As the Muni 14 Mission bus heaved to a stop on the corner of Mission and 16th streets today, at least a half-dozen passengers stepped into a chaotic scene of angry riders, amused spectators and dozens of police officers waiting to write them a $75 ticket.

“I just hopped on for a short ride,” said one 17-year-old offender.

“I’ve never hopped a bus in my life,” said Tajmonique Westbrooke. “I just lost my transfer.”

No matter.  Both walked away with a citation for $75, caught in the  MTA sting to stop fare evading and increase city revenues.

“We’re calling it ‘the Saturation,’ said Security and Transit Fare Inspection Manager Robert Wolfgang. “It’s an attempt to send a message to people who think they can just hop on and hop off without paying.”

Wolfgang said they would work in two-hour intervals, but one spectator said the police had been there since 10 a.m. and they were still there at 1 p.m.

“The Saturation” is an expansion of MTA’s former strategy, which relied on pairs of officers patrolling random buses for nonpaying riders. For an indefinite period, the MTA will crack down on fare beaters by employing both methods at different locations throughout the city.

Earlier in the day three people were arrested and taken away by police. “Two of them were drunk and just giving the cops a hard time,” said spectator Gary Hanke, “but the last one had a counterfeit pass and they arrested her for it.”

A spectator sport. (Heather Duthie)

Wolfgang said the corner of Mission and 16th was chosen because it’s a heavily trafficked intersection with three lines ⎯ the 14, the 49 and the 33 ⎯ running through it.

James Maher, a rider who has lived in the city for 66 years, said he had never seen anything like it. He welcomed the sting and described the corner as “very loose” and full of “scofflaws.”

Muni rider Felecia Haywood agreed. “People sneak on the back of the bus all the time,” she said. “They take seats from people who follow the law and pay. It’s not fair.”

Haywood added that at a time when budgets are being cut and layoffs are happening, she supports the cities efforts to bring in revenue “by any means necessary.”

Based on citations, the MTA estimates that 15 to 30 percent of its riders are fare evaders; that’s anywhere from $206,000 to $452,000 a day in lost revenue.

Not everyone saw “the Saturation” through the same altruistic lens. “One of the reasons they picked this corner is because there’s a lot of poor people here, people who might not have two bucks for bus fare,” said one witness. “The city’s got bills, bro, and they’ve always made money off poor people.”

Despite the number of tickets issued today — nearly half a dozen or so with every bus that pulled up — the sting was fairly uneventful. A small crowd of elderly wheelchair-bound gentlemen watched the spectacle from under nearby trees, chatting with the occasional passerby and officer about the operation.

According to Wolfgang, tomorrow’s saturation will be during the day in the subway, and the next will be out in the avenues.

Related stories: 24 Hours On the 14. July 8, 2009

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

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  1. I just moved to San Francisco 4 days ago… I got on the number 38 bus and tried to pay up front. The bus driver noticed my expired transfer in my hand and shooed me back into the bus. A worker came on then and slapped me with a $75 fine. Why the HELL aren’t the bus drivers looking at transfers… and how am I supposed to know this crap. I assumed that since the bus driver shooed me on that it was ok…

    It’s a stupid system here in SF, where the buses/drivers let anyone on with out paying… there’s where the flaw lies. And I’m paying for that unique public transit flaw. Now I know how it works…. and am thoroughly unimpressed. Compared to Los Angeles, NYC, London, and DC… the system here for keeping track of it’s passengers is pretty pathetic. But atleast now, $75 later… I know it’s pathetic. Welcome to SF! Great bus lines… absentminded system.

