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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  • Xenu

    I don’t get it. Can’t they send unpaid citations to a collections agency?

  • Xenu

    I don’t get it. Can’t they send unpaid citations to a collections agency?

  • Wil

    50 inspectors = 150 tickets a day? So on average it takes almost 3 hours for them to spot a violator and write a ticket? That seems way off. I’ve *never* been on a train where they’ve come through and not found someone who didn’t have a pass or transfer. Takes 2 minutes between stops, plus maybe 10 minutes to actually write the ticket. Granted, there are two inspectors involved, but sometimes they catch multiple violators. Where is the rest of their time going?

    And agree with the prior comment about using a collection agency. Or the existing collection mechanisms the MTA already has in place for parking tickets. I realize that less duplication of effort may mean fewer folks earning $35/hour, but…

  • Wil

    50 inspectors = 150 tickets a day? So on average it takes almost 3 hours for them to spot a violator and write a ticket? That seems way off. I’ve *never* been on a train where they’ve come through and not found someone who didn’t have a pass or transfer. Takes 2 minutes between stops, plus maybe 10 minutes to actually write the ticket. Granted, there are two inspectors involved, but sometimes they catch multiple violators. Where is the rest of their time going?

    And agree with the prior comment about using a collection agency. Or the existing collection mechanisms the MTA already has in place for parking tickets. I realize that less duplication of effort may mean fewer folks earning $35/hour, but…

  • Rick

    we are paying $73K/year to each fare inspector?

    amazement.

    let’s take a third of them and put them on collections.

    after all, those scofflaws riding muni must live close enough for a home visit by a fare inspector.

  • Rick

    we are paying $73K/year to each fare inspector?

    amazement.

    let’s take a third of them and put them on collections.

    after all, those scofflaws riding muni must live close enough for a home visit by a fare inspector.

  • Burgos

    This isn’t the only agency that’s bleeding money, or rather not making as much as it can: Have you tried calling DPT lately? They’ve changed the answering system and now they include plenty of inane blah-blah-blah before routing your call to a phone that is rarely answered. I guess they’ve reduced the number of agents and the ones that remain are either over-worked or under-motivated to answer calls – – – revenue that the city is losing.

  • Burgos

    This isn’t the only agency that’s bleeding money, or rather not making as much as it can: Have you tried calling DPT lately? They’ve changed the answering system and now they include plenty of inane blah-blah-blah before routing your call to a phone that is rarely answered. I guess they’ve reduced the number of agents and the ones that remain are either over-worked or under-motivated to answer calls – – – revenue that the city is losing.

  • Alex Zepeda

    So how are they supposed to collect the fines if they can’t even compel someone to give identification? The pop cops ought to be done away with outright. Fare enforcement should be handled by SFPD and the tickets criminalized.

  • Alex Zepeda

    So how are they supposed to collect the fines if they can’t even compel someone to give identification? The pop cops ought to be done away with outright. Fare enforcement should be handled by SFPD and the tickets criminalized.

  • Akit

    Originally, the city did criminalize the citations as they were considered traffic violations and people were required to show-up to the Hall of Justice to contest it. The city realized it was a waste of people’s time and the taxpayer’s time to have court hearings over a fare evasion ticket so they moved it to the other process where it’s treated like a parking ticket. Hearings are instead heard at the SFMTA customer service center in front of a representative; but people can still challenge it in court if denied.

  • Akit

    Originally, the city did criminalize the citations as they were considered traffic violations and people were required to show-up to the Hall of Justice to contest it. The city realized it was a waste of people’s time and the taxpayer’s time to have court hearings over a fare evasion ticket so they moved it to the other process where it’s treated like a parking ticket. Hearings are instead heard at the SFMTA customer service center in front of a representative; but people can still challenge it in court if denied.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Yeah. I remember that as I actually did get a citation before it was decriminalized. The problem with treating a fare evasion ticket as a parking ticket is that there are no consequences. With a parking ticket it’ll end up as an additional fee on your vehicle registration after a long enough period of time. With enough parking tickets your car will get booted and towed. If you don’t have valid identification on your car, it can be towed and you can be fined.

