SFMTA Suspends Muni Fare Inspection Stings

4204725715_d7212dcdbf.jpgSFMTA transit fare inspectors. Flickr photo: Troy Holden

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has announced an abrupt change to its Muni fare enforcement program. Starting immediately, transit fare inspectors (TFIs) and the San Francisco Police Department will suspend high-profile "saturation" stings in which groups of TFIs and uniformed police officers descend on buses in groups to check passenger fares.

The SFMTA made the move after discussions with the Immigrant Rights
Commission and the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. According to SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford, the raids caused confusion and fear among riders, some of whom thought they were immigration raids.

Ford said the saturation operations are being suspended until the SFMTA can further educate riders about the proof-of-payment program. Until recently, fare inspectors rarely boarded buses, mostly targeting Muni Metro light-rail vehicles.

Regular fare inspections, which don’t involve the police, will continue on buses and trains. During the period from July 2009 to March 2010, about 20 percent of all fare inspections took place during saturation stings, while the rest occurred during normal checks. SFPD Deputy Chief John Murphy, who coordinates with SFMTA’s security staff, said the saturation operations are scheduled by the SFMTA, which then brings SFPD along to provide backup.

In the wake of this change, the SFMTA will work with the Office of Civic Engagement and
Immigrant Affairs to further train TFIs, "with an emphasis placed on
cultural and linguistic competency in serving  immigrant communities,"
according to an SFMTA release.

"This is what should have happened a long time ago," said Emily Lee of the Chinese Progressive Association, which has sought to end the police department’s involvement in fare inspections. The raids had created an intimidating atmosphere for Muni riders who don’t speak English, said Lee, and were especially concerning in light of the recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona.

At present, 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.

Donaji Lona, an organizer for People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), said the proof-of-payment enforcement program should be further revised so that TFIs don’t wear uniforms that could be mistaken for police uniforms, even during regular fare inspections.

The saturation stings have been especially problematic, she said, since police officers were present. "Many people thought it was a raid," said Lona, who knows of two people who face deportation after police officers asked for their identification during such raids.

Lona and Lee said increasing fares are putting pressure on low-income riders to choose between paying fares and risking a $75 fine — or not taking the bus at all. "Some people have even found it cheaper to buy a car and drive than to pay for their whole family to ride the bus," said Lona.

Several concerns remain about the proof-of-payment program, including the transfer policy. In the past, said Lona, riders were able to board the bus with just a few minutes left on their 90-minute bus transfer. As long as they boarded before it expired, they didn’t face a fine. When the SFMTA started sending TFIs to check transfers on buses, they failed to educate riders that they’d now need to finish their ride — not just start it — before the transfer expires, she said.

A recent SFMTA report found that fare evasion was down as a result of the POP program’s expansion to buses. At the time, the SFMTA also announced it was considering revisions to the program, including the possibility of extending its 90-minute transfer policy to reflect longer trip times.

  • andrew

    Thanks guys, more fare evasion!

  • So let me get this straight – it’s not ok to expect people to pay fares. It’s not ok to enforce the fares. But it IS OK to raise fares on elderly and youth, it’s ok to raise them on everyone, because that’s OK and fair, but enforcing the fares is a bad thing?

    I’m starting to wonder if progressive really hate Muni as much as Newsom does. I mean what the F*CK? We have a law that says if you’re an illegal you’re not going to get hassled IF YOU ARE PAYING YOUR FARE. That was the point – so that people wouldn’t be afraid to go to the cops if a victim of crime or needed help. Even with the new federal rules, innocent people regardless of status who are paying their fares like they do have nothing to fear. Lying cheating fare evaders need to stop stealing and pay up or shut up.

    Fare cheats are evil because they are stealing from the poor and it’s not fair they get to do what they want when they want meanwhile some poor person is just trying to get to work and has to pay higher fares because of fare cheats and poor existing fare collection. Once again San Francisco fails at what even cities in poor countries can do very very well – just collect the damned fares in the first place so you can keep them low!

  • Jym

    =v= No human being is illegal.

  • Dave Snyder

    Whoa, Greg, take a chill pill. You must not be aware of the actual enforcement the police were engaging in, and the actual implications to the people “enforced against.”

    Furthermore, for the most part, the advocates for stopping the saturation raids were not against fare enforcement or in favor of fare evasion. They just hated the brutish and oppressive way fares were enforced: a cop who doesn’t speak the language of the transit rider demanding proof of payment of people who in some cases even had their proof but didn’t know that’s what they were being asked to show! In this climate of cracking down on immigrants, and the reality in America and Newsom’s San Francisco that getting fingerprinted these days could mean getting deported, using police to do fare enforcement was cruel and inappropriate.

