Muni crackdown: Pay fare or pay up to $100 fine

Muni is cracking down on turnstile jumpers and back-door freeloaders by hitting their pocketbooks rather than their criminal records.

An ordinance introduced Tuesday would allow Muni to issue fare-evasion citations similar to parking tickets. Under current law, fare evasion is considered a criminal offense that falls under the jurisdiction of San Francisco Superior Court, and many of the citations are tossed out because the court’s calendar is overloaded, officials said.

Under the new ordinance, fare inspectors, working on light-rail vehicles or at metro stations, would issue a violator a ticket of $50 for the first offense, $75 for the second offense and $100 for the third offense. The Department of Parking and Traffic would be in charge of collections, and additional fines would accumulate if the violator fails to pay the citation on time.

“It makes enforcement of the fines far more streamlined,” said Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who introduced the legislation.

Muni only receives $16 from each basic fare-evasion citation, Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said. The rest of the $116 ticket goes to the state or other local agencies.

The new legislation would allocate 100 percent of the citation fines to Muni. Lynch said she did not know how much revenue that would generate for the Municipal Transportation Agency, which recently approved a $673 million budget for 2007-08 and is facing a long-term structural deficit of $150 million.

In 2006, however, the agency issued 7,800 fare-evasion citations, of which 5 percent to 8 percent were to juveniles. If the 7,800 tickets went to first-time offenders, who paid the $50 fee on time, that alone would have generated $390,000 for the agency under the new legislation.

Lynch said it is also unknown how much revenue the agency — which carries 700,000 weekday riders on 1,000 buses, streetcars and trolleys — loses each year from fare evaders.

The agency, however, collects only 22 percent of its overall operating budget from fare boxes, far below transit agencies in New York, San Diego and Chicago, although it is difficult to compare operations because of transit expenses, conditions and ridership, which vary widely from city to city.

This fiscal year, Muni expects to bring in less than the $160 million in fare collection that was projected because additional fare inspectors were not hired.

The agency employs 43 fare inspectors who patrol metro stations and light-rail vehicles, but not buses. Muni expects to hire 22 more of the unarmed officers in the future.

Peskin introduced the Muni ordinance after state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, sponsored legislation in 2006 to decriminalize fare evasion in The City and Los Angeles. Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger signed the legislation in September, and it went into effect earlier this year.

arocha@examiner.com

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