As of Tuesday, Muni will resume issuing citations to passengers who do not pay fare, though transit officials say fare inspectors will bring a “new approach” to enforcement.

Jeffrey Tumlin, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s director of transportation said the agency is shifting toward compliance and outreach with plans to educate passengers about fare discounts and free programs. They will also distribute masks to passengers who need them. 

An earlier blog post in September written by the agency’s Chief Security Officer Kimberly Burrus said inspectors will no longer board vehicles, announce passengers need to show payment proof and remove those who do not provide proof, as has been done in the past.

Additionally, inspectors will be outfitted with new uniforms to lessen the appearance of a police officer.

Burrus wrote that inspectors will now remind passengers to tag their Clipper cards or show proof of payment as they board Muni vehicles. They will enter vehicles in groups of three at different line segments to remind customers of fare compliance and will provide handouts about discounted programs.

Periodic and random full inspections will be conducted. 

Fare inspectors have been deployed as city disaster workers over the last several months of the pandemic and have received additional training from The City, said Tumlin.

The SFMTA, like other Bay Area transit agencies, is struggling financially with fewer passengers using public transit due to Covid-19-related shutdowns and health concerns.

SFMTA data show bus boardings down 70 percent and transit revenue down 93 percent in the month of September, as compared to the same month last year. The number of Clipper card tags dropped from approximately 1.2 million on March 8 to just over 163,000 tags on Nov. 9.

Noting the importance of passenger revenue, which makes up approximately 20 percent of the SFMTA’s operating budget, Tumlin said:

“It is critical that we move forward with collecting Muni fares since it is the revenue source that we have the most control over and most directly relates to our service delivery needs.”

Some organizations worry that it is too soon to resume fare enforcement given dire financial circumstances many of The City’s residents are experiencing.

Kurtis Wu, the outreach coordinator with the Bill Sorro Housing Program, said many of the program’s clients are low-income seniors and people of color who rely on Muni to get to medical appointments, but who cannot afford to pay the fare.

Wu added:

“Now’s not the time to reinstate these tickets when so many people are struggling.”

He would like to the agency to delay fare enforcement until city officials lift shelter-in-place orders and make the Muni Access Pass available to persons who live in supportive housing.

The Access Pass is a Muni-only pass for individuals experiencing homelessness — the pass allows free fare rides for 12 months.

Wu also said the SFMTA should wipe out prior fare citations for persons eligible for Access or Muni Lifeline passes and make Muni rides free for people who make $1,000 or less per month.

Wu said:

“If we are a city committed to transit justice as a racial and economic justice, we will make this investment in our most vulnerable residents.”

The Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Community Housing Partnership and Glide joined in objection to the fare enforcement during public comment. 

Wesley Saver, Glide’s policy manager, said many of the group’s clients use Muni to access their services, including free meals and healthcare service. Adding that many of those clients cannot afford the fare price, he said:

“With more and more San Franciscans experiencing the economic consequences of the pandemic and economic recession and with more and more people showing up at Glide’s doorstep every day seeking our services, now is not the time to cite people again.”

Tumlin said the agency’s renewed fare enforcement is necessary to prevent additional service cuts.

He said:

“This is all very important to ensuring again that our efforts and enforcement are really about getting our customers to pay their fair share, which is going to be essential if we’re to avoid additional massive service cuts that will come unless we start collecting fares again.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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