Fare evasions still high in San Francisco as Muni loses $19M in 2010 

Muni lost an estimated $19 million in revenue last year to fare evaders — the same amount it missed out on in 2009 when it vowed to crack down on such boarding scofflaws.

A 2009 study found that 9.5 percent of Muni passengers travelled without paying. A 2010 follow-up revealed that the rate of fare evasion had dropped to 8.6 percent. But due to changes in Muni’s fare structure, the transit thieves still sucked $19 million from the agency. Muni currently faces a $21.2 million budget deficit.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Malcolm Heinicke said Muni appears to be heading in the right direction, based on the drop in evasion rates from 9.5 percent to 8.6 percent. Spokesman Paul Rose said the agency would continue to work on developing new modifications or improvements to its compliance program.

Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, said if passengers board without paying, drivers usually ask for the correct fare. But after that, they usually have no recourse but to keep moving.

Scott said other transit agencies would lock the doors and call security officers, but Muni is more concerned with its on-time performance rates than with deterring such behavior.

“Other transit agencies do not play with fare evaders, but our management has never had our back,” said Scott. “Passengers have been skipping out on fares forever. If Muni doesn’t care, why should the operator risk his neck to collect a fare?”

Of the passengers observed cheating the system last year, 35 percent simply boarded the vehicle without paying.

Following the 2009 report, the SFMTA promised to crack down on fare cheats. It began working with the San Francisco Police Department on saturation programs, which entailed stopping transit vehicles and checking each passenger for their fare, a move that was criticized by immigrant and minority passengers.

The agency also focused more on afternoon and evening enforcement and put extra officers on bus and historic streetcar lines.

Some Muni decisions may actually be hurting enforcement. Last year, the agency moved the headquarters of its proof-of-payment workers from a downtown location to the agency’s Muni Metro East facility near Third Street. As a result, it now takes fare officers an extra 30 minutes to get to their observation points. Only 41 percent of an officer’s day is now spent enforcing fares, the agency says.


Where they cheat

Muni lines with significant fare evasion rates:

Line Frequency
T-Third Street 31 percent
19-Polk 22 percent
23-Monterey 22 percent
18 percent
108-Treasure Island 16 percent
52-Excelsior 14 percent
14 percent

How they bilk system

A breakdown of how passengers attempt to cheat:

35 Percentage with no transfer, fare receipt or pass
23 Percentage with invalid transfer or fare receipt
17 Percentage who walk away*
7 Percentage who were observed underpaying fare
18 Percentage of other infractions

* Passengers walked off transit vehicle immediately after inspectors boarded

Source: SFMTA

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Will Reisman

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