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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Muni Losing Millions on its Fare-Evasion Program?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 2:42 PM

"You're busted, pal. And if you could pay that fine 5.5 times, we'd break even on this deal."

By Joe Eskenazi

A glowing article in the Chronicle boldly states that Muni's beefed-up efforts to nab fare evaders have resulted in far more scofflaws being cited in 2008 than the previous year.

And yet, while the article bandies about many facts and figures, it fails to add them up and ask the most basic question: Is Muni actually losing money due to this effort? Our calls to the agency haven't yet been returned, but the answer appears to be "almost certainly."

According to the story, Muni now has 50 fare inspectors -- as well as seven supervisors -- working the fare-evasion beat. And while these inspectors handed out 26,737 tickets last year, they brought in only $492,232 in revenue and penalty money.

That'll buy a lot of pretzels, but it's not a lot of cash when you consider that fare inspectors earn between $52,858 and $64,272 a year. According to according to Tom DiSanto, the budget manager at the city controller's office, the average inspector's salary is around $54,240. Multiply that by 50 and you've got $2,712,000.

That's five-and-a-half times the ticket revenue right there -- and we haven't even factored in the supervisors. 

All of which begs the question -- if revenues are so tight, what does Muni hope to accomplish by losing millions on this program? Are moral victories involved? Is there some kind of hidden benefit to deterrence -- has this increased enforcement scared more riders into paying up? Do other municipal systems have a fare-evasion system that actually brings in enough revenue to pay for itself? Is the notion that throwing in the towel to fare-evasion could actually be more cost-beneficial than the current attempts to stop it too dire a thought to process?

Like we noted before, our calls to the agency have been placed. Hopefully answers will be presented.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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