money.jpgAgency collects 60 percent of fare evasion tickets, pays $3.6 million to collect $900,000

3 out of 5 will get you into the Hall of Fame, but it won’t earn the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency much respect. Muni’s fare inspectors — those “Fastpasstransfers” folks — dole out 150 tickets a day, according to a media estimate, but only 60 percent of those scofflaws actually pay their tickets, Muni officials admitted Thursday.

The city had 50 fare inspectors as of January 2009, who earn $35 an hour. This adds up to about $3.6 million a year. The agency collects $900,000 a year in fare evasion penalties, officials said Thursday, and has no metric to determine whether or not the fare inspection program encourages riders to pay up.

Those $75 tickets don’t carry any criminal penalties or other ways to “incentivize” folks to mail in their hard-earned money, said James Dougherty, Muni’s safety chief, whose inspection program underwent an audit, results of which were discussed at City Hall on Thursday. Unlike with traffic tickets, those who don’t pay don’t end up in court or with an extra fee tacked onto, say, their vehicle registration or anything else. If Muni were to ramp up its collection efforts, the cost of recovering the fees would be greater than the cost of the tickets, Dougherty said.

Oddly, juveniles who receive tickets enter the criminal system and ergo are more likely to pay up, Dougherty said. Young folk only receive about four percent of the fare evasion tickets but enter the criminal, not civil system because of a wrinkle in state law.
60 percent is about average for transit agencies. But is the city truly losing $2.7 million on the program? Well, the agency doesn’t know, Dougherty admits, but said it’d look into it (one hopes, before Dougherty departs for a new job in Washington, DC).

In the meantime, Muni officials openly admit they’d like to get more fare evaders to pay their tickets, but have a hard time when they “have read that they can get away with riding for free,” Dougherty said. “We’re trying to take that impression away.”


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