Examiner Editorial: Fare cheats cost Muni – and you – millions

For years, the lawful majority of Muni riders have been infuriated with the onslaught of brazen fare evaders who push their way onto the back exits of buses and other vehicles and ride free seemingly with no consequences. It now appears as if these cheaters are costing Muni — and San Francisco taxpayers — no less than $19 million per year, according to the first large-scale study tracking such losses.

Between the end of April and mid-July, Muni ticket inspectors checked some 41,000 passengers on 1,100 vehicle runs across The City. They found that nearly one in 10 riders had no valid proof of payment. Half the cheats had no proof at all and about one-quarter had expired or altered fare receipts.

By comparing the total evaded fares to the total paid fares for that period, it was easy to calculate Muni’s losses at roughly $19 million annually. The inspections also revealed that fare evasion happened most often during the evening commute, and the bulk of illegal boardings was reported along the most heavily traveled thoroughfares: Market Street, Mission Street and Van Ness Avenue.

To Muni’s credit, it has long acknowledged the serious nature of fare evasion and made some attempts to fix it. This past summer, the Municipal Transportation Agency conducted successful stings citywide. Police and other municipal officials also helped, with Supervisor Bevan Dufty leading the push that increased the fine for fare evasion from $50 to $75.

Currently, Muni is retraining its fare inspectors to use new, hopefully stronger, tactics, and schedules are being changed so that more inspectors will be out on main routes during the evening commute. All these incremental steps are welcome.

But now that the full $19 million impact of annual unpaid fares has been uncovered, this seems the right time for a much more aggressive collection effort. Chronically cash-strapped Muni is in worse shape than usual. The City’s public transit service entered this fiscal year with a $129 million deficit.

The budget was balanced with drastic and unpopular measures. Fares were raised and parking rules became more strict, and some fines were increased.

Even more controversial is that Muni is also floating a proposal to extend the hours of parking meters to Sundays and as late as midnight, piling even greater stress on drivers foolhardy enough to live in or visit San Francisco.

The bottom line is that Muni, The City and taxpayers can no longer afford to write off $19 million in unpaid rides every year. We now know how much it is worth investing to collect the fares owed. Hiring substantially more inspectors and holding them accountable should be able to pay for itself.

editorialeditorialsMuniOpinion

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read