BART’s Excursion Fare: How the Agency Earns Millions from Passengers Not Riding Trains

Photo: BART
Photo: BART

If you’re a frequent BART rider, chances are you’ve been in a situation where you need to exit a station shortly after entering it. Maybe you heard an announcement that BART is experiencing systemwide delays and you need to find another means of transportation. Maybe you just missed a train late at night, and instead of waiting 20 minutes, you decide to catch an Uber. Or maybe you forgot something at your home/work/car/etc. and need to run back out of the station to fetch the item. If this has happened to you, chances are you’ve been hit by BART’s Excursion Fare.

BART charges a $5.75 Excursion Fare anytime a rider enters and exits the same station, regardless of whether the exit occurred within three minutes or three hours. The fare is equal to three short trips (e.g. Berkeley to Oakland, $1.95) or one long Transbay trip (e.g. San Francisco to Concord, $5.80). It is briefly mentioned in BART’s Fare and Schedule guide, which says: “BART’s Excursion Fare allows anyone to tour the BART system (all 46 stations) for up to three hours on a $5.75 fare, as long as you enter and exit at the same station.”

Caption
One could be forgiven for missing BART’s ‘Excursion Fare’ Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Why does the Excursion Fare exist? According to a 2010 interview with then BART spokesman Linton Johnson, the fare was developed when BART first opened in 1972–a time when people would tour the system for the novelty of the experience. Forty-five years later, the Excursion Fare has strangely persisted; only these days, nearly all Excursion Fares are collected from everyday riders, as opposed to novelty seekers. Charging a triple premium fare to not use a service is without precedent amongst BART’s peer agencies.

BART’s Excursion Fare ridership is small, but by no means trivial. In October 2017, Excursion Fares accounted for approximately 1,600-weekday boardings or 0.37 percent of average ridership. Excursion Fares make up almost as many riders as the Oakland Airport Connector. On weekends when service is less frequent, Excursion Fares are double that of weekdays, totaling 0.73 percent of ridership (about 1,100 boardings). This total is higher than weekend boardings at six BART stations. The share of Excursion fares has stayed relatively constant over the past 15 years despite BART’s passive encouragement of riders to avoid such fares by consulting a station agent.

On an annual basis, revenues from Excursion Fares add up. BART had an estimated 584,000 Excursion Fare trips last year. Assuming each passenger pays a full fare of $5.75, BART earned approximately $3.4 million off of such trips. It is no wonder why the Excursion Fare has survived over four decades–it makes BART a lot of easy money.

BART-Ridership-v-Excursion-Fare-Trips

There is no good reason why Excursion Fares should exist: they are unfair, dishonest, inequitable, poorly communicated, and often prompted by BART’s own shortcomings and delays. A product that exists solely to make money from mistakes and misinformation is not a public service; it is a scam. BART needs to ditch Excursion Fares once and for all.

This guest post was written by the staff at GJEL Accident Attorneys. GJEL is a sponsor of Streetsblog San Francisco.

  • asheemm

    Given that Clipper card can manage transfers for SFMUNI, it should be able to ‘cancel’ a BART gate entry if its exited from within a few minutes.

  • mx

    I know this is a sponsored post, but I just want to say I love this kind of nuts-and-bolts consumer transit reporting on Streetsblog SF and hope to see more of it. Big picture stuff is fun to talk about, but publications like this one can make a big difference focusing on trying to get some of the little things fixed that make a big difference to the passenger experience. (Say, why are the BART ticket machines at Powell always out of service and most of them only take debit cards?)

  • ZA_SF

    I wonder how many buskers/street musicians use this to cost-effectively raise some money in-system and still end their day where they began?

  • mx

    There’s no good reason for them to do so, since it’s cheaper to just ride one stop twice than to pay the excursion fare. You can ride between Montgomery and Embarcadero for $1.95 instead of paying $5.75 to ride from Montgomery to Montgomery.

    I do wonder how many of the people paying the excursion fare are really those with lost tickets though. I pay my fares, but it would be easy enough to save a few bucks on expensive trips, especially airport trips, by “losing” your ticket and paying the excursion fare rather than the full fare.

