SFMTA to add 35 more transit fare inspectors amid financial crisis

SFMTA estimates more than 20% of Muni riders don't pay.

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, April 5, 2024
SFMTA to add 35 transit fare inspectors amid financial crisis
SFMTA says 35 more transit fare inspectors will be added to improve ticket enforcement amid its ongoing financial crisis.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco has the seventh largest transportation system in the country, yet it's struggling financially. The SFMTA board is about to approve a budget that would attempt to close a deficit of $12.7 million over the next two years. One way to get revenue is to improve enforcement.

ABC7 News first told you about Muni riders who don't pay, nearly a year ago. This week, we rode again on a bus.

We found that when boarding from the front of the bus, people were more likely to tap their card, monthly pass or mobile device.

But those getting on from the rear of the bus, were not always paying. Not all. In fact, we saw a few people attempting to do the right thing, but then when they discovered that the reader was not working, they gave up.

And transit fare inspectors are seldom seen.

"It's mostly recently because I haven't seen the fare inspectors on the buses as of lately. I think pre-pandemic you used to see them a lot," said Dave Stevenson, a Muni rider.

MORE: Are Muni customers paying their fares? Here's a detailed look at SFMTA's deep financial crisis

Before the pandemic, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency estimated that 16% of riders got on without paying. Today, they believe that number is north of 20% and that's costing them.

The bulk of their money comes from the general fund, the 35%. Thirty-two percent from revenues like parking fees and transit fares. So doesn't it make sense to go after the fare evaders?

Most Muni riders can relate.

In a survey conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the number one concern expressed by the public was transit fares and evasion.

"Holding everyone accountable, they're supposed to be enforcing the law. I do feel like I'm a sucker for paying because other don't pay," expressed Elliot Quinonez, another Muni rider.

SFMTA is finally doing something to generate more money.

MORE: 25% fewer Muni buses possible as SFMTA faces potential $214 million deficit

"We are not yet at the optimal number of transit fare inspectors when you look at the revenue that they generate on the transit fare compliance side," the director of transportation, Jeffrey Tumlin told the SFMTA boarding during a presentation of their budget proposal.

Thirty-five inspectors will now be added to bring the number back to pre-pandemic levels which should be around 80.

Still, there are those who say believe Muni should be free.

"I'm one of the people who doesn't pay. I work two different jobs, I have no health insurance, my rent is very high. I really cannot afford to spend more money on the bus," said Bridget Clancy, a Muni rider.

There are other ways SFMTA is planning to bring in revenue and close that $12.7 million deficit over the next two years.

The chief financial officer for SFMTA, Bree Mawhorter laid out the plan before the SFMTA board.

MORE: SF parking meter hours to extend under new proposal: Here's why

Fares for Clipper card users will increase from $2.50 to $2.75 the first year and to $2.85 the following year.

The $3 fare will remain the same.

And for car owners:

Parking meter fines will go up, so will residential parking permits and street cleaning tickets will set you back $108.

But the agency's financial woes are far from over.

"During the pandemic, as we all know people stopped moving around. When you're not moving around you're not paying to park and you're not paying to ride transit. As a result, we lost an incredible amount of revenue and thankfully the federal and state government had stepped in to provide relief to transit agencies," added Mawhorter.

By 2026, those funds will run out leaving SFMTA with a projected deficit of $220 million. The state hopes to introduce a ballot measure in 2026 to help support Muni and other transit systems in California.

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