    If the POP stuff is expected to work, whomever is doing the fare inspection needs to have *some* power.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Yeah. I remember that as I actually did get a citation before it was decriminalized. The problem with treating a fare evasion ticket as a parking ticket is that there are no consequences. With a parking ticket it’ll end up as an additional fee on your vehicle registration after a long enough period of time. With enough parking tickets your car will get booted and towed. If you don’t have valid identification on your car, it can be towed and you can be fined.

    If the POP stuff is expected to work, whomever is doing the fare inspection needs to have *some* power.

  • bloomsm

    After reading this post and the SFGate post on the same topic, I think SFGate missed the issue completely.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/cityinsider/detail?blogid=55&entry_id=59951

    SFGate reports fare evasion is “on the decline” although “just 60 percent of the fines are actually collected.” The post then goes on to cite positive changes to increasing fare enforcement, while totally ignoring the issue raised by the Appeal–lack of an effective enforcement process due to legal issues. Where’s the city attorney on this issue? Oh, right, running for Mayor…..

  • bloomsm

    After reading this post and the SFGate post on the same topic, I think SFGate missed the issue completely.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/cityinsider/detail?blogid=55&entry_id=59951

    SFGate reports fare evasion is “on the decline” although “just 60 percent of the fines are actually collected.” The post then goes on to cite positive changes to increasing fare enforcement, while totally ignoring the issue raised by the Appeal–lack of an effective enforcement process due to legal issues. Where’s the city attorney on this issue? Oh, right, running for Mayor…..

  • Karl

    I happened to come across the meeting on sfgov TV.

    Two comments from my recollection:
    The presentation showed they collect $1.7m annually. $900K was a number of years prior.
    Still falls short but fare inspectors are needed as a deterrent.

    As the deputy police chief eluded to, it would probably help if fare evasion was elevated to a criminal offense as is the case in other places. In line with SF values, fare evasion is decriminalized now, so the leverage’s gone.

  • Karl

    I happened to come across the meeting on sfgov TV.

    Two comments from my recollection:
    The presentation showed they collect $1.7m annually. $900K was a number of years prior.
    Still falls short but fare inspectors are needed as a deterrent.

    As the deputy police chief eluded to, it would probably help if fare evasion was elevated to a criminal offense as is the case in other places. In line with SF values, fare evasion is decriminalized now, so the leverage’s gone.

  • Greg Dewar

    Ahem…comparing the salaries/fines as a way of judging the system makes for easy copy, but it isn’t completely accurate.

    Part of the goal of the fare inspectors is issuing fines for scofflaws, yes. But it is also designed to increase the overall collection of fares thus increasing the amount of money collected at the bus/train/whatever.

    The problem is, of course, there’s no line items to really compare, so people just go with the ratio, because it makes it easier to write.

  • Greg Dewar

    Ahem…comparing the salaries/fines as a way of judging the system makes for easy copy, but it isn’t completely accurate.

    Part of the goal of the fare inspectors is issuing fines for scofflaws, yes. But it is also designed to increase the overall collection of fares thus increasing the amount of money collected at the bus/train/whatever.

    The problem is, of course, there’s no line items to really compare, so people just go with the ratio, because it makes it easier to write.

  • Eve Batey

    Of course I disagree with your damning remarks, Greg, regarding the quality of Chris’ reporting (and my editing), as well as your implication that we took the easy way out.

    As noted in the piece, Dougherty admitted in the meeting that the MTA had “no metric to determine whether or not the fare inspection program encourages riders to pay up.”

    And that’s accurate — I was watching the meeting, too. Chu asked Dougherty if they had any statistics on the deterrence factor, and he admitted they did not. He did not go on to say something like “but I’m sure they do deter evaders” or anything of the kind — and Chu gave him opportunity to speculate, an opportunity he did not take.

    If the MTA is refusing to even make estimates on any deterrent factor related to a fare inspection program, but we did, now, THAT would be inaccurate.

    So, no, the story isn’t written this way because it’s “easier to write,” and we stand by its accuracy.

  • Eve Batey

    Of course I disagree with your damning remarks, Greg, regarding the quality of Chris’ reporting (and my editing), as well as your implication that we took the easy way out.

    As noted in the piece, Dougherty admitted in the meeting that the MTA had “no metric to determine whether or not the fare inspection program encourages riders to pay up.”

    And that’s accurate — I was watching the meeting, too. Chu asked Dougherty if they had any statistics on the deterrence factor, and he admitted they did not. He did not go on to say something like “but I’m sure they do deter evaders” or anything of the kind — and Chu gave him opportunity to speculate, an opportunity he did not take.