  • YohanSF

    The first time I got hit with the excursion fare I wanted to punch somebody.

    The second time, I left via the emergency exit. The next day I played dumb and the bart agent reset my clipper card as if I had done a one-station trip.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    FYI if you really do just go in and out of a station, you can ask the agent and they will put a little sticker on your card or ticket, and then the next time you go into a station the agent will fix your card. It is a hassle, and only works if the agent is actually on duty, but it beats getting cheated out of six bucks.

    They could head off a lot of this by putting arrival boards outside the gates at stations.

  • Jeff Gonzales

    I’ve definitely used the fare somewhat often in the past e.g. when picking up someone from another station. Due to length it was cheaper than exiting at the other end and reentering. It would be nice to have data about how long the excursion was – probably anything over half an hour is people actually using it purposely.

    Also what happens if you exit after the same station more than three hours later?

  • DrunkEngineer

    The author argues that all these Excursion fares are from riders who unintentionally tagged out of the system. But there are many other possible explanations. Perhaps they have de-magnetized paper tickets which are only sporadically being read at one end of the trip (a common problem, especially in the rainy season). Still others might be fare-evading and not using faregates at both ends of the trip. Without more data, it is pure speculation to say that BART is scamming riders.

  • Affen_Theater

    I want to see a similar piece on the rip-off Caltrain fare zone tariff / structure. Unlike BART’s station-to-station fares which can easily be represented in a fare matrix, Caltrain bases fares on the number of its six fare zones a trip touches. Fare zones average about 13 miles each. See:

    http://www.caltrain.com/stations/systemmap.html

    The scammy inequitable rip-off is this, a rider must pay for each entire 13-mile zone their trip touches — no matter how slightly. See:

    http://www.caltrain.com/Fares/farechart.html

    This means a rider who happens to have the misfortune of needing to make a one-stop ride across a fare zone boundary is made to pay for TWO ENTIRE fare zones … the same fare that another rider riding 13 station stops going the other way pays, and a higher fare than another rider riding to the other end of the zone would pay.

    As a consequence, lots of short trips (or monthly commutes) across zone boundaries are discouraged while other much longer trips/commutes going the other way from the same station are either cheaper or the same price.

    The obvious solution is to reprogram the TVMs and Clipper to charge a station-to-station distance-based fare based on a base fare plus a distance (per mile charge). All of this is fare more intuitive and equitable for riders. Riders would specify their destination station (instead of first mapping their destination to a “zone” as they must do today) and the TVM would (unlike BART) calculate and show the correct fare due. Easy peasy. And contrary to Caltrain staff’s self-serving (lazy?) claims, it would not only be easier and less confusing for riders, it wouldn’t change their POP fare inspection/enforcement regime in the least.

    The entire changeover could be revenue neutral. Yes, some riders getting a super good deal today would pay a bit more, and a bunch of riders being ripped off — or not even riding — today would finally be charged an equitable fare.

    It’s insane that for decades Caltrain hasn’t addressed this problem of having a ride of any given distance — no matter how short — depend on where you start with respect to the completely arbitrary six fare zone boundaries created for the ease of conductors (who used to sell tickets on board for cash) to memorize a smaller set of possible fares.

    Caltrain staff is right now doing a “fare study” and they are laughably claiming (see page 14) that switching to a fare more equitable BART-like station-to-station fares would be harder for riders to understand and harder for fare inspectors to enforce (page 13) and could take ~5+ years (page 25) because it’s “difficult”. See pages 13 and 25:

    http://www.caltrain.com/Assets/__Agendas+and+Minutes/JPB/Board+of+Directors/Presentations/2017/2017-12-07+JPB+Caltrain+Fare+Study+Presentation.pdf

    Shameful!

  • Frank Kotter

    Throwing this out there: In Chicago, there is no exit controlling and the homeless basically live on the trains in the winter. I never had a problem with it personally but Elon does.

    Does this excursion fare, or out-scanning with physical barriers reduce this on the BART?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Interesting perspective. Zone systems are very common in many countries. For example, good like trying to figure this one out.

    https://www.zvv.ch/zvv-assets/abos-und-tickets/zonen/tarifzonen_d_e_17_rgb.pdf

  • jonobate

    Completely agree.

