BART Gets Serious About Fare Beaters

Launches Fare Inspection Teams with Card/Ticket Readers

Fare inspectors at the bottom of the Powell Station escalator, shortly after this morning's press conference. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick
Fare inspectors at the bottom of the Powell Station escalator, shortly after this morning's press conference. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick

Get caught riding BART without proof of fare, and you could end up paying $75 as the transit agency goes into full enforcement mode of its new proof-of-payment policy. “It’s actually been in effect since January 1,” explained Lance Haight, Deputy Chief of BART’s police force, at a press conference Thursday morning in the Powell BART station. But up until now, officers have just issued warnings. “1,300 warnings since January 6.”

“The free ride at BART is over,” wrote Nick Josefowitz, a BART Director for San Francisco, in an email. “We are taking strong but reasonable measures to ensure that everybody pays their ticket to ride BART.”

Haight estimates that when they patrol, between three and 10 percent of riders can’t produce a fare, depending on time and location. The hope is that when the word gets out that these patrols are happening, fewer people will try to beat the fares.

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BART’s new fare inspection teams working the bottom of an escalator at Powell Station Thursday morning.

The ordinance was first adopted by the BART Board of Directors back in October 2017, to go into effect at the start of this year. But the BART police needed to work out procedures and acquire and test ticket readers (see photo below). The Clipper card readers are the same as those used on Muni. Unfortunately, enforcement agents have to carry a second machine to read the old mag-stripe paper tickets.

Unfortunately, thanks to BART’s legacy, mag-stripe paper ticket system, for the time being agents will have to carry two scanners.

The police are using “Community Service” officers to check tickets–these are the same employees who normally ticket illegally parked cars in the BART parking lots. The citations they issue for riding BART without a fare are treated just like parking tickets–“It’s not criminal, it’s a civil citation,” said Haight. However, repeat offenders–meaning anyone caught riding three times in one year without proof of payment–can get hit with a criminal citation, which is a $250 fine. Violators may also be required to do community service.

A look at the “parking ticket” style citation for riding without proof of payment.

That said, it’s hard to imagine how someone would get nailed three times in one year, since there are only six agents (and the patrols will always operate in groups). However, the BART police explained this is just one small step in a program of stopping fare evasion. They are also in the process of raising the height of fare gates (to make them harder to jump) and relocating emergency swing gates so it’s more difficult to inconspicuously go through them. And they want to hire more inspectors.

“We know that fare evasion is a significant revenue issue for BART, but it’s also a serious equity concern, especially given BART’s problems with over-policing and profiling,” wrote Edie Irons, spokesman for TransForm, in an email. “While it’s clear BART has tried to craft a balanced approach, there are still ways this policy could have a negative impact on peoples’ lives that vastly outweigh the severity of the crime.”

“We are going to get regular evidence-based public reports about the conduct of our fare evasion enforcement officers, and if there’s any reason for concern from a civil rights perspective we will be transparent with the public and take corrective action immediately,” said Josefowitz. “We also rolled out discounted youth fares this January and worked with SFState to provide discounted passes for their students, which will give students a fare-paying option to take BART that will work within their budget.”

The ordinance also provides the option of doing community service rather than paying a fine. But Irons would like to see more: “What if, on top of their citation or community service, every young fare evader got a loaded Clipper Card that was half the value of the fine, along with information about BART’s new youth discount program?”

The inspectors, meanwhile, have body cameras so their supervisors can check for improper conduct. They are not armed and are instructed not to pursue if a fare evader runs away–however, they have radios to call BART police for assistance.

“Making sure everyone’s paying their fare is only fair to the hundreds of thousands of regular paying riders. Fare evasion is also a significant cost to the agency and will help us crack down on crime in our system,” added Josefowitz.

BART estimates it loses between $15 million to $25 million per year in unpaid fares. The agency has more details on its new fare evasion policy online.

  • Easy

    Streetsblog: “They are not armed and are instructed not to pursue if a fare evader runs away”

    Sfgate: “The enforcement effort was put on display for the news media, and while the morning demonstration yielded no fare evaders, one young man, spying the six uniformed fare inspectors and cluster of news cameras, turned and sprinted up the stairs. The inspectors chased him but he escaped the station.”


  • Roger R.

    Interesting. That’s what an officer told me at the presser (that the inspectors aren’t supposed to chase them down). I might have misunderstood him or perhaps he meant they’re instructed not to chase them out of the station? Anyway, I didn’t see anyone flee but there were two groups of fare agents in different parts of the station, so it may have happened with the other group.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    On a list of things I’d like BART to get serious about, fare enforcement is last.

  • Edward

    With enforcement comes money. With money comes… what is it you said you wanted?

  • Aaron

    I started following this issue after running into the fare inspectors in January, before they had their readers. I entered a car (with valid ticket) and noticed all six officers in the one car, one covering each door. The moment the doors closed one yelled for everyone to produce tickets. They were definitely dressed like cops, I didn’t think “Community Service Officer.”

    The $25M/yr in loss revenue that is being reported to the media appears an imaginative stretch as well as to be feeding sentiment that this is worthwhile policing. At the Oct 27, 2017 BART board meeting, when the ordinance was voted on, the board and public were told:

    Estimated Revenue Annual Loss: $15M – $25M
    * At least $6M loss supported by data
    * Another $9M – $19M likely

    Which is interesting because at the April 18th meeting, the figures were:

    Potentially $15M to $25M per year lost revenue
    * Approx. $6M in losses supported by data
    * Estimated $9M-$19M loss more speculative, less data based

    Between the two meetings, the story tightened from “Potentially” to “Estimated,” from “Approx.” to “At least” and “more speculative” to “likely.”

