Apr 16, 2024 - Transit

How the city plans to tackle Muni fare evasion

someone signs a booklet

A Muni rider signs a citation for not having proof of payment. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco's transit agency is considering a plan to increase the number of fare inspectors on Muni buses and trains to ensure riders are paying fares.

Why it matters: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) must address fare evasion as a condition of receiving about $309 million in much-needed state transit subsidies.

Driving the news: SFMTA's board of directors is expected to decide Tuesday whether to approve a new two-year budget that includes the addition of 35 transit fare inspectors, SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato told Axios.

  • The budget would enable the SFMTA to double the number of fare inspectors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Context: Fare evasion has gone up significantly in recent years. This year, SFMTA estimates that nearly 21% of Muni riders aren't paying a fare, up from nearly 13% in 2019, according to the Chronicle.

  • That coincides with a pandemic-era decline in transit fare inspections, when SFMTA shifted inspectors' duties to handing out masks and informing riders about discounts.
  • Plus: Despite ridership gains in recent years, SFMTA's revenue from fares is roughly half of what it was pre-pandemic.

What they're saying: "The most important thing that we see from the data is that there is a very direct correlation between the presence of fare inspectors and the rate of fare compliance," SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin told the Chronicle.

Threat level: SFMTA is facing a "catastrophic" budget deficit of $240 million from July 1, 2026, to June 30, 2027.

  • If left unaddressed, SFMTA could be forced to eliminate some Muni lines.

Between the lines: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) must also address fare evasions as part of the requirements for receiving $352 million in state funding.

  • In December, BART debuted new fare gates at the West Oakland Station designed to make it harder for riders to evade paying.

What to watch: The SFMTA must present its proposed budget to Mayor London Breed by May 1.

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