    Let’s take this a step further – BART and Caltrain should have the same fare structure, the same ticketing system, and the same proof of payment policy. Paper tickets for Caltrain/BART should have the origin and destination stations the ticket was purchased for printed on the front, and a magnetic stripe on the back that will open the fare gates (if any) at the origin and destination stations. There’s no need to retain the BART stored value tickets as Clipper cards provide the same functionality.

    The advantage of this arrangement is that BART could choose remove fare gates from some or all of their stations, and replace them with Clipper tag on/off readers, like Caltrain. These stations could also be unstaffed, which would save BART huge amounts of money in reduced labor costs. Also, it should be possible to purchase through tickets (e.g. Berkeley to San Mateo) without any additional charge for having to change trains, which is a rider inconvenience not a rider benefit.

  • mx

    In theory (I know this gets trotted out as a reason to keep the excursion fare), but as a practical matter, someone planning on spending the day on BART is likely to evade the fare anyway. If not, they can still get cheaper than the excursion fare by riding a single stop instead of entering/exiting at the same station.

    After 3 hours, you have to see an agent to get out of the barriers anyway, so I’m not sure the excursion fare makes a difference.

    I’d also love to see us get to the point as a society where there are places more pleasant for a homeless person to voluntarily spend the day than a BART train.

  • mx

    There are zone systems elsewhere in Europe that aren’t headache inducing. Munich has a straightforward set of rings around the city center (http://www.mvv-muenchen.de/fileadmin/media/Dateien/3_Tickets_Preise/dokumente/TARIFPLAN_Gesamtnetz_2018_mitLegendeohneRinge_fuer_Engl.PDF) as does Berlin (http://www.s-bahn-berlin.de/pdf/VBB-Liniennetz.pdf).

    There are also purely distance-based fare systems, as used in Singapore’s MRT, which avoid the problem of designing fare zones.

    Now, the Bay Area could be substantially more complicated if we had a zone system, since we have a lot of commuting patterns in all different directions across multiple cities. The issue isn’t that we don’t have the prefect system. It’s that nobody is bothering to even begin to do the work of designing a better one. Clipper 2.0 is underway. It will be years of planning and years of rolling out expensive new equipment, and it’s hard for me to tell what we’re spending all this money on besides generically newer technology. “Gosh, we’re supposed to oversee a system for the entire metro area, so maybe we should at least vaguely think about it as a region” apparently never once entered the minds of the MTC.

  • SuperQ

    Yup, zone-based proof of payment is a great system. The A+B zone covers the city limits of Berlin, and the C zone covers the extent of the S-Bahn reach into the metro area.

    The bay area would probably have to go with a little more granular system, due to the geography, but it would be great.

  • p_chazz

    No, the homeless just jump the gates to get into the system.

  • John Murphy

    I always thought this excursion fare was to stop people like couriers from using BART for ~free to take a package from one place to another.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    or go through the swing gates or take the elevator into paid areas.

  • John Murphy

    Agreed. It’s not “Decades” – less than 2 decades ago you could still buy a ticket on the train, and in that era the zone based system made it much quicker. Then you just get into an “old habits die hard” situation – but since BART has a distance based fare and there is a lot of overlap between systems.

    The riders are well aware of this situation and it causes some pretty bad side effects that are actually more important.

    Consider this. Let’s say you live in walking distance of San Bruno BART and commute to Palo Alto. A monthly pass is $215. But if you get on your bike every day and ride a couple miles to Millbrae, your monthly pass is $152. Get a little exercise and save 60 bucks. The problem is that you then bring your bike on the train, using up a bike space. I can take a company shuttle from Lawrence but I bring my bike on the train and get off at Sunnyvale to save $2.25, so Caltrain loses fare revenue plus I use a bike slot. If that extra stop was 50 cents, I wouldn’t bother.

    At least they’ve increased the cost of parking – it used to be that a pass from Millbrae to Palo Alto PLUS a parking pass was cheaper than a pass from San Bruno to Palo Alto, making it worthwhile to drive the first mile.