    Transit systems all over the world manage to do fare enforcement without using armed police. Donaji is right, use civilians to check fares.

    Yes, we need to move entirely to a “proof of payment” system to speed boarding and therefore we need fare checkers, but the MTA needs to do it right and that’s not by using intimidation raids.

    The organization POWER and others deserve a great deal of credit for protecting people from abusive use of police power.

    And this whole thing makes me think: maybe it’s time to resurrect the campaign for free Muni, to get rid of the problem altogether.

  • ryan holman

    No lie, I once got a ticket for “fare evasion” when, several days after my eighteenth birthday, I bought a youth ticket out of habit and was asked for it and ID by a really rude inspector downtown after i got off the metro. Let’s make it very clear, the punishment for this was a ticket which he gave me a copy of and which i received in the mail. You don’t get processed for something as small as a $100 ticket (or whatever).

    This is basically the transit equivalent of a traffic ticket. It doesn’t mean you stop pulling people over, because a car full of people got the wrong idea. Change your tactics for goodness sake, don’t just give up.

  • Sean

    I could attempt to reword what Greg has said, but I don’t really see the point.

    It says in multiple language on every Muni vehicle that POP is required. Maybe the cops should carry placards in multiple languages to show non-English speakers what they are asking for, but I really don’t see why there should be different classes of cops to enforce different laws. If the inspectors got on and started asking for POP in Mandarin and I was one of the few who didn’t speak the language I imagine that I could infer what was wanted by observing what everyone was doing.

    I’m not for rounding up and deporting anyone who’s fare evading but evasion is so out of hand that if it takes cops to instill a bit of fear and get people in line then so be it.

  • badlydrawnbear

    I have been working over in Europe for the better part of a year and have been taking public transit in Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam. Fare enforcement is a common feature on most of the systems. I don’t need to speak the local language to understand that when officials come through the car or are stopping people at stations that they are asking for some kind of proof of payment because I can clearly see others showing there proof of payment. For someone to confuse a fare enforcement action on public transit with an immigration raid seems impossible to me. The police handing out tickets is not the same as the police placing people in zip cuffs and loading them into waiting vans. Given that, I must admit that I have not personally witnessed one of MUNI’s ‘saturation raids’ and these could appear quiet different to the casual rider then typical enforcement.

    The only explanation to me would that so many people are not paying on MUNI that the number of people being ticketed is so high that it looks like they are arresting the entire train/bus.

    The canard regarding low income riders is easily disproved by the number of programs in San Francisco that provide discounted fare cards, including the MUNI Lifeline program, $35 monthly pass for low income riders.


  • patrick

    I’m not really sure why cops are needed for fare inspections. Cops are really expensive, I think fare inspectors are completely sufficient. If somebody refuses to provide the information needed to write a ticket or is belligerent, then call the cops.

  • Regarding the second to last paragraph about Lona’s comment on expired transfers on buses:

    The POP page on SFMTA.com says expired transfers on a “POP line” (the metro) is always a violation of the law.

    But an expired transfer on a non-POP line (all bus lines and F-Market) says: “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.”

    Therefore, Lona’s statement: “When the SFMTA started sending TFIs to check transfers on buses, they failed to educate riders that they’d now need to finish their ride — not just start it — before the transfer expires…”

    Her statement has no grounds; that is, unless if the SFMTA changed their policies, it must reflect that in writing on their website.

  • andrew

    Hey, free Muni sounds great! Also rainbows and ponies for everyone!!!! No problem finding the $150 million per year to pay for it, right?

    Greg is right. PAY YOUR FARE and there won’t be problems. ALL lines on Muni have been proof of payment for the better part of a decade. I don’t see why POWER and related organizations are so eager to defend scofflaws who are cheating their fellow riders and the SF taxpayer.

  • Io

    I’m just your ordinary white bread office drone with a fast pass trying to get home, and I get a little freaked out by the saturation raids. When a horde of cops descends on N Judah riders at Carl and Cole, it’s intimidating. I swear, they look like they’ll frisk you and haul you away in a second if your transfer is expired. I’m all for enforcing fares — I don’t pay my $60 to subsidize freeloaders — but there must be a nicer way to do it. I mean, these are touchy times with terrorists and orange alert levels and all.

    Muni reminds me sometimes of a usually permissive teacher who doesn’t care about talking and cheating and spitting on the floor and then suddenly goes ballistic and gives everyone without a No. 2 pencil an F for the day.