  2. It is about time that the city cracks down. Poverty is an excuse. Being under the poverty line myself I still find a way to afford a muni pass. Although mine does not, some employers will reimburse a certain percentage of your transportation costs. When I am confronted with nonsense on the bus from people who have obviously not paid their way it makes me fuming mad. This includes witnessing the elderly and young alike being harassed with out any step in from a muni driver. Taggers that have ruined perfectly good white shirts that I may barely afford for work. And forget the smell and stains on my hands! After a long day of hard work the last thing I want is to have to stand for a good hour on the bus while it is taken over from ignorant individuals that continue to curse and harass other passengers. The city should spend more on funding for these patrols. I fully support this move and hope to see a change in the quality of San Francisco’s transportation.

  3. Let’s get real here folks. You think Muni is losing a ton of money off its lines that run through the Mission? They may claim not to intentionally target poor people, but why do a sting in the Mission where ridership is no where near the levels as in downtown? If they really want to start enforcing fare evasion, they need to do a better job with their bread-and-butter…the Muni trains. Those trains, especially during Giants games, fill up a whole of a lot more frequently than bus rides through the Mission. More frequently than not, those riders don’t pay either. I have seen some fare enforcement officers at Muni train stops, but they need to be more consistent especially on game days. Enforce payment on the N, J, K, L lines and even the F Market, then you’ll start seeing some increased revenue.

  4. Absolutely, WAY TO GO, MUNI! The Mission is ridiculous, I’ve boarded buses there where only a slim number of the hordes getting on actually paid or flashed a Pass. Hire more agents for this type of work, it’s way overdue.

    I think they should get entrepreneurial — the fine should be more, but why not offer a $100 fine that includes a Fast Pass for the next month. Get proactive!

  5. I will start off by saying I have bought a MUNI pass every month for the past 3 years even though I am in dire financial straits and in constant danger of losing my job on campus due to budget cuts. Being poor gives you a completely different outlook on life, one that well off professionals who break the rules to suit their greed/laziness/whatever would benefit from.

    Making less money means expenses like food and transportation consume a larger proportion of your total income. Leaving less for rent and usually nothing for creature comforts. It’s a hard decision to make for some who avoid paying, it could mean not eating a meal to pay fare, or skipping a grocery trip or heating bill to buy a (now more expensive) pass. These factors weigh on the minds of those you lambaste for jumping on the back of the bus. Not all people are in this situation, but a large enough population to be considered by the government officials who represent us.

    Ideologically criminalizing all poor people who may or may not evade fare is going to do nothing for goodwill between humankind in this fair city.

    I feel for the people getting slapped with this enormous also recently inflated fine for making a bad decision and they should take responsibility for their actions but should also have the ability to be heard by a judge for decreased fines etc.. However, from the barely treading the turbulent waters of the awful economy point of view, discounts for people who aren’t completely homeless don’t exist for BART or MUNI. It would be nice if their was sliding scale passes for broke students and minimum wage earners. Though services like that won’t be instituted because they decrease the profit from fare, require reorganization of petrified bureaucratic processes and probably a pay cut for MUNI execs. It’s easier to just target and fine the poor, and expect them to pony up the money after threats of increased fines and arrest warrants that could ruin your life when you are already down instead of coming up with creative solutions to help people back up. It’s also easier for the government to build prisons then help support the state’s university system.

    But what is easier is not always ethically and morally best.

  6. Glad to hear that this operation is in effect. The majority of the people in the bus that cause problems (harassment, robbery, etc.) are the ones that don’t pay the fare. Aside from the buses mentioned, the 19 Polk bus needs to be targeted….that bus is horrible.

  7. About time City Hall did something about this problem. I’m no longer taking a chance and try to ride for free. I’m buying my fast pass for Sept. I noticed that these officers are not armed and their uniform is different. Are they the police or are they something else? Now I wish they do something about the rowdy kids when school lets out and the drunks at night.

  8. A lot of haters here. But remember that the government already pays 80-90% of the cost of your ride. If they made MUNI free to everyone (not just for the special few who ride free today) there would be no need to waste taxpayer dollars on stings, no delays from fare collection *and* you’d get money back in your pocket.