    The $6M/yr data based component is apparently based on video taping swing gate usage. It’s unclear how their data collection accounted for valid use of the swing gate (ie. people who pay but use the swing gate) and may very well be a statistically weak overestimation. As for the remaining $9M-$19M, after several inquiries to BART how this number was arrived at, I can only say at this point that it comes from thin air. What is clear though is that at that rate, there should be on average 8+ evaders per commute hour train car. On my train car with 6 officers, for instance, there were zero violators. Catching fare evaders should be like shooting fish in the back in a barrel. BART is supposed to release a quarterly report on citations. It will be curious to see if those reports match their predictions. The 1300 citations since Jan 6th reported above works out to 35 violators per weekday, far less than the 80+ violators per 10 car rush hour train suggested by BART’s estimate.

    The April presentation to the BART board also notes, “Industry standard fare evasion rate range: 3-8%.” So even at BART’s wildest estimate of $25M/yr, they’re actually only at 4% evasion rate, the far lower end for the industry. It would appear besting 3% might require draconian measures and calls into question if the money spent on enforcement will actually be recovered.

    There are 96+% of people who do pay and have a right not to be further bothered by a police department with a terrible record. BART is already plenty unpleasant but blaming this state on fare evasion is a gross exaggeration and misdirection. Furthermore, BART simply is not a proof-of-payment system. It’s a gated system and riders tag-in electronically and, apparently, already quite successfully by industry standards. The decision of the Cleveland Municipal Court that found this sort of policing to violate the 4th Amendment is compelling reading (reported on Streetsblog and elsewhere.) Judge Grove’s 11 page decision is quite substantial for a simple fare evasion case and is amply supported by both Ohio and federal case law, though I would add the US Supreme Court has generally found such stops of motorists illegal (the comparison to parking tickets cited in this article is incorrect since a car doesn’t have 4th Amendment rights.) In addition to ruling the checking of every passenger unconstitutional, lacking due cause, Judge Grove also notes, “The City mischaracterized the law enforcement officer as a ‘fare enforcement officer,'” ala BART’s “Community Service Officers.”

    Are there fare evaders? Of course, we’ve all seen them. But basically BART police seem intent on a distracting excuse to exercise dubious broken window policing that won’t stop the problem or possibly even pay for itself.

  • SF Guest

    Fare evasion is a widespread problem. I see riders leaving through the emergency gate all the time.

    When dishonest riders become aware of laxed enforcement it promotes fare evasion and when other riders witness this it telegraphs they can join the bandwagon.

    Similarly SF has a high volume of auto break-ins since thieves are aware the chances of their getting busted and prosecuted are very low, and the criminal act itself is relatively simple and quick.

    When riders begin to see actual enforcement it should help to reduce the number of evaders.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    BART already has the highest farebox recovery ratio of any transit system in America, by a large margin. This is the smallest problem they have.

  • mx

    That presumes that enforcement is not only net revenue positive, but so much so that it will generate enough funds to pay for improvements.

    BART’s fare evasion rate is low. The percentage of people who evade the fare who, realistically, are going to pay fares or citations no matter what you do is even lower. And fare inspectors cost money that could be spent paying people to operate things, clean things, or fix things.

    There’s no particularly good reason to think this won’t cost more money than it makes, and if it does make money, it’s unlikely to make very much.

  • OaktownPRE

    I just completely disagree. The lack of fare enforcement is really at the heart of most of their problems. Because at least 10% of riders don’t pay the cars are filled with bums, or other folks out to cause a problem, and because the primary rule of paying isn’t enforced none of the other rules are either. If you can just walk through a swing gate right in front of a “station agent” (which I’ve seen too many times to recount) how can they possibly enforce the rules against bikes on escalators, or eating a full course meal on the trains, or bringing dogs on the trains, or playing loud music, or sprawling over two or three seats, or smoking pot in the last car, or throwing the wheel of your bike over the seat to hold it, or flipping up the cushions to find the plug for a phone? Farebox recovery is high because the tickets are pricey and they just raised them, but I’ll never vote for another BART bond till they figure out that it’d be a good idea to alarm the swing gates, and in the mean time I’m riding AC transit or Amtrak more often to avoid the BART craziness, and what sets them both apart (unlike Muni) is you can’t ride unless you pay.

  • mx

    See Aaron’s comment above. Even BART’s made-up figures show a fare evasion rate far less than 10%.

  • crazyvag

    In some places, to use the emergency gate, you press it, alarm goes off, you wait 5 seconds and gate unlocks. That’s one start.

    The latest state of the art gate design is a taller gate to prevent jumping, but also, the gate is always open. It Will only close if you go through without a ticket or an invalid ticket. This reduces electricity needs and wear and tear by 99%.

  • Edward

    I have lived in several countries and they all have fare inspectors. They don’t make most of the money they get by having inspectors from fines. They make it because more people pay their fare. You also make more of your customers feel they are being treated fairly and not supporting freeloaders. It is the civil and civilized thing to do.

    There is no particularly good reason to think this won’t make more money than it costs, as experience has shown this to be the case elsewhere. Of course it could just be a case of American Exceptionalism.

  • OaktownPRE

    You and Aaron can believe what you want, I know from personal experience riding BART since before 1980 that until four years ago I had never seen anyone walk through a swing gate without paying, and then all of a sudden it started happening every time I rode, all of the time. Simultaneously, the riding experience has declined from barely tolerable to “only when I have to.” When fare rules aren’t enforced it means no rules are enforced, and that makes for a terrible experience.

  • Phil Yee

    Then why don’t we all not pay. Make it all free. Then see what happens. They will have guards at the gate round the clock.

  • Phil Yee

    You probably don’t use transit.


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