  • Derrell Piper

    Hey, look at it this way, it cost SFMTA $3M last year to collect $900K in fare fines. So suspending the program will save Muni $2.1M this year! The entire SFMTA should be fired.

  • Jacob

    I don’t get what’s so wrong with fare inspections. In my neck of the woods, police officers do it regularly. As well as TriMets own fare inspectors.

    A benifit of having police on the bus/train is the show of force, helps to cut down on crime. Just like a police car regularly driving through your neighbourhood, it shows people that the police are there, ready to enforce the law.

  • If people confuse fare inspection with immigration raids, they are being ignorant. In a different place on earth, ignorance is addressed by education. In San Francisco, we suspend effective operation to avoid offending ignorant people. What a great society!

    “The raids had created an intimidating atmosphere for Muni riders who don’t speak English”? I guess one should feel intimidated if they board the bus without paying. For the rest of us, you simply wave the ticket to the inspector, no English necessary. Fare inspection is done in China too. Don’t play innocent here.

  • tea

    Ridiculous. I would like to know what Emily Lee of the Chinese Progressive Association is doing to address fare evasion a backdoor boarding (often pushing the door open) in her community. Because whatever she is doing (if anything at all), is not working. The city needs to enforce proof of payment.

  • Ayotunde

    “Nigerian” is not a language. Hundreds of languages are spoken in Nigeria, with the three most predominant being Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo.

  • patrick

    good point Jacob, that makes sense, there certainly needs to be police presence on Muni (and probably more than there currently is).

    I don’t know if cops should be a part of a fare inspection raid though, better to have them randomly riding IMHO.

  • jerry cauthen

    If fares are collected from some riders then they should be collected from all riders. If it is determined that certain individuals deserve subsidies, then the human resources agencies should respond accordingly. It is not up to Muni inspectors or the police to sort out who should special consideration because of language difficulties or economic status. Despite the obvious need to collect fares from everyone, the SFMTA throws up its hands and cashiers its own long-overdue fare enforcement program because of the noisy objections of individuals who presumably don’t want to pay for their Muni rides. This is another indication of the dismal downward spiral of San Francisco’s public transit system.

  • Alex

    So how much did the stings cost in labor and in delayed service? These idiotic raids involved stopping trains at Castro and West Portal for two minutes each. Think about that for a second. You’re preventing nearly all of the subway traffic from moving in either direction to catch a few scofflaws. That’s a huge waste.

    Likewise, because SFPD is not issuing tickets we’re paying SFPD to provide muscle, and additional staff to simply write tickets.

    Fare enforcement is a great idea, but not when it’s going to cost significantly more than it brings in, and not when it’s going to put a stranglehold on the whole system.

  • Sprague

    I agree that fare enforcement shouldn’t bring the line to a standstill. Fare enforcement in Europe frequently involves plainclothed or uniformed fare inspectors boarding and checking fares as the bus, subway or streetcar travels between stops. Inconveniencing all riders is inefficient and it seems to go along with Muni’s general attitude of undervaluing its customers’ time (ie. less than reliable service and not consolidating bus stops).

  • JohnB


    You are over-looking the deterrant effect of these “stings”.

    If riders get used to seeing regular inspections, they will be less likely to avoid paying the fares.

    And less likely to consider other types of crime. In most cities, transit passengers would welcome cops of trains and buses, to protect against crime and terrorism, as well as to catch those who don’t pay.

    Anyway, my point is that when you compare the costs and benefits of there operations, you should also consider the intangible and deterrant value of the operations.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    They just hated the brutish and oppressive way fares were enforced

    And here, ladies and gentlemen, is a prime example of why both Muni and “Muni advocates” (shovel some more cash into the bottomless faces of TWU-250A, PBQD and Bechtel, because TRANSIT IS GOOD, and, like, peak oil, and, like, stuff) need to be put out of our misery.

    The Muni fare inspection mini-blitzes — I’ve been through several — are perfectly fair, treating everybody respectfully and equally. Got a little piece of paper? No problem. Don’t understand that getting on a train involves paying a fare? Join a Muni Rider’s Union! Fare’s unfair! Cultural oppression!

    I don’t ever get to say anything nice about either Muni or SFPD employees, but there is absolutely nothing to complain about here. People are doing their jobs, their doing them well, doing their jobs respectfully and fairly, doing work that is actually beneficial and not the usual Muni make-work, performing actions that improve the functioning and economics and environment of the system, and last of all they’re just doing what other successful, customer-friendly transit agencies elsewhere in the world do: there’s simply nothing not to like.