  9. As long as the people issuing tickets are earning the city at least 25% more than they cost us in salary, get more of them!

  10. What happens when the riders will not pay the fine? Is Muni authorized to collect the dues with all means or will they be set free?

    Keep up the good work Muni!

  11. Why isn’t Muni targeting the landlords of all those downtown skyscrapers, office buildings and hotels who pay next-to-nothing for the privilege of having Muni deliver workers and customers to their doors? Without Muni their properties would be empty and useless architectural monuments to the glory of what was the City by the Bay. Set up a sting at the offices of Shorenstein and Company… I thought Muni defeated the fare strike way back in 2005 –… Since Newsom became Mayor, Muni fares and the cost of fast passes have DOUBLED…

  12. Screw MUNI.
    First off figure out a way to make change on the bus… You want people to pay make it easy.. Exact change is a lot of bull. If your downtown and you need change for a $5 to get on MUNI then you have to buy something somewhere.. The banks won’t give you ones out of the machine, so figure it out MUNI..

    I find it interesting that these crackdowns come on the heels of three major incidents involving MUNI crashes. The fairs are high, the drivers rude, and most of them drive like they own the road…

    Take advantage of the system if you can people, Hop the turn-style, Get on the back of the bus! We shouldn’t have to put up with shoty systems and constant fair raising because of some bureaucratic morons!! And remember the MUNI Executives who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year…

    Here are a couple of threads on MUNI Executive salaries…

  13. ““wheelchair bound” is offensive to both the users and the readers. people with disabilities are exactly that: people WITH disabilities. if you want to indicate that a person uses a wheelchair, describe them as elderly men in wheelchairs. wheelchair bound implies they are trapped by both the chair and the disability, neither of which is true.”‘.

    As a WHEELCHAIR BOUND Paraplegic I just want everyone to know this hypersensitive dickweed does NOT speak for me. I actually have a good full life so I don’t have time to obsess over the hidden meanings of terms which are associated with my physical condition or method of mobility. I would advise “people who use wheelchairs are not bound” to get a life of his/her/its own but that ain’t likely to happen anytime soon so I won’t waste my breath.

  14. Poor areas my ass. I ride MUNI from Caltrain every day to Embarcedero station. For weeks they were targeting professional (not poor!) pennisula financial district commuters like me. They even set up a sting on the N stop right at Caltrain (and NOT at the T stop across the street which comes from “poor” Sunnydale).

    Cheats are across the socio-economic spectrum!

  15. MUNI offers plenty of discounts for “poor” people, including the Lifeline pass. If you’re here to get social services, they can explain the procedures on how to get one of these extremely discounted passes.

  16. It can only work if the courts (judges, etc.) are brought into the loop and told how serious the matter is, when someone appeals to court about any of these tickets. Of course, the judges should listen to each appeal, but the judges must be encouraged to take these tickets seriously and not see them as some kind of jaywalking tickets or other minor infractions, such as failing to mow your lawn (if there is such an ordinance).
    Judges of Philadelphia’s Municipal court, where people go when appealing charges for putting graffitti on transit vehicles and property, take such charges seriously, with beneficial results for the transit agency and for other governmental and private property interests.
    I should think that if word goes out that San Francisco courts that hear appeals about these tickets are dismissing most such appeals, the word on the street will be to take your chance and ride without payment.

  17. Farebox revenue is only a small fraction of MUNI operating funds. Most agencies hover around 15%-20%. I think the money gained from sting operations is very small compared to the delay created by 40 people boarding through one door with crinkly $1 bills.

    Im all for the stings however, because it is one step closer to a MUNI wide proof of payment system, that would allow all door boarding. This drastically fix the bloated dwell times muni has, and increase average bus speeds, saving millions of dollars. You only need to search this blog to see time=money.

