Muni cuts back on fare enforcement in light of profiling concerns 

Muni has temporarily halted its effort to saturate transit vehicles with enforcement officers to ensure fares are being paid, following concerns from immigrant and minority communities that they were being unfairly targeted.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency began operations last July with the Police Department to specifically target bus and rail lines with high rates of fare evasion. Using groups of eight to 10 fare inspectors, and two to four police officers, the teams would momentarily stop the lines and force every passenger to show their proof of purchase.

Immigrant rights groups, who have had a strong presence at Muni meetings since the saturation program began, said enforcement officers target non-English-speaking immigrants who don’t understand what they are being cited for, and in other cases issue tickets for fares that expired just minutes before the saturation took place.

Also, there were concerns that the citations — which were decriminalized from the penal code in 2008 — would lead to further penalties from immigration officials. The large number of uniformed officers taking part in the saturation programs often overwhelmed wary minority and immigrant passengers, the rights groups said.

Nathaniel Ford — executive director of the SFMTA, which operates Muni — said the saturation efforts, though successful, generated “unintended consequences.”

“There has been some real fear in the immigrant communities as a result of these operations,” Ford said at the SFMTA’s Policy and Governance Committee meeting Tuesday. “Coupled with some of the national immigration issues, we feel it’s best to put a hold to our saturation program.”

Ford said the SFMTA’s 46 fare inspectors will take about one to two months of sensitivity-training classes while also learning other languages. Currently, 17 of the agency’s 46 inspectors speak a language other than English.

Once those workers are properly trained, the SFMTA will begin resuming its joint saturation efforts with the Police Department.

From July through March, the SFMTA ran 130 saturations — ranging in locations from the Financial District to the Outer Mission district — during which they issued 18,000 citations. The saturations were credited with helping Muni establish a fare evasion rate of 3.5 percent, a reduction from its normal 9.5 percent mark. According to a report issued last year, fare evasion costs the SFMTA about $19 million annually.

The agency will continue to employ the 46 fare inspectors as part of its normal day-to-day operations, though the saturation efforts will not be part of those duties while the program is reviewed.

Calming passengers’ fears

Fare evasion saturation efforts by Muni officers and the SFPD have been stopped after complaints by immigrant rights groups.

July 27–March 19 Duration of program

130 Operations staged during that period

9,348 Citations issued during that period

$75 Cost of citation

9.5 percent Fare evasion rate before program started

3.5 percent Fare evasion rate during program

$19 million Annual revenue SFMTA loses to fare evasion

Source: SFMTA

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Will Reisman

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