Fare spat highlights growing tensions 

A Muni operator was spit on and physically threatened in a fare dispute last week in the Sunset district, the type of altercation that has increased in the past year and could become more prevalent with the transit agency proposing a series of service reductions.

In 2009, there were 81 assaults recorded against Muni operators, a 33 percent increase from 2008’s 61 incidents, according to Municipal Transportation Agency statistics. With two separate fare increases going into effect in the past seven months, and Muni proposing a
10 percent service reduction, many operators are fearful that aggressive assaults will spike even more, said Irwin Lum, president of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A.

“There is no question that the situation will get worse,” he said. “People are already upset about the fare increases, and now they’re going to be waiting longer to cram into crowded buses. It just makes for a real tense situation.”

The latest operator assault occurred Jan. 25 on a 71-Haight/Noriega bus. According to police, passenger Falaye Diallo attempted to board at 34th Avenue and Noriega Street and balked at the Muni operator’s request for the $2 fare. Diallo had only $1 and became outraged when the operator denied him admittance, according to Sgt. Randall Young of the Taraval Police Station.

After being asked to leave, Diallo spit on the Muni operator and threatened to kill him. When informed that the operator was calling police, Diallo fled, but he was soon arrested a few blocks away on charges of battery and making terrorist threats, according to Young. Diallo was taken to the police station and questioned before being cited and released.

Lum said his union advises operators to only ask once for cash fares (due to safety risks), but many times passengers lodge complaints with Muni about the practice, and the agency’s budget struggles have highlighted the need for strong fare returns.

Muni has worked on improving safety conditions during the past several months by greatly increasing the number of San Francisco police officers on transit vehicles, SFMTA spokesman Judson True said. The Police Department and Muni also are working together to help operators prepare for and deflect confrontations with passengers.

“Any assault on an operator is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work with police to provide a safe environment for our operators and vehicles,” True said.

Faced with a $16.9 million midyear budget deficit, the SFMTA, which operates Muni, has proposed service reductions that would result in longer wait times and more-crowded buses. The change would save the transit agency $4.8 million this
fiscal year.

 

Risks of trade: Operators cope with angry riders

Muni drivers could be targets for passengers fed up with service, fare changes.

81
Assaults recorded against Muni operators in 2009

61
Assaults recorded against Muni operators in 2008

33%
One-year increase

10%
Proposed service reduction to Muni lines

May 1
Date proposed service changes would go into effect

Source: SFMTA

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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