  18. Wow according though the bright minds here the poor should have a valid card to break the laws. NOT!!! Muni is not a free service. If muni starts losing money then that means fairs will go up for those who are honest enough to pay for their bus ride. Higher fairs effect honest poor people more then the dishonest scum who believe they are entitled to do as they please and use the excuse of being “poor”. How many of those “poor” people have cell phones and the latest kicks, gold fronts on their teeth, fancy expensive permed hair??

  19. I would like to see those folks carted off to jail straight away just like they do in Europe – then assign them to work gangs scrubbing, sweeping, carting off crap from the many street corners of this wonderful CITY. I don’t care if the guys pass is 10 minutes expired, off with their head!

  20. MUNI is so awfully corrupt and grubbing for money.
    Maybe they should stop crashing expensive trains, it might save a few bucks for everyone.

  21. Its about time they moved out of the subway tunnels and onto the street. I pay for my pass every month. Why should these people ride for free? I’ve attempted to get off the 14 or 49 and have to fight through the people hopping on for free at a back door. I’ve used the back door myself with a long line at the front but I have my pass!

  22. The hipster “bro” complaining about the location of the sting needs to can it. I myself am poor, being a student living on loans prepping for grad school. Guess what? I still pay my MUNI fares, you know why? Because I too care about people who are less well off than me, such as MUNI drivers. If you don’t pay you’re fares the system can’t afford to employ people.

    Furthermore, another good reason to pay fares? Increased service, I’ll bet this same hipster they interviewed there complains every time his skinny jeans smell like bum-piss because we can’t afford to maintenance the buses.

    To the anonymous guy that hates muni because he got busted for using an hour expired transfer for a 40 minute ride, you realize that means it was expired when you got on, right? I’ve tossed my transfer before because I didn’t see cops on the platform, only to find they were there and guess what? They were very nice and allowed me to pull my transfer out of the trash and show it to them. Excuses are like butt-holes man, every buddies got one and they all stink.

  23. Well, risk a $2 fare vs a $75 fine. Weigh how many Transit officers compared to boarding passengers on any given bus……I think too many thought the same I’m a wall flower or ninja. I can’t be seen. It’s about time. Maybe next the folks that abuse the handicap placards.

  24. Has anyone ever noticed it’s around the BART stations that people often avoid paying fares? It sucks to have to pay for BART first using all your change, then find out you have no coins left to pay for MUNI — I think raising the fare to $2, although annoying, makes it slightly easier to give “exact change” as required per MUNI machines.

    … I’ve seen my friends warned time and time again when they have transfers that are about to expire. The “police” always remind them to walk to the front of the bus and buy a new transfer if necessary (especially on those ballgame days, when they’ve started checking whether transfers are valid)

  25. ha! im going to continue pushing the envelope, evading fares in the name of communism and victory! let them try to bust me dammit, all you do-gooders complaining about paying my fare can go to heck! i make over 70K a year and i’ll still evade your silly fares! muni be durned! ps continue busting the poor people because you’ll never think my shirt and tie mean im evasive! ha! take that profilers!

  26. “wheelchair bound” is offensive to both the users and the readers. people with disabilities are exactly that: people WITH disabilities. if you want to indicate that a person uses a wheelchair, describe them as elderly men in wheelchairs. wheelchair bound implies they are trapped by both the chair and the disability, neither of which is true.

  27. I love reading all the excuses people have for being dishonest creeps. What they can’t seem to get through their pea-brains is that if nobody pays for Muni, there won’t be Muni. And those of us who do pay are tired of subsidizing their sorry asses. So now they “hate Muni”. Good. Maybe they won’t be pushing their way aboard and grabbing the only seats while I’m in line up front paying.

    Sometimes I think San Francisco is doomed, what with all the entitled-feeling freeloaders, laws-don’t-apply-to-me types and freaks. If they all stay off the bus now, maybe I can get a seat.

  28. I agree with the people in the article that said MUNI is targeting poorer and less affluent areas. Let’s see some enforcement near Russian Hill or Nob Hill.

