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Muni fines and fees don’t criminalize, but SF has catching up to do

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SFMTA fare evasion supervisor Lawrence Nichol checks proof of payment on a J-Church train at Van Ness station in July 2014. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A new report on San Francisco’s fines and fees says The City must stop penalizing families with outsized penalties.

But one standout agency may surprise San Franciscans used to frequent transportation bills. Unlike other agencies, Muni fines won’t land San Franciscans in the proverbial debtor’s dungeon.

“We are very proud of the significant commitments we have made to provide access and to encourage the use of public transit in San Francisco,” said Paul Rose, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.

Still, the rest of The City’s agencies have a lot of catching up to do, the report found.

A task force examining the inequitable application of the fines and fees levied in San Francisco for things like traffic violations or other minor citations unveiled a series of recommendations Wednesday to be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

“San Francisco should not be in the business of impoverishing poor and working-class families,” Supervisor Jane Kim said at a news conference announcing the results of the report outside of City Hall on Wednesday morning.

The task force was created in late 2016 and staffed by the new Financial Justice Project launched by San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros.

The report recommends The City base fine and fee amounts on the person’s ability to pay and remove driver’s license suspensions, relieve child support debt from low-income parents to government, and reform bails and bonds. Kim pointed out that penalties can make even small fines quickly balloon to hundreds of dollars in penalties.

One news report on Tuesday noted a San Francisco woman racked up $2,500 in fines and fees from the SFMTA for a Muni fare evasion ticket, which, when fact-checked, turned out to be false — the woman’s fees were not from any city agency.

Amanda Fried, a policy and legislative manager with the Treasurer’s Office, said, “[The] SFMTA has been a national leader on issues of equity.”

The SFMTA fees do not surpass a first penalty of $31 and a second penalty of $48 (on top of the first violation), according to the agency. The SFMTA may refer people to the franchise tax board for unpaid debts, but fare evasion violations never pass that $48 penalty.

Bay City News contributed to this report. This story has been updated from its original version.

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