Muni to Switch to All-Door Boarding on July 1

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.”

  • We have to wait until July?  Oh well, I’ve been waiting for this for 9 years, I guess I can wait a couple more months.

  • Anonymous

    “We don’t want to inadvertently send the signal that Muni’s free.”

    As if you don’t do that already?  

  • Aaron Bialick

    @MrEricSir:disqus There is some method to the madness: July 1 is the start of the next fiscal year.

  • Generally good news. I made this comment on an earlier, related post, but I’ll make it again:

    Since Muni will need to update the current rear door signage anyway (“ENTER THROUGH FRONT DOOR ONLY” no longer being applicable), I strongly urge the new signs to clearly state something along the lines of “LET DEPARTING PASSENGERS GET THE &*$% OFF FIRST”. Right now, it’s like swimming upstream sometimes just to exit.

  • pdecks

    Paul Rose said today that the plan is not yet official. A final proposal still has to be presented to the board.

  • Aaron Bialick

    @throgers:disqus This is apparently happening – according to this presentation [PDF] from last year, the new signs will say “Yield to exiting customers.”

  • Aaron Bialick

    @12bb3764a88c4ea1e0e16b43dad9144b:disqus Paul told me the date is official.

  • ubringliten

    I take the 30 and 45 a lot, and most passengers already board via the back door and most of them do not pay.  I don’t think this will help and will only decrease revenues.

  • Anonymous

    From the presentation: “SFMTA’s bus operating environment is unique in the United States: High density, low speed, frequent stop service similar to European practice”

    Huh? Low speed, frequent stop service is far more common in North America than in Europe. Muni’s bus stop spacing policy is 800ft (244m) whereas Transport for London’s policy (for example) is 400m.

  • Mario Tanev


    That PDF link doesn’t work.

  • Aaron Bialick

    @google-cd6ac603016b207eed1e6a32f6c3abfa:disqus Ah, the code for links sometimes get messed up in comments. It should work now.

  • Mario Tanev

    Part of the reason some riders who board at the rear door don’t pay is because they don’t expect to be inspected. There are two reasons for that:

       1. They are not a whole lot of inspections on buses. With all-door boarding, that is about to change, since the driver will no longer be the gatekeeper (which they never really excelled at anyway).
       2. Because riders know that they are supposed to board through the front door, if they manage to bypass it they have the impression that they’ve passed the security check, hence they don’t need to worry about paying. With official all-door boarding, it will be very clear that even after you board, you are yet to prove your fare to someone.

    The fact is that all-door-boarding with proof-of-payment on light rail vehicles produces better fare compliance (as the data suggest). The reason for that is simple, when you board it is painfully obvious that there is no gatekeeper, which means that you can be inspected any time. That in itself deters most fare evasions. Of course seeing a fare inspector actually inspect you from time to time really drives the point home, and that’s why Muni will deploy fare inspectors on buses using random checks, the way it’s been done almost everywhere in Europe and in some places in North America.

  • Mario Tanev

    Aaron, I still cannot find the word “Yield” in that presentation. Which page is it on?

  • Aaron Bialick

    @google-cd6ac603016b207eed1e6a32f6c3abfa:disqus Page 9.

  • So will this be similar to the way King County Metro in Seattle does it? That always seemed to be the best way to me.

    Boarding is via both doors downtown, you don’t pay as you get on.

    As you get outside the downtown core, it’s pay as you leave and they only open the front door.

    Worked pretty well in my experience, living in Seattle for 5 years. Keeps buses moving during rush hour, reduces fare evasion. I hardly saw anyone get away with fare evasion in my time there.

  • mikesonn

    Sounds like commuter centric transit. Wouldn’t work for Muni.