  29. I too see this fare evading occurring daily! I’m all for any step up efforts to rid the violators. Of any civil service position is more needed, hire more Transit Fare Inspectors. Worth their weight in gold! Stings should not be only temporary. But more frequent when possible. I’m all for it! To the dufus few who lose their transfers, how much does the damn thing weigh? Less then an ounce! Keep it in your pockets fool!

  30. This is WAY OVERDUE! And you can bet that the majority of problems on Muni are created by those that don’t pay their fares. Time to throw the bums and gangbangers under the bus!

  31. There are actually more bus lines running through that intersection than the ones mentioned: the 22 and 53 (if not more). I was on the 22 yesterday and watched with whole-hearted satisfaction as several riders were fined. Agreed: GO MUNI!!!

  32. Just like the city’s take on parking citations (eg. double parking), I’m sure Muni will turn a blind eye to the fare evasion in China Town. The 12 is notorious for fare evasion in that side of town but no one seems to care. For some reason China Town is always granted immunity while other parts of town are always targeted and fined.

  33. They got me at Powell station for “expired transfer”. Somehow agent thought a 40 minute ride should magically only take 10 minutes. It’s total BS. I’m contesting it. My transfer was expired by less than an hour! Total crap. I hate MUNI even more now.

  34. I could name so many other intersections where MTA should be checking, it’s not even funny. I’m sick of paying higher fares for other people.

    Maybe we should put DPT on the bus…

  35. The mission is the worst for this sort of thing. For many, many years I’ve witnessed whole crowds of people getting on the (14, 47, 49 67 etc.) buses without paying.

    As the MUNI operator have ceased giving a crap about, part of their job description, collecting fares people stop paying them. It really doesn’t make those of us, some poorer some better off, who buy our fast passes every month feel good about playing by the rules. I wholeheartedly applaud this action on the part of MUNI, it nice to see, and at least a decade over do.

  36. The city’s got bills, bro, because they provide this bus service below cost to the people. Some of those people aren’t even shouldering the minimal cost asked of them. The city isn’t making any money here, just trying to defray some of the costs. What isn’t paid for by the riders is paid for in taxes, bro.

    This guy should be thankful that there is such a good public transportation nexus in a “poor” area. He needs to look at things from a new perspective – his old one is tired and useless.

  37. I was on a 14 Mission 2 weeks ago with 2 uniformed officers and 2 street-clothes staffers “discouraging” fare cheats. You never SAW such a happy cheerful crowd on that bus as the honest folks watching the cheats get their due. Notwithstanding a few whiners blethering on about “poor people,” the HUGE majority of Muni users, ESPECIALLY those who don’t have much money and still pay their fare honestly, are really pleased with this initiative. GO MUNI!

  38. Nope, four lines go through that corner; you forgot the unforgettable 22-Fillmore.
    I’m not mistaken, the 53 runs from there to Potrero Hill.

  39. I think it’s great to beat the poop out of the people that sneak onto the bus, why should we pay $2.00 for shitty service and late & dirty trains, and the fact that fare evadors always are on the bus or train I see it each day and the drug dealings as well, comeon where’s the afare evador there’s going to be graffitti or so,e type of crime

  40. “One of the reasons they picked this corner is because there’s a lot of poor people here, people who might not have two bucks for bus fare.” said one witness. “The city’s got bills, bro and they’ve always made money off poor people.”


    What a load of crap. By SF standards, I barely earn a salary above poverty level and I have not once taken advantage of MUNI by not paying – even as the the fares have increased exponentially. These ‘poor’ people whose unjust persecution that this person is bemoaning are beyond wealthy in terms of their senses of entitlement and they do nothing but make other people who choose to play fair pay in a very real way for a kindergarten mentality.

    $75 isn’t nearly enough.

  41. In Europe they don’t issue tickets, they fine you on the spot. Can’t pay the fine (which is about $150 – at least in Vienna)? Off to jail.