  • John Murphy

    I really do find it amusing that we have billion dollar stations with these fare gates but the elevator bypasses the fare gates. I had to decide what was more annoying – carrying my bike up the stairs at Glen Park, or taking the super slow elevator and then having to go through the gates back into the paid area so I could go back out the fare gates to complete my trip.

  • John Murphy
  • thielges

    There’s a similar issue on Caltrain. If you forget to tag on or off then Clipper sees this an open ended journey and automatically charges you the maximum distance that you could have traveled (which is usually to Gilroy). Clipper will even charge you for an impossible trip: if you forget to tag off on a weekend or late in the evening, you’re charged the fare to Gilroy even though no trains run to Gilroy at those times.

    Ask regular non-monthly pass users on Caltrain and you’ll find that most people have paid for a ticket to Gilroy without ever visiting that town.

    This overcharge error is not possible with paper tickets. Clipper could prevent such overcharges by providing a way for riders to designate their intended destination zone as they do with paper tickets.

  • Affen_Theater

    The Caltrain brand, initially staffed by Caltrans, came into existence in 1980. They continued with the fare zone system then in place. The JPB didn’t take over Caltrain from Caltrans until 1992. So, yes, the chunky and clunky zone fare system for the convenience of humans punching holes in paper and taking cash, has been in existence for DECADES.

    Caltrain has long switched to 100% computer-controlled machine ticketing (TVMs and/or Clipper) and there is no earthly good reason to maintain ~13-mile fare zones such that a rider who has the dumb misfortune of needing to ride a single station stop across an arbitrary fare zone boundary must pay for TWO ENTIRE zones ($6) while another rider from the same station can ride 12 miles and many stations in the other direction for LESS ($3.75) or 25 miles and 13 stations for the SAME fare.

    Unlike BART’s “dumb” ticket machines that require riders to consult a fare chart or app to determine the correct cash value to place on their ticket, Caltrain TVMs are smart. The rider enters destination, ticket type and number of riders, and the TVM calculates and displays the correct fare, which can be paid for with cash or card, all in one quick, easy transaction … so equitable distance-based (point-to-point) fares would be far easier for Caltrain riders than they have been for BART riders ever since it opened in the 70’s. The transition would also be easy, since, unlike BART riders, Caltrain riders are already used to specifying their destination … only instead of specifying a “zone” they’d actually be selecting a destination station by name! Nice, new, perfectly equitable and revenue-neutral (if so desired) fare scheme SOLVED! And Caltrain would get much better station usage stats out of the deal for free. Easy peasy.

  • John Murphy

    I think you missed me agreeing with you. I have been to JPB meetings where people from San Bruno who commute to Millbrae say they would take Caltrain but they can’t afford it because of the zone structure.

    I guess I buried that lede taking issue with “It’s insane that for decades Caltrain hasn’t addressed this problem of having a ride of any given distance” – until Clipper was really rolling, I don’t think we had a real jump on this – so the period that Caltrain has had in which they should have addressed this is roughly one decade.

    Amusingly – Caltrain used to have more zones – 9 zones! This was nominally better for the issues you raise – in theory what they need is for each station to be a “zone” (though the distances between stations isn’t equal so the per station cost to travel should vary).

    FWIW – it would be just as easy to reprogram the BART machines as the Caltrain machines.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The ferries have the same problem. You get charged the max when you board, and get refunded when you arrive, if and only if you remember to tag off. Fortunately, on the ferry you are forced to walk right past the Clipper machine as you exit, and the person in front if you is probably tagging off. On Caltrain it is different, since you often need to walk out of your way in the wrong direction to find the Clipper machine. 22nd street Caltrain is the best example I can think of. If you arrive on the first northbound car you can walk right up the stairs and down the street without ever seeing a Clipper machine.

    They could solve this by putting clipper machines at the top of the stairs, since everyone is obligated to walk up them. But it’s clear from most station designs that nobody involved in the public architecture of Caltrain has ever actually ridden it.

  • Affen_Theater

    Agreed: the window in which to fix this issue opened the day that human-issued (punched) paper tickets were finally discontinued. Do you know when that was?

