Muni to Switch to All-Door Boarding on July 1

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Streetfilms documented the benefits of all-door boarding in March 2010.

Starting July 1, feel free to board any Muni bus by the back door, as long as you pay.

The SFMTA says it will be the first transit agency in North America to implement all-door boarding on the entire Muni system, expanding the existing policy from light rail vehicles (and cable cars) as a simple, low-cost way to speed up boardings and reduce fare evasion on its buses.

“All-door boarding will have immediate positive impacts on the system, such as speeding up the boarding process, improving service reliability, and reducing travel time,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin in a statement. ”Additionally, faster service will result in savings that can be reinvested into the system through improved frequency and increased capacity, realizing long-term, sustainable benefits our customers deserve.”

To make the transition, the SFMTA plans to hire fare inspectors, launch a media campaign to inform riders, and potentially install ticket machines at bus stops. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency has installed Clipper Card readers on back doors in preparation for the change, and more details will be presented to the agency’s Board of Directors at a later meeting.

Making the switch could speed up Muni trips substantially. Muni buses currently spend an estimated 15 to 30 percent of their time letting customers get on and off the bus. On some of the most congested lines, many passengers already board on the back illegally, either to skip the long line or to avoid paying the fare.

An all-door boarding system, also known as proof-of-payment, decriminalizes that practice while using random fare inspections to eliminate the sense of security for fare evaders who’ve made it onto the bus, thereby encouraging them to pay.

“We want to have the right level of fare inspection so that we create an expectation for anybody riding on our system that any point, they may be asked to show proof that they’ve paid for their ride,” said Reiskin at a town hall meeting this week. “We don’t want to inadvertently send the signal that Muni’s free.”

The fare evasion rate on Muni’s light rail lines, which have used random fare inspections for more than a decade, is less than half the rate on buses, according to a 2009 study by the SFMTA. On some bus lines, more than 15 percent of riders don’t pay, and that number jumps to 55 percent for people who board on the back. Overall, Muni loses an estimated $19 million to fare evasion every year.

Expanding all-door boarding was a key recommendation from SFMTA staff in the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project.

“Fare inspection has worked well on Muni’s rail lines,” said Mario Tanev, coordinator for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union’s all-door boarding campaign, which launched last August. “Implementing inspections on buses will keep fares lower and will make trips faster, protecting San Francisco riders — many of whom are low-income — from increased fares or service cuts.”

With Muni operators relieved of fare inspection duties, the change could help them stay focused on driving, though they will still handle cash fares. Passengers who stay bunched at the front of the bus may also be more likely to sit in the back.

Robert Boden, a board member of SFTRU, said the organization is ”pleased that Muni is listening to riders” by implementing all-door boarding.

“When a bus is slow and late, it costs the agency money,” said Tanev, the campaign coordinator. “Muni can’t afford it, and the riders don’t deserve slow buses.”