Muni buoyed by increased sales, fare enforcement

For years, sneaking onto Muni buses was like jaywalking. Warnings of its illegality loomed large, but the chances of punishment were slim.

But fare evaders — long a thorn in the side of paying passengers and Muni officials — are now being slapped with $50 tickets in greater numbers than ever before, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The crackdown was just one of many reasons the transit agency has experienced a 5.7 percent increase in fare revenue, or $8.1 million, during the last year.

Two years ago, there were only 16 fare enforcement officers at Muni. Today, there are 51, Muni chief Nathaniel Ford said, who added that another 20 will be hired during the next fiscal year. Citations have increased 44.3 percent during the same time last year.

But while officers have written $35,000 in fare-evasion tickets in the last quarter alone, more than half of Muni’s increased revenue is coming from brisk sales of monthly Fast Passes. Sales, which rose 7.2 percent during the last year, were buoyed by the opening of several additional Fast Pass outlets.

Tourism has also been booming, Ford said, pushing cable car fares up 8.5 percent and one-day and three-day passes up 23.1 percent.

While high gas prices and rising bridge tolls have increased ridership on all Bay Area transit systems, at least part of the jump in fare revenue can be attributed to Muni improvements, said Dave Snyder, Transportation Policy Director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

“It’s the first increase we’ve seen for Muni in years, and I think it’s the result of a successful implementation of the first round of the Transit Effectiveness Project,” Snyder said. “It means they’re actually becoming a better choice for people, and that’s heartening.”

The TEP, the result of a voter mandate to make Muni more effective by funneling $26 million to the cash-strapped agency, has put more transit vehicles on the road, resulting in more fares and fewer missed trips. Muni has also hired more operators and worked with the drivers’ union to reduce absenteeism by 30 percent. Hundreds more operators who were receiving worker’s compensation were either returned to work or taken off Muni’s payroll, Ford said.

Snyder said the improvements showed that Muni reform measure Proposition A, which was passed last year, is starting to pay off.

“We’ve always known Muni needed more money to fix its reliability and management problems. And with more money, they could create a virtuous cycle that could help improve things even more,” he said.

Ridership skyrockets amid high commuting costs

If you’re noticing more company at the bus stop and train platform, it is not your imagination.

Almost 14 million more people boarded Muni during the last year, accounting for a 6.5 percent jump in ridership. Muni chief Nathaniel Ford attributed the increase to a steady local economy, skyrocketing commuting costs and plenty of tourists.

“Obviously, you have rising gas prices and the Bay Bridge toll going up by $1. It’s forcing people to rethink transit. All the public transit systems in the Bay Area are experiencing some level of increase,” Ford said.

If there are more passengers, there are also more Muni vehicles to carry them. The transit system increased its fleet from 765 to 771, reducing the monthly average of missed service trips from 7 percent to 2 percent on the rail lines and 4 percent to 3 percent on bus and trolley routes compared to last year. And while Muni is still short about 250 operators, its hiring freeze is over. Ford said the transit agency has been hiring 20 to 30 operators every six weeks.

“A few years back, we were literally hundreds of operators short. We just couldn’t get out the door,” he said.

— Tamara Barak Aparton

TransLink close to launch for use on Muni

TransLink, the long-awaited program that allows Bay Area transit riders one pass for all public transportation systems in the region’s nine counties, is almost ready for Muni passengers.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employees and select passengers will begin using the system later this month, Muni chief Nathaniel Ford said Monday. Currently, only AC Transit, Dumbarton Express and Golden Gate Transit and Ferry use the system.

To use TransLink, riders are provided with a plastic card embedded with a computer chip that is loaded with a dollar value, a number of specific rides or a monthly pass for a specific agency. When passed in front of a TransLink card reader, the fare is deducted.

More information on the program will be provided at a Sept. 16 SFMTA meeting. — Tamara Barak Aparton

Ridership boost

A variety of factors contributed to a 6.5 percent growth in ridership for Muni from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2008, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

13.5 million Increase in riders from FY2007 to FY2008

$8.1 million Increase in revenue from FY2007 to FY2008

$4.13 million Increase in Fast Pass sales from last year to date

44.3 percent Increase in fare-evasion citations issued from last year to date

1.6 percent Increase in city jobs

3.1 percent Increase in city labor force

20 percent Increase in gas prices

$1 Increase in toll fee for Golden Gate Bridge

Source: SFMTA

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