    You lost me on the ease (or relevance) of reprogramming BART TVMs (to do what, use stations or zones?). I don’t see what that’s got to do with fixing Caltrain’s glaring fare-vs.-distance inequity problem.

    I was aware Caltrain knowingly – because I told them so before they did it – made the problem worse by reducing the number of fare zones.

    Yes, making each station its own zone would be a great, albeit sub-optimal, improvement. Since the optimally equitable solution of basing fares on station-to-station distance (base fare + mileage charge) is hardly more difficult, there’s no reason not to do so if they’re going to take the effort to make the changes to their tariff and reprogram their TVMs and Clipper.

  • mx

    It’s funny. I was thinking about that bus line (and a really well-done video I once saw about the 22 and its passengers) when I posted that comment, and here you are with it 🙂

  • John Murphy

    the GGT 101 has a lot of the same crowd, it doesn’t quite go 24 hours though.

  • p_chazz

    If you have some issue that comes up necessitating that you leave the station, the agent will generally let you leave and re enter the station by the swing gate.

  • City Resident

    Golden Gate Transit also requires riders paying with Clipper card to tag off (or be charged up to about 7 bucks extra, depending on where one’s going). Although it’s a minor hassle, one can request a refund from Clipper/MTC.

  • davistrain

    As a railfan who used to visit the Bay Area because we had nothing but diesel buses in LA until 1990, I figured out very quickly that someone could ride the whole BART system for the SF local fare by (for example) boarding at Powell and leaving the system at Montgomery, as long as they didn’t go through a faregate. This doesn’t help people who really use BART for daily life, but I’ve passed this trick (I suppose it would now be called a “hack”) on to friends heading for MuniLand.

  • Thank you for writing this. This is just another of many symptoms of Bart being thoughtlessly stupid. Bart activity punishes people who try to pay their fare while rewarding those who don’t.

    Last week when I realized I left my keys at work, I left Civic center through the “Do Not Enter” emergency exit rather than pay the outrageous Bart homeless discrimination excursion fare. When I came back 15 minutes later, I entered through the same “do not enter” gate. This time there was an attendant. I told him I tagged in already and he just let me through, probably because I’m white and well dressed.

    Had I followed the rules, I would’ve paid an extra $7. This is a stupid and thoughtless system. The only reason we put up with this BS is because there’s so much other crap wrong with our society that this barely registers as a problem for most people.

    Bart is just terrible on so many levels. I really don’t believe it’s ever fixable. People cope with it only because they often don’t have any other choice. Like so many other people, I truly despise Bart. It’s a shining example of an institution run by people who just stopped giving a fuck.

  • MatthewEH

    That’s the story I always heard too. That bike messengers were handing packages across the gates and their person inside the system would eventually leave from the same station they started at.

  • Andy Chow

    You just have to be amazed the way Chicago make sure there’s no open gap to bypass or avoid the fare gates like they do at BART (e.g. high barrier entry/exit, locked swing gates, no elevator from paid area directly to street. This is a 100 year old system that they need to put elevators into!!!

  • Andy Chow

    This can get much easier than selling a paper ticket with a magnetic stripe from Caltrain (which is actually hard because magnetic stripe is an obsolete technology). Just make Caltrain more Clipper friendly by having its machines sell and replenish Clipper cards, and provide transfer discounts on Clipper. For those who don’t want to carry an extra card, have it available on smartphones via NFC like Chicago is doing.

    No need to invent things to serve very occasional riders as long as getting Clipper is not difficult. LA’s system is all-plastic for a few years already. These contactless system can also support paper cards like the Muni tickets you can buy at Muni Metro stations.

  • Andy Chow

    A way to address this is to waive the fees if exit within 5-10 minutes for riders using Clipper cards. This would have the unintended consequences of making it easy for a non-rider to use the restroom inside the paid area.

    There’s no need to do this for the magnetic farecards.

  • jonobate

    That’s also a good approach, but a counter argument would be that RFID tickets are more expensive than magnetic stripe tickets and so shouldn’t be used in bulk for occasional riders. Muni used to charge a 25c surcharge for RFID paper tickets until rider pushback forced them to absorb the cost themselves, and London still uses magnetic stripe paper tickets for this very reason.

