You’ve seen and heard it all before: Wrongheaded Muni employees enforcing a ban on photography that isn’t actually Muni policy.

Most recently, a local public high school student was shooting some (noncommercial) video on the K-Ingleside when he encountered fare inspectors 57 and 61. We’re not going to recap the video, because you can just watch it, but it’s another verse in that same old story — a Muni representative telling a patron that they are not allowed to take pictures or video on Muni property.

This 5′ 5″. 16-year-old Galileo student, who says “I just like to videograph or take pictures in my spare time,” says he was detained at Forest Hill Station “for, like, 20 minutes,” by the fare inspectors after the incident.

This minor, who asked that we not name him in the story due to the threats made to him by the fare inspector in the video, emailed Muni csutomer support, Muni spokesperson Judson True, and Muni head Nathaniel Ford after the incident, as well as filing a customer complaint on the MTA site.

Nearly a month after the incident, the only response the student received was a follow-up letter from Muni Customer Services, noting his complaint, and saying “If you have a follow-up question regarding your report, please contact us at 415.701.5640 and refer to Passenger Service Report #339409.” Unfortunately, when we took Muni up on their offer, we were told they were unable to help us with any questions, as “it is against regulations to discuss an investigation.”

We showed MTA spokesperson Judson True the video, asking him: Is Muni going to publically announce and post a video/photography policy?

His answer: “Yes, and the policy will say that non-commercial video and photography will be OK as long as it doesn’t disturb transit.” Well, when? Plug1 is getting (understandably) anxious!

“We have a little more work to do to get it written up and clarified. But we should have it soon.”

In the interim, True says, fare inspectors are, indeed, being trained that non-disruptive photography and video is acceptable.

This is a relief, as the behavior of the fare inspectors in this video is particularly troubling. As we said to True, watching the video, it doesn’t seem like the fare inspectors are trying, necessarily, to enforce Muni policy — you don’t hear them say “you can’t film on Muni” as much as you hear them saying “you can’t film me,” they refer to Muni as “private property,” etc.

True agreed with us that reasonable expectation of privacy, as it’s known, does not extend to the public property that is a Muni vehicle. “After all, we’re filming you” True noted, as we did our best not to shout “except on Muni Metro!” However, per Muni regulations he could not comment on this specific case, any discipline fare inspectors 57 and 61 might undergo, or any offer any other insights into this minor’s treatment at the hands of these employees.

We asked him what any other non-disruptive, amateur photographer should do if confronted in this way by a fare inspector or operator. His answer: “Ask to speak to their supervisor. If that doesn’t work, call 311 and file a complaint with all the details.” The Appeal would like to add, and contact us.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • Greg Dewar

    Fuck the fare inspectors. They are NOT COPS. THEY HAVE NO AUTHORITY BEYOND INSPECTING PROOF OF PAYMENT.

    Perhaps if they got their lazy asses off the Metro trains and on some tough bus lines, fare collection would be up. Instead they have their heads up their asses hassling people who are not committing crimes.

    Fuck ’em. I’m sick and tired of the culture of lazy incompetent asinine bullshit that passes for a work environment at MUNI.

  • Greg Dewar

    Fuck the fare inspectors. They are NOT COPS. THEY HAVE NO AUTHORITY BEYOND INSPECTING PROOF OF PAYMENT.

    Perhaps if they got their lazy asses off the Metro trains and on some tough bus lines, fare collection would be up. Instead they have their heads up their asses hassling people who are not committing crimes.

    Fuck ’em. I’m sick and tired of the culture of lazy incompetent asinine bullshit that passes for a work environment at MUNI.

  • troymccluresf

    What the hell is “disruptive photography” anyway? Photography, unless you’re a shitheel paparazzi, is by its very nature non-disruptive.

  • troymccluresf

    What the hell is “disruptive photography” anyway? Photography, unless you’re a shitheel paparazzi, is by its very nature non-disruptive.

  • Eve Batey

    Photography that impedes transit or the work of transit operators. Blocking the doors, aisles, getting in the driver’s way, stuff like that.

    It’s common sense stuff, but I think it’s understandable why they’d want to call that out, because while I know y’all are considerate, think about all the folks you know who think that there is nothing more important than their god-given right to get a shot. Which, in some circumstances, sure, but please don’t make me miss my stop because you’re trying to take your vacation video and you need to block the back door. You know?

  • Eve Batey

    Photography that impedes transit or the work of transit operators. Blocking the doors, aisles, getting in the driver’s way, stuff like that.

    It’s common sense stuff, but I think it’s understandable why they’d want to call that out, because while I know y’all are considerate, think about all the folks you know who think that there is nothing more important than their god-given right to get a shot. Which, in some circumstances, sure, but please don’t make me miss my stop because you’re trying to take your vacation video and you need to block the back door. You know?

  • Akit

    FIRED!

    I wonder, out of the three, how many have any higher education?

  • Akit

    FIRED!

    I wonder, out of the three, how many have any higher education?