  • Mario Tanev


    I and a few others at SFTRU felt the same way about a year ago. We got SFTRU members to approve a public campaign on it. We then spoke to SFMTA board members and staff, and they scheduled a hearing on it last September (the last time Streetsblog reported on it). We went as a group to speak in support of the proposal. The board and Ed Reiskin responded positively, so we kept in touch with SFMTA to make sure they are making progress. We posted an educational page at and responded to riders’ questions to prevent any misconceptions from forming. I had to take a couple of vacation days (since I work in the South Bay) to be able to do that, but in the end I think it was worth it.

    Beats waiting, and I was impressed by how willing SFMTA was to listen to us, and how seemingly positive effect our support had. I encourage you and other transit advocates in hiding to give it a try. There are many more fish to fry: the rapid transit network, BRT, TEP, preventing service cuts, finding stable funding for Muni, and the list goes on.

  •  Mario Tanev, I’m not exactly “in hiding.”  Who do you think built the SFTRU website? :)Always glad to hear the SFTRU is still making progress!

  • Anonymous

    I have to say, I dont see why people are throwing rose petals over this. We HAD “all door boarding” ages ago, and we even had people who’d staff busy stops and collect fares in advance, etc. It was stopped because it was determined to be “too pricey.” Classic example of short sighted management with the resulting fare cheats and so on.

  • Anonymous

    I remember that and it was awesome, especially if you worked downtown and had to run errands during the day – bus was free in the free zone ,and it made things easier, that’s for sure.

  • I just wanted to add to this: We also had a bus corridor (3rd Ave) that went through downtown, that was basically closed off to cars during the rush hours. Most buses that go through downtown use the corridor.

    When I lived in West Seattle boarding was quick and easy downtown even if the buses were packed. As we got farther out passengers would trickle out a few at a time, usually with their money ready.

    For the reverse trip, I paid as I got on and then when I got downtown I just got off the bus via whichever door was closest.

    njudah: I think Seattle ended the free zone recently. I’m not sure.

  • This is a great step for MUNI. 

    Golden Gate Transit doesn’t even allow rear-door exiting, let alone entering.  I’d love to get on the bus without waiting for the schmucks without a Clipper card to pay with cash.

  • Sprague

    Great news.  Great to learn about all of the strides that Ed Reiskin is making to finally fix what can and should be a great system.  Thanks for the great coverage, streetsblog, and thank you to the Transit Riders Union for promoting such good changes.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Sounds like commuter centric transit. Wouldn’t work for Muni.

    Every single transit system (system!) in Central Europe works this way.  The buses, the trams, the commuter trains, the ferries, the …

    You people really really need to get out sometime and see how well things in the world can work given half a chance.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Effective engineering is about trade-offs to maximize overall system performance.
    Fare evasion is never going to be 0%, anywhere, so what’s the overall system cost of attempting to achieve 0.1% evasion? 1%? 2%? 5%?In contrast, obsessive fretting about whether somewhere, someplace, somebody might be getting away with something is more typical of magical whackjob thinking.  Welfare queens!  Fare cheats!  Miscreants are everywhere!

  • Anonymous

    Regarding the low-floor vehicle note: it seems to me that moving to low-floor streetcars would be a really good thing (and I’ve ridden some excellent ones in other places). Of course I understand that it would require some major changes in platforms and such, so making the change would be expensive and would put lines out of commission for a while. But it’s annoying to see that the T line and the Central Subway will also be built to have high floors. I guess this was done to maintain compatibility. Is there any discussion of changing it? Are there any examples, in other cities, of making the transition?

  •  +1 to that. Half the fare evasion that we would try to alleviate is people who would otherwise just not ride the bus. Fare evasion doesn’t cost nearly as much as people are led to believe, and preventing fare evasion costs a lot more than people care to understand.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    High floors urban vehicles are due to ignorance and stupidity, and nothing else.

    (What do expect from Muni and its world class consultant leeches?)

  • mikesonn

    Richard, how would this work for muni without slowing it to a crawl?

    I can see it working for the 41 or a line where the first 1/3 of the stops are nearly 100% boarding and the last 1/3 are nearly 100% disembarking. But those are the exception, not the rule.

