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.”
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