  • Plug1

    well, this is a tricky one.

    sure the kid has a right to film in public, but it appears that he was instigating a response (which he got) from those Fare Inspectors. granted, he cannot be sued for putting this online — but he shouldnt be provoking a response either just for the sake of putting it on the internet.

    regardless of whether this youngster was right or wrong — you are absolutely right, Muni needs a publicly posted policy and needs it sooner rather than later. if for no other reason than Muni employees and Muni riders have a mutual understanding of what the policy is; which would help eliminate unnecessary confrontations such as this.

    its a tough issue, but very relevant. almost everyone these days has some sort of camera on their cell phone or in their pocket. and the tools needed to photograph are more accessible than ever, as is being able to push them to a large audience. i guess the question is, are we, as a public body, to expect no privacy while in public? it seems to me that their is no way around it.

  • Plug1

    well, this is a tricky one.

    sure the kid has a right to film in public, but it appears that he was instigating a response (which he got) from those Fare Inspectors. granted, he cannot be sued for putting this online — but he shouldnt be provoking a response either just for the sake of putting it on the internet.

    regardless of whether this youngster was right or wrong — you are absolutely right, Muni needs a publicly posted policy and needs it sooner rather than later. if for no other reason than Muni employees and Muni riders have a mutual understanding of what the policy is; which would help eliminate unnecessary confrontations such as this.

    its a tough issue, but very relevant. almost everyone these days has some sort of camera on their cell phone or in their pocket. and the tools needed to photograph are more accessible than ever, as is being able to push them to a large audience. i guess the question is, are we, as a public body, to expect no privacy while in public? it seems to me that their is no way around it.

  • Jim

    Did somebody get detained for 20 minutes over this? It’s not really a detention unless you try to walk away and you get stopped. That could be false imprisonment, potentially.

    Tripods would be an example of something that could impede MUNI’s business.

  • Jim

    Did somebody get detained for 20 minutes over this? It’s not really a detention unless you try to walk away and you get stopped. That could be false imprisonment, potentially.

    Tripods would be an example of something that could impede MUNI’s business.

  • Jamie Whitaker

    I don’t understand why there’s a misunderstanding … if you’re out in public, you can be filmed. If the kid were planning to sell the images, I guess that’s another story …. but initially filming shouldn’t be a problem (especially in publicly owned vehicles that alert us we’re being filmed by the government agency).

    I agree with Greg that the inspectors need to spread out onto the bus lines ….. I wrote a letter to the editor of The Examiner a year or two ago praising the inspector program, but mentioning that it is tiresome to live downtown and get checked multiple times on one ride because the inspectors don’t seem to go outside of the 5 underground stations along Market Street (with occasional appearances at 2nd Street and Folsom/Harrison platforms for events).

  • Jamie Whitaker

    I don’t understand why there’s a misunderstanding … if you’re out in public, you can be filmed. If the kid were planning to sell the images, I guess that’s another story …. but initially filming shouldn’t be a problem (especially in publicly owned vehicles that alert us we’re being filmed by the government agency).

    I agree with Greg that the inspectors need to spread out onto the bus lines ….. I wrote a letter to the editor of The Examiner a year or two ago praising the inspector program, but mentioning that it is tiresome to live downtown and get checked multiple times on one ride because the inspectors don’t seem to go outside of the 5 underground stations along Market Street (with occasional appearances at 2nd Street and Folsom/Harrison platforms for events).

  • Jamie Whitaker

    Oops … make that 7 stations … I’ve been riding BART with my MUNI Fast Pass more than MUNI lately …. sorry Church and Castro stations …

  • Jamie Whitaker

    Oops … make that 7 stations … I’ve been riding BART with my MUNI Fast Pass more than MUNI lately …. sorry Church and Castro stations …

  • ard.vrk

    So the MUNI Fair Inspector wanted to PERSONALLY sue this person and asked to see his ID so he could get information so he could sue.

    That would be using his official authority for personal gain, which would be misuse of said authority, which is an offense worthy of termination.

    I certainly hope someone brings that up in whatever investigation is proceeding.

  • ard.vrk

    So the MUNI Fair Inspector wanted to PERSONALLY sue this person and asked to see his ID so he could get information so he could sue.

    That would be using his official authority for personal gain, which would be misuse of said authority, which is an offense worthy of termination.

    I certainly hope someone brings that up in whatever investigation is proceeding.

  • ard.vrk

    plug1 confusingly states, “but he shouldnt be provoking a response”.

    If the response is not warranted based on law – then he’s pefectly well within his rights to provoke it – if he knows that in doing so, MUNI will be found (once again) to be the ill-mannered, rude, belligerent bastards that they show themselves to be on a daily basis.

    Provocation – to these cretins – is merely looking at them sideways.

    I say we ALL start filming them and provoke them into an early heart attack.

  • ard.vrk

    plug1 confusingly states, “but he shouldnt be provoking a response”.

    If the response is not warranted based on law – then he’s pefectly well within his rights to provoke it – if he knows that in doing so, MUNI will be found (once again) to be the ill-mannered, rude, belligerent bastards that they show themselves to be on a daily basis.

    Provocation – to these cretins – is merely looking at them sideways.

    I say we ALL start filming them and provoke them into an early heart attack.