  • Mario Tanev


    Are you claiming that every system in Central Europe is like King County Metro (board and get off without paying downtown, board and get off paying outside downtown)?

    Or are you saying that every system in Central Europe is all-door boarding proof-of-payment?

    What exactly are you suggesting for Muni?

  • I ride the 30/45 every day, and I disagree. I think the people that aren’t going to pay are still not going to pay, but everyone gets on faster.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen some bus drivers already doing this. Helps speed things up for sure. But not everyone scans their electronic passes either. Makes me wonder if they’ve paid!

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Proof of payment.  Off-board ticket purchase.  Off-board ticket validation.  Extremely high of passes.  No “smart cards”.

    Just copy what works.

  • Anonymous

    Once every so often you’ll see low-floor vehicles crop up in a Muni presentation, but I’ve never seen any specific plan. Seattle would be the example to look at, they lowered the platforms of their central transit tunnel to accommodate light rail vehicles back in 2005. I imagine you would stage construction like this:

    1) Divert trains to the surface of Market St using the Collingwood St portal for K/L/M, a direct surface route onto Market for N & J, and a transit-only lane the length of Market
    2) Convert Van Ness to Embarcadero stations to low-floor
    3) Switch the N & J to use low-floor vehicles and route back into the Market St subway at Duboce portal
    4) Convert Castro & Church stations to low-floor
    5) Start running S-Castro shuttles using low-floor trains
    6) Terminate K/L/M trains at West Portal and run shuttle buses from West Portal to Embarcadero via Castro, again in a transit-only lane
    7) Convert West Portal and Forest Hill stations to low-floor
    8) Resume running K/L/M trains in the subway

  • Andy Chow

     High floor vehicles were pretty much the only option back in 1970s and 1980s. The difference is that Muni choose a hybrid system with high floor level boarding at some stations that made implementation of low floor vehicle less likely. Other low platform systems like San Diego is gradually transitioning to low floor (but have to retrofit platforms at older stations).

    I don’t think low floor LRV is a priority in SF, since most of the busiest stops already have high platforms. Most of the rest of the stops (each with lower ridership) aren’t going to have level boarding even with low floor LRVs (which is supposed to be the main benefit for doing so) unless dedicated platforms are built with more on-street parking taken out.

    On the other hand I think low floor buses should be a priority.

  • Anonymous

    Low-floor buses should be a higher priority because it’s cheaper to implement than low floor LRVs- you just buy the buses and you’re done. I definitely think low-floor buses should be introduced on Geary and Van Ness in conjunction with BRT. Most likely left-door buses will need to be purchased for those routes and there is no reason to buy new high-floor buses.

    The main reason for low-floor LRVs is that you can make more stops ADA accessible without the current confusing and time-consuming boarding process. If a platform is already there you would just need to tweak the height to match the new LRV floor height, a minor change which would be more acceptable to communities than T-Third style high platforms. Disabled folks could then use any door without requiring any special maneuvering by the operator.

    You would still need to fight parking space battles to create new platforms, but even if you don’t have truly level boarding at the flag stops it will still make things easier for the elderly and those with mobility problems. And less dwell time benefits everyone on the train.

  • Mario Tanev

    Sure, but what does that have to do with Seattle’s system? It’s neither of those, and mikesonn was simply objecting to the downtown-centric nature of their system, calling it a “commuting central transit”.

  • Andy Chow

    Compared to San Diego and Sacramento, Muni’s access is not bad (no need for operator to get out). The only downside is that on the western side of the system Muni runs it like a local bus with frequent yet very small stops. If the outcome isn’t going to be 100% level boarding, I don’t think it is worth changing the other 50%+ of the system that’s already level boarding. 

  • Anonymous

    Fair enough. I definitely agree that the older LRV lines need some serious stop consolidation. This would be far cheaper than buying low-floor trains and should be done before any platform construction or re-construction is considered.


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