    If the MTA is refusing to even make estimates on any deterrent factor related to a fare inspection program, but we did, now, THAT would be inaccurate.

    So, no, the story isn’t written this way because it’s “easier to write,” and we stand by its accuracy.

  • Belgand

    That is an absolutely insane salary to pay these people. Especially to perform such a simple task and with doing, what is generally agreed to be, a poor job of it.

    My girlfriend only makes 2/3rd as much as they do working a white-collar job for a major company. I have two bachelor’s degrees in hard science and I can’t even find a job. The only possible explanation I can have is that they’re covered as part of a union and, as city government repeatedly refuses to stand up to unions, they’re paid a ludicrously inflated salary as a result.

    This sort of job ought to be paying minimum wage, max. It’s not like we’re afraid that we won’t be attracting the top talent or that we’re desperately in need of people to fill the open positions. Yes, there’s a high cost of living here, but when you’re staffing a job that can be done by a high school drop-out — and could be easily eliminated by a few policy changes and some simple machines — this salary is well above the level that our tax money should be paying. Especially with the massive cuts in service and increases in fares.

  • Belgand

    That is an absolutely insane salary to pay these people. Especially to perform such a simple task and with doing, what is generally agreed to be, a poor job of it.

    My girlfriend only makes 2/3rd as much as they do working a white-collar job for a major company. I have two bachelor’s degrees in hard science and I can’t even find a job. The only possible explanation I can have is that they’re covered as part of a union and, as city government repeatedly refuses to stand up to unions, they’re paid a ludicrously inflated salary as a result.

    This sort of job ought to be paying minimum wage, max. It’s not like we’re afraid that we won’t be attracting the top talent or that we’re desperately in need of people to fill the open positions. Yes, there’s a high cost of living here, but when you’re staffing a job that can be done by a high school drop-out — and could be easily eliminated by a few policy changes and some simple machines — this salary is well above the level that our tax money should be paying. Especially with the massive cuts in service and increases in fares.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Yeah, well, how much prevention will pop cops provide if the general public knows that they’ve got no teeth? If you’re of the mindset to not pay for public transportation, are you really going to sweat getting a ticket by an officer who can’t even compel you to show valid ID? Yeah… I think not.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Yeah, well, how much prevention will pop cops provide if the general public knows that they’ve got no teeth? If you’re of the mindset to not pay for public transportation, are you really going to sweat getting a ticket by an officer who can’t even compel you to show valid ID? Yeah… I think not.

  • Boise State
    • http://scorcher.org/ Jym Dyer

      What tune should I sing it to? The text doesn’t scan very well.

  • http://turbulencex.org Nicholas Littlejohn

    Better to just make transit free or at least look the other way when poor people can’t pay.

  • JMR

    The people who will take advantage of not paying just because they can get away with not paying are not the ones that simply can’t afford it, but the ones who enjoy finding ways to ‘stick it to The Man,’ etc. The spreading of this information will cause more people to not pay, which will likely cause fares go even higher to make up for the people avoiding/refusing to pay, which will make more people find it difficult or impossible to cover the costs of riding, until it likely becomes an unsustainable system and simply shuts down leaving a much smaller public transit system that is much less useful.

    • taryn

      you have obviously never ridden muni.

      • JMR

        I have, I do, and I sometimes can’t afford to pay.

        Public services cost money, someone(s) have to foot the bill. If we aren’t paying it at point of service we will pay it via increased taxes. If people find ways to avoid/minimize their taxes, programs don’t get funded and we don’t have public services.

  • marcos

    Transit should be fare-free, provided as a public utility.

  • njudah

    once again, the media engages in this bogus “bounty” equation re: fare enforcement. The point of fare enforcement isn’t to issue tickets – it’s to get people to pay their fares. If you have 50 fare inspectors and no tickets because everyone is paying, they’re doing it right, as the Lolcats say. 100% fare collection at the farebox > tickets.

  • Seymour Butz

    I overheard a SFPD officer tell a Fare Evasion ticket recipient that if
    she doesn’t pay, there will be a warrant out for their arrest. 100%
    bullshit. Now they’re using intimidation tactics to force us to pay?
    Fuck that. DON’T PAY THE FINE! The tickets are decriminalized anyway.