    Seriously, screw any transit “advocacy” that puts scoring some tiresome soi-disat immigrants’ (hey, I’m one!) “rights” SF mush-brained “progressivism” over supporting about the only single thing that Muni has ever done right.

    These idiotic raids involved stopping trains at Castro and West Portal for two minutes each

    You mean unlike the regular 10 minute delays when Muni falls all over its own shoelaces and craps out in the tunnel with no fare inspectors to blame?

    And just a two minute delay at West Portal in any direction? I’d love to experience that sometime. Luxury!

  • s/their/they’re/
    I’m, like, totally humiliated.

  • Mr. Mlynarik has identified above one of the key problems that is preventing Muni from providing service that is reliable, predictible and expeditious. Instead of railing against MTA’s attempts to reduce fare evasion, we should be thundering against the hundreds of unnecessary obsticles to good service that plague many of Muni’s bus and rail lines. Are freqent 5 and 10 minute delays in the subway acceptable? Hardly! Should it take five or more minutes to pass through the West Portal Station, St. Francis Circle and 4th & King intersection? No it should not. How about creeping along the Embardero on the T-line at what seem like glacial speeds? Is that ok? Again the answer is NO. These unnecessary delays are caused partly by ill-considered working rules that impede or prevent good service and partly by months and in some cases years of neglect on the part of SFMTA management and its consultants.

    Gerald Cauthen,
    for SaveMuni.com

  • wgirl

    I agree the saturation stings are awful. Imagine, I was getting off the light rail at Civic Center, when a group of about 10 men appear out of no where, running at people screaming. I was terrified; my first instinct was to run for my life. But getting on in age, disabled, a little overweight and laden with heavy packages–I figured I wouldn’t make it. So eyes straight ahead I make a beeline for the escalator. Now by this time an asian man is right up against me, screaming in my face like a drill sergeant. Only I couldn’t understand what he was say because his English practically nonexistent. With chaos erupting around me, I keep going. All I could think was I have to make it to the escalator. Now let me stop here and explain I had a transfer and granted these guys were wearing uniforms, but in a crisis where you think your surrounded by criminals out to do you harm reading the patches on their jackets never even crossed my mind. I didn’t take my eyes off the escalator. At one point, he gets in front of me; I push passed. The whole time this man is screaming at the top of his lungs, but I still had no idea what he was saying. I finally make it to the escalator, step on, and the man follows me. Now I’m starting to really panic. I honestly believed he was a criminal that I had just witnessed a mass mugging. Things get a little fuzzy at this point because by this time my blood pressure is through the roof. But I remember thinking I might have to fight. I turn around to face him and start screaming at the top of my lungs. Then one of the other MUNI officers runs up and yells, “HE WANTS TO SEE YOUR TRANSFER.” Mad, you have no Idea. I ran down that upward moving escalator, and I’m sorry to say I was downright rude. I showed them my transfer and got the heck out of there. Civic center always was a sketchy station; I was just transferring to BART there, so I could get a seat during rush hour. My point is saturation stings are a stupid idea. I pay my fare, and if you want to see my transfer, don’t come running toward me screaming. It’s to bad we’ll have to pay more to ride MUNI, but people have always ridden for free. It’s epidemic; back in the 1970s people rode for free. I figure sooner or later they get caught and have to pay a big fine, so it all works out in the end. But the saturation stings have to go.

  • SFTech

    Jym says “No human being is illegal”.

    Sure Jym why don’t you put out a sign that says come into my house, use what you want, take what you want, and pay nothing.

    Until you do that your comments are just vomited democrat pro illegal crap.

    We have borders, laws, a system that should be followed. Take that away and you end up like V (your friendly anarchist) dead.

  • SFTech

    I say shut down Muni and make it an underground bike/ motorcycle path.
    Limited cost, no salaries, millions saved. Fare inspections ended.

    BTW- I love how SF is pushing everyone onto Muni,did they ever consider how many sick days are taken by crowding sick people in closed tubes. Oh I forgot that’s what the SF paid sick leave is for.

    This city has on foot on the shores of Greece and the other on a roller blade.


  • The stings are back on. Last night 08/20/10 at 5:00 pm there were 5 fare inspectors outside City Hall on Van Ness at the #47 #49 lines.

  • Vic

    “In the wake of this change, the SFMTA will work with the Office of Civic Engagement and
    Immigrant Affairs to further train TFIs, “with an emphasis placed on
    cultural and linguistic competency in serving  immigrant communities,”
    according to an SFMTA release.”

    Whoa whoa whoa, SERVING immigrant communities? Or FINING the immigrant communities who already are on the verge of falling below the low income bracket. I guess good lying is the cornerstone of good fining.


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