SFMTA Hones Enforcement, But Minority Rights Groups Still Leery of Stings

fare_inspector_small.jpgFlickr photo: Troy Holden.

Enforcement of laws on Muni has been a balancing act for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), as safety fears and controversy over work orders with the SFPD have led politicians and advocates to complain the police are charging for services they don’t deliver. At the same time, saturation enforcement for proof of payment has led minority rights advocates to argue that uniformed police accompanying fare inspectors on sweeps have a chilling effect on riders who don’t understand they are only being asked to show their transfer tickets, not their immigration papers.

Despite a host of data that shows targeted enforcement on lines with the most incidents of crime and fare evasion reduces both crime and fare evasion, the struggle to gain the public’s trust can be more challenging than pointing out statistical trends.

In a presentation to the SFMTA’s Board of Directors in July, SFPD Deputy Chief John Murphy, whose department is responsible for law enforcement on Muni vehicles and at its facilities, detailed the progress his department has made to meet the expectations of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two agencies and account for the large bill police give the transit agency each year for services rendered.

Deputy Chief Murphy said the SFPD and SFMTA deployed resources based on a statistical analysis of crime, community complaints, and drivers’ concerns. The SFPD required district station captains to develop and implement enforcement plans for their districts based on crime statistics and to submit a monthly enforcement calendar that detailed the steps they were taking to target enforcement to reduce crime on Muni accordingly. The results each month are then analyzed in Compstat meetings for effectiveness.

In addition to district station efforts, Murphy oversees the Muni Response Team, which consists of two sergeants, seven uniformed officers and four k-9 teams and operates primarily on the Muni Metro Rail System, as well as the Muni Task Force, which consists of one sergeant and seven plainclothes officers who target the most problematic coach, rail and trolley lines based on crime statistics.

According to numbers presented by Murphy, in the months after the Muni Task Force was deployed, crime on Muni dropped by nearly half. Couple that with the resolution of several high-profile cases on Muni, including the apprehension of a Muni mechanic and another man who were stealing late night transfers and selling them for profit, the results reflected well on the department.

Though he said the sudden drop could be an anomaly, Murphy hoped to show data in the near future that indicated it was a trend. Regardless, he believed these officers were "worth their weight in gold" and pointed out the gold paying their salaries was coming from a joint Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Office of Traffic Safety grant, so it wasn’t impacting Muni’s bottom line.

"A six-month time frame is insufficient to declare victory on crime on
Muni, but the downward trend is clearly identifiable and promising," SFMTA CEO Nat Ford told Streetsblog recently. "The numbers speak for themselves. Anytime you can cut crime as significantly as indicated, you are doing something right."

"In
addition," Ford said, "we are addressing the public perception of safety by
strategically deploying uniformed officers at key locations and times of
high incident numbers."

Rights Groups Still Concerned With Saturation Enforcement

Fare_evasion_trick.jpgA new poster by the SFMTA about fare evasion.

Despite these positive results, the news that the SFMTA has resumed saturation enforcement for proof-of-payment has been largely met with skepticism and alarm by groups representing low-income San Franciscans and people of color. Despite data showing the system-wide fare evasion rate fell from 9.5 percent from April through
July 2009, to 2.6 percent from July 2009 through March 2010 when the saturation operations were in effect, advocates enlisted the help of the Human Rights Commission to halt them until the SFMTA underwent sensitivity training and used multi-lingual fare inspectors.

The SFMTA will also use fewer fare inspectors and police officers under the new program, according to Ford. "What they’re going to do is really look at what is the necessary number of fare inspectors and officers to accomplish what we’re doing, versus the kind of, two dozen officers and fare inspectors swooping down on a line."

Even though the Human Rights Commission is on board with the SFMTA for the scaled-back operations, Beatriz Herrera, an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), said she was concerned with the process and her organization was working with a broader coalition to monitor the impacts to low-income riders and minorities.

"We think proof of payment in general is targeting low-income people of
color," said Beatriz Herrera. "Our problem has been the way that they started enforcement. It went from
zero payment enforcement to hyper-vigilant enforcement with cops
stopping people, people who didn’t understand, not knowing what was
happening. It’s the way that it was being enforced that was so
offensive."

Deland Chan, a planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center expressed solidarity with POWER and the Chinese Progressive Association (the organization’s Emily Lee was quoted last week in The Examiner, expressing misgivings about the program). "We hope the re-trained fare inspectors/police officers will demonstrate cultural and linguistic sensitivity," Chan wrote in an email. "I think we’re waiting to see what it looks like as it further unfolds."

Herrera contended the saturation efforts had the effect of "criminalizing people for taking public transit," and she said several people were facing deportation from fare inspections involving SFPD officers. She also said at the same time the city was cutting buses to get children to school, they were making it "a criminal offense if a youth is caught without a transfer."

Paul Rose, the SFMTA spokesperson, defended the procedure. "We are not targeting any group or any part of the city. Muni fare inspection is in place to
promote fare compliance and for no other reason.The bottom line is we’d
much rather have our customers pay the $2 fare rather than issue
citations," he said.

Rose argued Herrera’s claim about deportation was false. "No one has been deported because they have not paid a $2 fare. Any reports of such an instance are unfounded," he said.

He also said the tickets for minors who don’t have proof of payment are not criminal, but merely violations like parking tickets.

Supervisor David Campos suggested riders would be able to judge the SFMTA based on the comportment of the fare inspectors, which he said the Board of Supervisors would be watching closely.

"My
hope is that they have heard the community and they are going to
approach it in a way that is sensitive to those concerns. I appreciate
the fact that they sat down with the community," said Campos. "I think the main thing about that, it depends on how it’s implemented."

