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Thursday, January 8, 2009

So, Is Muni Losing Millions on its Fare-Evasion Program? Spokesman Says That's a 'Narrow' Way of Thinking

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 8:59 AM

By Joe Eskenazi

Yesterday we noted that, according to numbers Muni provided

and others we crunched, the agency's beefed-up fare-evasion program costs

roughly six times as much to run as the ticket revenue it is generating.

Muni's spokesman, Judson True, got back to us - promptly, he

asked us to note, and it's accurate - and labeled this a "narrow" way of

judging the program's efficacy. The purpose of having a more visible cadre of

fare inspectors is to encourage potential scofflaws to pay up - and never

receive a ticket in the first place. Does he have hard numbers? No. But he does

have numbers. Muni's original projected fare revenue in Fiscal year 2009 -which

commenced on July 1 of 2008 and concludes on June 30 of 2009 - was $144

million. It has now revised its numbers to anticipate $153.3 million.

True is ready to attribute that bulge in anticipated income

to a ridership increase and fare inspectors. Unfortunately, though, he has no statistics

at the moment to back this up. All we can say is that Muni is taking in more

money than it thought it would (and still not nearly enough to make up for its

operating deficit). That being said, it seems reasonable to attribute this,

albeit partially, to fare inspections - but, again, it sure would be nice to

have some more hard indicators to hang our brown Muni hats on and not just

common sense and yearning.

Similarly, True credited fare inspectors for decreased vandalism and crime on the system - but couldn't cite statistics to

back up that crime and vandalism have gone down, let alone that this is due to

fare inspectors.

"I know we've had a decrease in criminal incidents," said

True. And he may well be correct - God hope he is - and it makes sense that

potential criminals would be dissuaded from their plans by the presence of a

man or woman in a uniform. Still, statistics would be nice.

One thing Muni has not done is provide its fare inspectors

with some sort of a ticket quota. One of the commenters on my original piece

extrapolated the 26,000 and change tickets Muni handed out last year via 50

inspectors working roughly 250 days a year and was miffed that this only came

out to around two tickets per day for each inspector. Truth be told, it's more

complicated than that. True notes that they didn't have 50 inspectors until

quite recently, and it's not as if every inspector is working every day  - though Tom DiSanto, the budget manager at

the city controller's office, told us that 99 different Muni employees were

fare inspectors at some time in 2008. Either way, it's clear that inspectors

aren't handing out tickets like beads on Mardi Gras.

Again, there are a number of reasons for this - in some

cases, inspectors are placed outside a train or a bus, which ensures that fare

evaders never even enter. And Muni is all too aware of the futility of handing

a $50 ticket to someone who couldn't afford a $1.50 fare. And, truth be told,

San Franciscans can sometimes be surly when told they're doing something wrong

and handing out tickets gets time-consuming.

True said Muni does not know how many fare evaders are on

the average train or bus or what percentage of its potential revenue it is

losing. This, it seems, would be helpful - especially when indicating whether

fare inspection is cost-beneficial.

And, finally, the spokesman noted that Muni

is working to develop statistical indicators it can use to

determine success or failure - in short, they're learning how to make this work

on the go. Based upon one's confidence in Muni's leadership, that's either a

cheering or a damning notion.

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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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