.

pop.jpgClick to enlarge. Invalid proof-of-payment rate by location. X’s indicate "saturation" locations. Image: SFMTA.

About 96 percent of citations were issued to adults, the agency reported, and roughly 60 percent of all citation fines were actually paid.

While the program — which also attempts to educate riders about the need to carry valid transfers with them — has been effective in reducing fare evasion, it has also been a source of controversy among people who feel the SFMTA has unfairly targeted some neighborhoods and demographics.

"People are genuinely scared this is more than just a fare inspection process," said SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford during a presentation of the report to the agency’s Board. According to Ford, police chief George Gascón and Supervisor David Campos have met with the SFMTA to discuss concerns about the program.

Out of 46 inspectors, eight are fluent in Spanish, five are fluent in Cantonese, three in Tagalog, and one each in Arabic, Hindi, Samoan, Nigerian and Vietnamese.

Most fare inspections don’t involve the police, but a series of stings that have included police presence have been especially controversial. Some riders have reported being harassed and intimidated by police. Even the fare inspector uniforms are easily mistaken for law enforcement uniforms, said SFMTA Board member Jerry Lee. "Lots of fare inspectors coming at you does look intimidating," he said.

As part of Muni’s efforts to refine the program, SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley said he’s reviewing the 90-minute transfer policy that’s been in place since 1982. Fare inspectors are advised to use discretion about when to give a warning and when to actually issue a citation, looking at factors such as how recently a transfer has expired.

On top of the citation revenue, Muni has brought in $3.6 million more in fare revenue this fiscal year than expected, which it attributes in part to the fare enforcement program.

No word from the agency, however, on whether this means all-door boarding could be rolled out sooner.

  • Yayyy. I hope a larger portion of checks are done by police though so that at least we know we’re getting some of our money’s worth from SFPD work orders.

  • Fran Taylor

    The ticketing of riders whose transfers expire during the journey reflects a perfect storm against poorer transit users: longer waits between buses, slower travel times on the buses, and more costly Fast Passes that necessitate reliance on individual fares. So if you have to drop your kid off on the way to work and get stuck waiting forever for the second bus, you either pay twice or risk a ticket. And the notion that riders whose transfers expire en route should swim like a salmon through the crowd, distract the driver, and pay again is ridiculous. Yes, a little more discretion please.

  • Nick

    Does MUNI provide related data on the amount of Fast Passes sold each month? Did they increase as enforcement increased?

    Word on the street is that people aren’t buying May fast passes. The “reduced frequency, shorter hours” outreach is acting like a PR campaign against MUNI.

  • Must clarify: Expired transfer policy while riding a Muni vehicle is only enforceable on POP lines (the metro). If a passenger has an expired transfer while riding a bus, Muni rules state they can still ride, but will need to pay the fare again when transferring. It is still illegal to board a non-POP vehicle with an expired transfer.

    Here’s a quote from the POP page from Muni’s website:

    For an expired transfer (proof of payment):
    “There is no need to correct the problem on non-POP lines, but you will not be able to subsequently board a POP line or enter the paid area of a subway station without obtaining Proof of Payment.”

  • Derrell Piper

    Of course it cost Muni over $3M to bring in $900K in revenue, so it was a net loss.

  • ahem…the parking fines are not “revenue” so this bullshit about “oh they spent too much money to issue the tickets” is an epic load of crap.

    the fines exist as punishment. if, as we now see, more people are paying their F*CKING fares, then the program is doing it right.

    also this whining about fare inspections by certain politicians is bogus. if people would just be honest and pay their damn fares like the rest of us, then there’s no problem. If people want to steal from me and every single owner of muni (i.e ALL OF US) then they deserve punishment. if I forget to buy a bus pass or pay a fare and I get The Man on my case, guess what? none of these political types would give a hoot. so they can cry all they like but the fact is if people don’t pay, they’re gonna get punished. I realize this concept is odd for some in San Francisco, but crime is a bad thing, not something to celebrate.

  • Fran Taylor

    Akit–

    I think the expired transfer crackdown on buses is indeed new, but it is also indeed happening. Since the inspections are focused on certain lines that carry riders from many of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, this stepped-up enforcement and new policy on expired transfers functions as discriminatory punishment.

  • Evan

    I guess…the paper transfers already often are more than 2 hours anyway. Usually they are good for 3-4.

  • Kevin

    Have to second D. Piper’s comment. MUNI may have brought in 1.7M in citations written but how much of that was actually collected and how much did MUNI spend on the stepped up enforcement?

  • JohnB

    Kevin

    The article says that 60% of fines are actually paid. I have to say I am shocked that Muni only collects on a little over one in every two tickets issued. Why is that? Are so many of those caught hmeless and indigent? Or can you successfully fight a ticket on a technicality?

    And of course it surely costs more than the fines collected to employ all those inspectors and ofice staff, so it’s not revenue.

    As to the business of a tranfer expiry time, I have always assumed that the transfer only has to be valid at the time of boarding. If the bus then takes an hour to travel 3 miles due to traffic, breakdown etc., it is not the passenger’s laibility.

  • Abe

    Why do we charge fares on public transit?

    At best fare collection brings in the same amount that it costs to enforce.

    Fares serve one purpose, and one purpose only: to keep ridership numbers low. It’s a lot easier to run a small optional transit system than a large system that citizens cannot live without.

    Remove the fareboxes from all transit vehicles and watch ridership soar. We will pay for transit the same way we pay for streetsweeping. Because we all need it.

  • Alex

    @AKit paying cash fares benefits the MTA to some extent… unless the folks buying the fastpasses weren’t using it daily.

    @Greg Bull. PCOs are actually quite profitable. It takes a lot more effort and human interaction to cite someone for fare evasion. The money lost to fare evasion is a minuscule fraction of the money spent on things like repairing wrecked LRVs.

  • Alex

    @JohnB since they’ve decriminalized the tickets there’s little to no incentive to actually pay the fine. Also, fare cops cannot compel you to show ID (that’s why they have usually SFPD around when they do stings… and how much is the MTA paying for that privilege?).

  • Marco

    Today four SFMTA cops got on the 38 Geary bus around 2pm. All of a sudden one of them shouts a demand to see everybody’s pass. They then check everybody’s passes and transfer and if you don’t have a current transfer they escort you off and write you a ticket.

    I got a $75 ticket for using an expired transfer. It has always been that the drive sees the transfer and either lets you on or asks for additional payment. It’s a surprise to find it otherwise.

    It is hard to wish these guys well. They raise the fairs, reduce frequency, make the experience into more of an ordeal. On top of this they introduce “stings”.

    I could see where immigrant people would find this frightening. I agree, the experience is frightening.

    As for me; it’s another reason to dread the bus. I may be wrong but it doesn’t have to be this way.

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