Muni deployments leave buses vulnerable

While Muni has increased the number of inspectors over the past year in an effort to crack down on freeloading transit users who cost The City millions in unpaid fares, none of those charged with checking for tickets and passes are deployed on The City’s buses — where, critics complain, they are needed most.

With Muni proposing to raise parking fines and increase Fast Pass prices as a way to make up a projected two-year budget shortfall of $81.5 million, Supervisor Bevan Dufty requested Tuesday that the board’s budget analyst conduct an audit of Muni’s proof-of-payment program to determine how much additional revenue could be generated by a more effective fare inspection system.

In 2006, Muni officials told a Board of Supervisors subcommittee that the agency lost $16 million to $24 million a year in unpaid fares.

San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency spokesman Judson True contested those numbers, saying they were based on anecdotal evidence gathered at the time. Muni plans on conducting a study to determine how muchunpaid fare revenue is lost each year, said True.

Dufty said he wants the fare-inspector audit to be completed by June, before Mayor Gavin Newsom signs off on next year’s budget.

“The consistent complaint I get from Muni riders is that they see rampant fare evasion,” Dufty told The Examiner. “Before we ask for fare increases and higher parking fines, we ought to at least hold this agency accountable for making riders pay their fair share.”

The SFMTA currently has 54 transit-fare inspectors on staff, with 19 more trainees enrolled, up from last year, when the department had 36 inspectors and nine trainees. All transit fare inspectors are stationed at Muni’s downtown underground Metro stations.

True said inspectors are used at the Metro stations because it’s a more efficient way to track down fare evaders. He said boarding times would be more adversely affected if inspectors were deployed to Muni buses.

The increase in inspectors has yielded some results: 5,969 fare-evasion tickets have been doled out through the first three months of 2008, according to SFMTA documents. If the current rate continues, the inspectors will have issued 23,876 tickets by year’s end, more than the 21,024 handed out in 2007. Fare-evasion citations cost $50, according to True.

Some Muni advocates are left wondering how many more citations could be issued if fare inspectors were deployed all over The City.

“If you board the N-Judah on 48th [Avenue] and get off before downtown, there is no one checking your ticket,” said Greg Dewar, who runs the blog The N-Judah Chronicles.

True said a pilot plan for all-door boarding inspectors on all Muni vehicles could be implemented in the upcoming months.

wreisman@examiner.com

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