San Francisco Muni prepares a fare evasion crackdown

San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency is working to bring on two dozen new fare inspectors after a surge in fare evaders.

The city says if people see other passengers getting on for free it makes them think they can do the same. Now, the SFMTA is hoping to stop that momentum in its tracks, with more fare inspectors riding to make sure everyone pays their way.

Muni carries more than 440,000 weekday riders through the streets of San Francisco. While the majority of passengers pay their way, Muni estimates that as many as one in five riders doesn't pay.

Passengers say that doesn't surprise them. "Yeah, you know out there in San Francisco everyone is trying to get their way out there on the bus," said Monica Agnew. "You go to any other city you gotta pay."

SFMTA says before the pandemic about 12% of passengers didn't pay. Now the agency says about 20% of riders skip out on paying. The SFMTA says it is in the process of bringing in two dozen new fare inspectors who will hit the road July 1, riding transit and making sure everyone has proof of payment. "What we've seen in the data is a very very strong correlation between the presence of fare inspectors and people paying their correct fare," said SFMTA Director Jeff Tumlin.

The SFMTA says fares account for about a quarter of its income. "We can't sustain Muni service without people paying their fair fare," said Tumlin. "It is about a quarter of our operators' salary. If we're not able to bring fare compliance up a bit, we will have no choice but to reduce Muni service."

To keep the new fare inspectors safe, they work in groups of three and can use radios to call for help if they see potentially dangerous people or activity. "The fare inspectors are a huge part of our safety program," said Tumlin. "Their very presence on a vehicle helps to make sure that everything stays chill."

The SFMTA says seeing people not paying can make other riders think they don't have to pay either. But, the agency says a lot of those riding who don't appear to be paying have, in fact, paid for their ride. 

If passengers have the Muni app, they don't need to tag in like Clipper card users; and remember there are a lot who ride for free, like kids the elderly and disabled. 


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