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Monday, February 11, 2013

Muni Fare Inspector Saturation Raids, Are They an Effective Use of Resources?

Last week Wednesday, I noticed several fare inspectors and two police officers waiting at the 19th Avenue and Holloway bus stop in front of San Francisco State University waiting for buses to arrive so they can be checked for proper proof of payment.

Last week Friday on my commute to my job, I noticed about the same number of fare inspectors and police officers at the 19th Avenue and Taraval bus stop for the 28/28L line going southbound.

It makes me wonder if the SFMTA is utilizing their Muni fare inspection teams in the most efficient manner.  I have questioned Muni's tactics in 2009 when thousands of Giants fans were inspected as usual at the entrance to the Muni metro platform in front of the ballpark, and was checked a second time at the Embarcadero station exit; it was a waste of the agency's resources because all the ballpark passengers were screened prior to entry to the system.

Their 'saturation' enforcement has been a controversial issue around certain communities as activists claimed fare inspectors target low income minorities, but in the agency's point of view, they are using the teams to transit lines that have the highest amount of fare evasion.

Normally, fare inspection teams are usually two inspectors that typically board a vehicle for a short ride, and go up and down the aisles to quickly check everyone for proof of payment.  But the saturation teams uses several inspectors and at least one police officer to board a vehicle at a stop, check everyone, disembark the vehicle, let the vehicle go, and wait for the next one.

While each method of enforcement meets the goal of surprise inspections to make sure passengers are in compliance with the established policies regarding proof of payment, I feel the saturation inspections are a waste of manner, and other methods of using them can be more effective.

By having several inspectors board the bus at once, it brings that feeling of the FBI wanting to raid a house and make you feel like a criminal.  When having a team of two handle a vehicle going from stop to stop, things are a lot calmer, and I've seen that be a lot more comfortable to see two inspectors ride the metro from one stop to another to quickly check everyone.

A Better Way?
In the above photo, this was in front of San Francisco State University where this particular team checked every single southbound 17, 28, 28L, and 29 bus that stopped there.  With two police officers also present, the feeling in the air was more like all the passengers are suspects and criminals, and those who wants to attempt to run will be tackled by the cops.

I feel a better and more effective way to make the large team more useful to check passengers is to spread them out at that particular intersection.  Have a team of two on the metro platform riding between the SF State and Stonestown stops checking passengers, have a team on the east side of the street to check the passengers riding northbound, and have the remaining at the west side stop.  By doing it this way, the large team is spread out checking all buses and trains going each direction, and police backup is right nearby when needed.

The same method could have also been used at 19th and Taraval by checking all the L-Taraval trains, but several inspectors just checked buses going one direction that came every 10 minutes.

What Inspections?
Personally, the number of fare inspections where I've been checked has been very rare and too far in between.  The most I've ever been checked is when I exit the Powell Street Station, but that's only about once every two or three months on the weekends.  The most hardcore fare inspections is after ballgames at AT&T Park, and that's necessary because everyone should pay their fare to ride the train to get home.

The agency thinks all the major lines are the headaches of fare evasion, but sometimes they should look at the smaller and less popular lines.  I don't think the agency realizes that the lines going through neighborhoods and are not considered a major route, also has their fair share of evasion and I feel Muni doesn't do a thing to make sure the agency is looking out for all cheats, no matter what route is taken.

Some Advice for Us, the Passengers
To some of you, you don't mind the inspectors.  To others, you hate their guts.

Here's some tips to making things just a little easier, and to keep that $75 ticket monkey/ticket off your back:
  1. Always get a transfer if you pay a cash fare.  Make sure it has at least 90 minutes on it.  If not, ask the driver for a new one, because 90 minutes is the MINIMUM.
  2. If you pay e-cash on Clipper, use a stopwatch to time how long your transfer is valid.  Once 90 minutes goes by after the first tag, the card is invalid.
  3. Carry spare cash with you if you have a Clipper card.  If you board the bus at the 89th minute and the card reader says okay, 60 seconds later, your transfer just expired.  Pay cash and just take a paper transfer.
  4. Always be aware, expired transfers are not valid during the journey.  This means, if you boarded while it was valid, but expires during the ride, either pay for a new one or get off the vehicle immediately.  But if Muni lacks the manpower or efficiency to check transfers, you might as well continue to ride expired.


Unknown said...

If you tag your Clipper card each time you board, you will be legal; the card reader will either accept your card if within the transfer time period, or take another fare if you are out of time. No need to carry spare cash, which is what the Clipper card is designed to avoid.817

Akit said...

Roger: Obviously.

The problem is if the electronic transfer on the Clipper card expires while you are in the middle of your journey on the bus, it's now invalid.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to learn that they're going after the 28 and 29 lines - and that there were police there too. Too many riders expect to ride for free, and usually do, on these lines. The saturation hopefully will impress upon these riders the possibility that they could get busted. When there are no police, the scofflaws just walk away.

Ryan said...

If your electronic fare expires while you're en route, I imagine you could simply get up and retag the reader for another 90 minutes. That would be the ethical and fully legal thing to do.

However, I concur that it's currently not too much of a problem considering the relatively lax enforcement (that said, better safe than sorry).

Akit said...

@Ryan: Re-tagging your card could be a problem. It's called passback.

It's a feature on Clipper cards so people who uses their card to board, can't sneak it to their friend behind them to rip-off the system, such as those who have a pass or a valid electronic transfer.

The same could happen to people who attempt re-tag if the time gap between boarding and re-tagging is too small. Even though I'm very well versed in Clipper card policies, I do not know what is the time limit for the passback.

Anonymous said...

The time limit for passback is 10 minutes.

Akit said...

@Anonymous: Source and your credentials?

Anonymous said...

10 minutes: http://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/muni/faq.do

Zach said...

Re: fare evasion on smaller lines

I suspect that Muni focuses on smaller lines less because these neighborhood routes are commonly used as feeder service to major routes and Metro. There is little reason to spend resources checking fares on half-empty buses when most of the passengers can be the target of inspection after transferring to another vehicle. It's also arguably easier for the drivers on the neighborhood lines to ensure proof of payment, though I'll grant that this rarely happens.