  • offramp

    Sure, train everyone right so that there is no (or as little as possible) misunderstandings as to what is taking place. Even carry a sign in every language annoucing what you are doing. Then continue doing it.

    The mere presence of uniformed officers scares people? Me too. Too bad for all of us. We need to get over it. Should we no longer have uniformed officers? Of course not!

    The alternative: crime on Muni, crime against the people who are scared of the police, people who don’t pay cheating the rest of us, rate raises do to underpayment. Then see who screams that low-income people of color aren’t being protected.

  • Mission Mom

    For a different perspective on Proof of Payment, from Brazil, see: http://www.urbanhabitat.org/node/344

  • POP is the only thing that Muni has done that’s even remotely in the right direction in the last several decades.

    PS Mission Mom: for the best perspective on POP visit any city or town in Germany or Switzerland or Austria, on any bus, train, tram, ferry, trolley bus, funicular, steam ship, … Get on and go. No kickbacks to Cubic. Impossibly good and convenient transfers.

  • Mission Mom

    I brought up the article from Brazil in order to encourage Ms. Herrera to think again about her statement that proof of payment in general is targeting low-income people of color. Proof of payment systems get our harried transit operators out of the fare-collecting business so they can focus on driving and pulling out of a bus stop faster…so we can get to work on time and home to our families.

  • What a load of crap from some self appointed activists. the fact that they have an active listener in the Board of Supervisors is another reason why “progressives” are full of sh*t when it comes to Muni and don’t care. Pay the fare or face the consequences. I doubt these activists would shed any tears if I ever failed to buy a bus pass or a ticket. In other countries you don’t get a ticket for fare evasion – you’re arrested on the spot.

  • I’m a minority in San Francisco. And I am sick of the “Minority Rights Groups” randomly redefining the boundary of “rights” and acting as obstructionist in fare enforcement. We minorities are rule abiding citizens. It our home country there are also fare inspectors and people who don’t pay get throw out of the bus too. I’m enrage that we are paying the fare honestly when other people can get free ride with no consequence.

    If the “Minority Rights Groups” want to be part of the solution, offer your constituents a “How to take Muni class”. It goes like a) put money in the fare box, b) take and hold on to your ticket, c) when fare inspector arrive, show them your valid ticket. If there are people so dumb to mistaken fare inspector as immigration police, just have the inspector to go on the bus everyday. It should not take long for people get use to the drill and overcome their delusion.

  • “We think proof of payment in general is targeting low-income people of color,” said Beatriz Herrera

    Is Beatriz suggesting that only people of color break the law?

  • Mission Mom, Curitiba does not have a POP system. Every tube bus shelter has an employee. There are two turnstiles, one for smart card (tap to enter) and one for cash (the employee makes change and looks for fare evasion). The employee may not seem necessary, but it is part of public policy there (to combat unemployment).

    If you want to see effective POP systems, look at europe, switzerland in general. No turnstiles, enter buses through any door etc.

  • Mission Mom

    Curritiba BRT is POP, no?

  • Fran Taylor

    “Is Beatriz suggesting that only people of color break the law?”

    No, the police are. When I was riding during a raid on the #9-San Bruno, I asked the cop grilling us whether they did this on buses through Pacific Heights, and she said, “We don’t have to there.” I don’t understand all the hostility in these comments toward groups that are defending the right to ride the bus without intimidation. The energy spent being defensive could be better used on a little empathy and trying to put yourself in the shoes of a rider scared to death of being hauled off the bus for unintelligible reasons. A lot of folks here from other countries know what death squads are firsthand, and a swarm of cops boarding your bus can be terrifying in that context.

  • offramp

    Location based crime statistics don’t lie. You up enforcement where the stats say the crime is. The vast majority of folks from other countries did not encounter death squads. They are here now. If they can’t figure out how here is different from where they came from in six months or a year, then I have no sympathy.

  • I’m sure for those folks who have first hand experience with death squad will need a lot of psychotherapy to get over with the trauma. But boy, isn’t it obvious that SFPD police are not death squad? I am tired of the hysterical association from the “rights advocate”. If there is anything we can do let’s send check the fare everyday until the drill gets so boring that nobody would have associate them with death squad.

  • While I have some disgust for fare inspectors, the basic policy is so simple that it doesn’t have to get into this complex garbage. Pay your fare or pay 37.5 times the price when caught (100 times for youth & seniors).

    Fare inspectors target anyone at anytime. Just because they may go after certain bus lines that has a heavy concentration of a minority group doesn’t mean they are going after a particular race or ethnicity, they are trying to go after the worst bus lines with those who abuse the system.

    Lastly, I wish Muni cleaned-up their POP rules on their website. Have you ever read it? If you printed the document, it would be several pages long full of this and that and different situations. They have separate rules for metro versus the buses; if they simplified the rules to make it universal for all lines, everyone would understand.

  • Muni has ingeniously combined the inefficiencies of both systems:
    1. Make everyone board slowly through one door and show their pass to the driver
    2. Make everyone carry proof of payment even though they already showed it to the driver
    3. Hire fare inspectors to check everyone’s passes again

    If you’re already requiring people to carry POP, and you already pay for fare inspectors, what is the possible logic behind not going to a full POP system? Is it going to take a mutlimillion dollar study and a series of community meetings to take the “Do not board through back door” stickers off and have all the doors open at every stop?

  • anonymouse

    While I can see the point about intimidation, and it certainly seems like “saturation patrols” would be pretty intimidating if they started up all of a sudden, but at this point, it seems like the activists are defending the rights of immigrants and people of color to take the bus without paying. After all, Muni is merely enforcing rules that are already there, rules against theft of service. What particularly bothers me is that these groups, being leftist, probably also want the unionized drivers to be paid well, as if money is created by magic.

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