While some riders and bus drivers reveled Wednesday in reaction to the news of a Muni sting focusing on tens of thousands who ride for free, the reaction of fare evaders ranged from defiance to respect.
“I almost never pay; it’s just too easy,” said one 17-year-old rider on the 22 Filmore bus who said he’s been dodging fares since 2004 and has only been busted twice. “I don’t think these sting operations are gonna make it any harder. I’ll just hop on whenever I feel like it and get off when the cops are gone.”
Lorenzo Johnson, a 54-year-old Muni rider with two tickets under his belt, said he watched Tuesday’s three-hour Muni sting at 16th and Mission streets. “That was scary!” he said. “That’s what I call a good prevention.”
San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s sting started four weeks ago and so far officers have issued a thousand citations for $75 each.
It’s unclear how many of the citations will be paid, but San Francisco Police Lt. Thomas Shawyer said unpaid tickets go to the police department and become warrants. “We’ll enforce it if they get cited again for something else, but we don’t have the resources to go after everyone,” he said.
Only 10 to 12 police officers ride Muni, which has more than 680,000 passengers a day during the week, according to a 2008 report.
Fare evasion has been rising steadily. In the first three quarters of this fiscal year, the SFMTA reported 30,764 fare evaders compared to 26,737 for all of fiscal 2008.
These figures, however, only reflect those passengers cited, and a 2008 study estimates that anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of passengers fail to pay.
One of those was Renee Walker, who said Tuesday that she has hopped buses without incident. But now that the fine has increased to $75 from $50, and now that the saturation sting is in effect, she said she’ll be less likely to try to ride for free in the future. “I do not want to give them $75,” she said. “But I don’t mind paying the regular fare. Muni deserves it.”
The MTA raised fares in July to $2 and will cut service in October to help deal with a $129 million deficit. If 15 to 30 percent of its riders are escaping the fare, the MTA is losing $200,000 to $450,000 a day.
Drivers said they are unable and ill equipped to do much about defiant riders. “Someone tries to get on without paying, what are we gonna do?” said long-time driver Greg Griffin. “Our job is to drive that coach. We aren’t police officers, we have a tight schedule. We can’t deal with all that.”
Griffin added that most of the violations occur in the morning during rush hour, and that the sting operations have largely been midday. “It’s not just kids, it’s not just homeless, it’s everybody, professionals. Whoever can get away with it, does it.”
Indeed, one woman, a lawyer, said she had just ridden the M14 with an expired transfer.
A station manager at the edge of the Mission District on Church Street railed against students, who she said think that they don’t have to pay. Muni operated a sting at her site, she said, and the passengers “were not happy campers.”
“I think it’s working a little bit but it’s going to take some time to see.”