    It really depends how many occasional riders you expect to get, and how willing you are to penalize those riders by forcing them to pay extra for an RFID ticket or a new Clipper card. We should definitely ensure Clipper cards are available from TVMs at every Caltrain station; it’s ridiculous that they were not available at all BART stations until very recently.

  • Andy Chow

    If the system has heavily invested in the magnetic strip ticket system then the argument for cost saving is true. However you don’t see new systems for magnetic stripe tickets. Caltrain doesn’t use magnetic stripe tickets and I don’t think it makes sense for them to adopt magnetic stripe tickets so occasional riders can transfer to BART.

    Magnetic stripe ticket is basically floppy disks to RFID as in USB memory sticks. Floppy disks will always be cheaper than the USB sticks, but capacity is very limited, and you don’t see new computers coming with floppy drives.

    BART and some rail systems functions fine with magnetic stripe ticket because it is basically in-house only with limited functions. If you need to expand it to other vehicles such as buses, RFID is highly preferred, and that why they also use RFID.

  • jonobate

    “Caltrain doesn’t use magnetic stripe tickets and I don’t think it makes sense for them to adopt magnetic stripe tickets so occasional riders can transfer to BART.”

    There are many journeys that are made more expensive and more inconvenient because Caltrain and BART don’t use the same ticketing system. If they both used the same system, we could issue one ticket for journeys that used BART + Caltrain (or even BART + Caltrain + Amtrak or BART + Caltrain + HSR), and we could remove the faregates between platforms for different services at stations such as Millbrae and Richmond. As BART is the only system with faregates, it’s easiest to use whatever technology works with their faregates, and also print the origin/destination on the ticket for systems like Caltrain and Amtrak that rely on proof of payment checks.

    You could just as easily use RFID tickets with printed origin/destination names – this would work just as well for BART as their faregates also support RFID. The argument against doing this is cost. RFID tickets cost significantly more than paper of magnetic tickets, and it’s a waste to use this technology on single-use tickets. RFID adds cost but doesn’t really make anything easier; you could easily allow single use rail tickets to be used on a bus system by printing ‘plus Muni’ on the ticket, for example. One argument in favor of RFID is that it would make them compatible with Muni fare gates, which are currently RFID only, although they do also have an unused magnetic stripe reader.

    Again, it comes down to how many single use tickets you expect to sell, and how willing the agency is to eat the additional cost of putting RFID sensors in all of those tickets.

  • Andy Chow

    Like I said, the difference is the media cost (like floppy disk vs. USB drives), but there are other costs such as procurement of otherwise obsolete equipment, maintaining them, programming them, educate transit workers of how to handle them.

    If you have two computers and one of them has a floppy drive but both have USB, would you buy a floppy drive for the one that doesn’t so that you can use the cheaper floppy disks?

    As for costs, people these days have to pay for bags if they don’t bring those with them.

    Some occasional riders can use app to pay for rides, and works with gates because of NFC (see Ventra) in Chicago. So you even have fewer folks that need to buy a physical ticket.

    Also, occasional riders are not that price sensitive. These are the riders that are turning to TNCs away from transit because of convenience over costs. So a $1 or $2 in transfer penalty is insignificant if the service is frequent and fast. If they actually do care, they can easily invest time to buy Clipper and get all the convenience all of the time. I sometimes do travel in other cities and I get one of these cards so that I can buy the day passes and transfer discounts which require the card.

  • Benjamin Pease

    Forgive me if someone said this in the article or comments (I looked first) but I was under the impression that the excursion fare was designed in part to keep people from using two tickets (Orinda-Orinda, Powell-Powell) to commute for cheap. (Which a few sneaky people did back in the day). The time limit feature may also have been added to defeat commuting to/from paired stations using two tickets (Powell-Montgomery, 12th-19th to go transbay, returning to the adjacent station at the end of a workday). I remember being totally pissed when I first ran into it leaving Powell BART after a few minutes after remembering I had to go somewhere via a specific MUNI line that day. It was like a week’s worth of fares for my Glen Park-downtown commuting.

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