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Thursday, July 16, 2009

SF Muni's Nat Ford admits fare evasion is a problem - What else is new?

Muni has been mismanaged for over ten years that it's reached a point where the big chief with a $300,000+ salary admits that fare evasion a leading cause of the massive deficit that SFMTA is experiencing. Ford admits to the Chronicle/SFgate that there is a projected loss of "tens of millions of dollars" every single year.

Really Nat? Really?

I'm a person who always pays my "fare share" and I'm fed-up that I have to pay EVEN MORE for transit that still operates like a piece of crap.

Here's a big question: You claim that you had staff riding random buses and observing other locations where people board and counted how many people broke the law. Just how many of those were holding transfers that were not expired or carrying a pass? Assuming that half of rear-door boarding people are really carrying a legitimate form of proof, "tens of millions" would really be more like five million in loss revenue.

Strangely, Ford doesn't give the #1 blame to people who intentionally break the law, he also shares the blame of malfunctioning fare equipment, confusing fare policies, and lack of staffing.

Malfunctioning fare equipment? Did you know that not long ago, Cubic, the company who makes fare gates and fare boxes received the contract to refurbish the agency's aging fare boxes? As for the fare gates, they work OK on the Metro system, but stimulus money will eventually replace them. The big problem is the change machines at certain metro stations, they are slow and just plain terrible, and they won't take $5 bills.

Confusing fare policies? It was easy to understand in the past, even with the inter-agency agreements like BART/Muni 25 cent discount coupons, Golden Gate Ferry free Muni transfers, and a Muni pass option for Samtrans and Golden Gate monthly pass users...

but with the birth of POP, the can of worms didn't just open, it exploded.


The mismanagement of Muni is to blame for all this. Muni never increased service with the growth in population and ridership in San Francisco. Sure, you can put a new metro line to serve Third Street (massive failure), new metro cars, and articulated buses on the 71 line, but that doesn't stop the problem.

How about those bus drivers who have to stick to a schedule and drive the busiest bus lines in town? If there was a swarm of people trying to board, they'd be waiting for a long time to get people on the vehicle if front-door boarding was the only method. Have you ever experienced the F-Market going toward Fisherman's Wharf at the Ferry Building stop? I was on one of those vehicles and it didn't move for FIVE MINUTES to get everyone on the vehicle.

How about lack of enforcement? Yeah, fare inspectors do suck ass, but many drivers don't give a damn about fare evasion. Fare evasion is next to zero on the non-downtown routes (i.e. "crosstown" routes) because it's easier to get caught and the drivers DO CARE. But for many of the routes that goes to/from downtown, it's like the drivers don't really give a damn and have to stick to their driving schedule.

Where's some of the many improvements needed to make Muni to operate faster and more efficient? You just can't add more limited or express buses to stop the problem. Bus bulbs are an easy solution with some concrete to extend the bus stop further out so that the bus doesn't have to waste time pulling into the curb to pick-up passengers and be compliant with ADA laws. You could also install pre-paid fare machines at many major stops so that passengers can flash a ticket at the driver instead of lining-up to slowly insert their two dollars in the fare box. Signal priority lights are an interesting thing to have, but do cost money and does require a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit line to make it work at its peak efficiency.

Fare inspectors are grossly expensive because they pay them over $50,000 and that doesn't even cover their medical and dental plan, uniforms, union benefits, etc. They should do what they tried before, and it is effective! BOUNCERS. They don't have ticket writing authority, can't check fares, but they can sure enforce the back door policy strictly, this means more cash in the fare box. In this economy, people will work even for minimum wage and no benefits, so that's a big bargain for Muni. For the price of 5 fare inspectors ($250,000 at $50K a year), you can easily hire about ten or fifteen with no benefits. But this is San Francisco, so your health plan will be the bare minimum and you'll get a few days of sick time.


And I keep arguing this forever: TRANSLINK. Think about how much faster it is to board a Muni bus and pay your fare.
  • If you don't rely on a Fast Pass (can't make-up the cost), a Translink card is just as fast to deduct your fare and get you on your way.
  • Reduction in printing costs since all passes and transfers are electronic.
  • Reduced cost on maintaining fare boxes and fare gates.
  • Hassle free adding of funds through a pre-tax commuting program like Commuter Check.
GET YOUR BUTT ON IT MUNI. STOP PROMOTING "TESTING" AND ALLOW REGULAR USE. If you have to cut certain policies like no more paper transfers and e-transfers only, people will grab those cards quick.

But I don't get it, why do some people just hate the Translink program? I put a comment about Translink on the SF Gate comments page and get booed down every single time.

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