muni_generic.jpgSan Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff presented a proposal this afternoon to make sweeping changes to the way transit riders can board Muni vehicles.

Director of transit operations John Haley made the overview presentation discussing system-wide implementation of all-door boarding to the SFMTA board.

Currently San Francisco Municipal Railway light-rail vehicles allow all-door boarding, but passengers must board through the front door on buses and streetcars, regardless of whether they are paying with cash or tapping their Clipper cards.

The changes are expected to reduce travel times across the system Muni vehicles currently move at an average speed of 8 mph–save the agency money, and improve service reliability, according to the SFMTA.

The agency has also said that reducing boarding time is the best low-cost alternative available for reducing transit time.

All-door boarding would allow passengers paying with Clipper to board through any door.

Riders paying with cash would continue to be required to enter through the front door, pay the operator directly and receive a transfer as proof of payment.

Muni policy does not currently allow rear-door boarding, but the agency said that it has piloted rear-door boarding on buses traveling along Van Ness Avenue.

The proposal received a warm reception from members of the board, who stressed that the cash-strapped agency needs to explore this idea further in order to implement it as quickly as possible.

Board director Joel Ramos said that he has been dreaming about such a plan because “it feels like we’re just burning money.”

“I don’t think that we have the luxury to delay this anymore than we have to,” Ramos said.

Director Cheryl Brinkman noted that the change could benefit both riders and the agency. “It’s not solely about speeding it up,” she said. “It’s about saving us money.”

SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin stressed the importance of educating riders about the changes and of ensuring fare enforcement is conducted consistently and effectively.

Reiskin said that the agency does not want to inadvertently “send a message that Muni is pretty much free.”

Although the details of the proposal still have to be explored by agency staff, changes to the number of fare inspection agents and where and how they are deployed would be in store, Haley said.

Board directors and Reiskin were sensitive to criticism and allegations that fare enforcement targets minorities or certain neighborhoods where fare evasion is supposedly more problematic than in others.

Reiskin noted that the agency should strive to explain the how and why of the “robust” fare evasion program that would need to be implemented to ensure that the all-door policy does not become an all-free policy.

Board directors also suggested that the implementation of all-door boarding would be a way to move toward a zero-cash system, one where all passengers would be required to pre-pay fares using Clipper cards.

“We’re being held hostage on account of a few folks,” Ramos said of riders who pay with cash, which requires more time and attention from Muni operators.

According to the agency, about 12 to 15 percent of Muni riders pay their fares with cash.
“We’ve gotta get prepaid fare instruments into people’s hands,” Haley said.

The San Francisco Transit Riders Union’s Mario Tanev, the organization’s all-door boarding campaign coordinator, said the cash-strapped agency cannot afford not to make the changes.

“When a bus is slow and late, it costs the agency money,” Tanev said in a statement today. “Muni can’t afford it, and the riders don’t deserve slow buses. All-door boarding will both save money and ensure quicker trips.”

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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