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Muni sees huge increases in fare-evasion citations under new deployment strategy

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Charging ahead: Muni fare inspectors, sometimes assisted by police officers, have nabbed 37,718 fare evaders over the past nine months. The agency credits a new policy that disperses inspectors across all lines. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Charging ahead: Muni fare inspectors, sometimes assisted by police officers, have nabbed 37,718 fare evaders over the past nine months. The agency credits a new policy that disperses inspectors across all lines.

A new strategy to deter fare scofflaws is paying huge dividends for Muni, with the transit agency reporting a 79 percent increase in citations since the policy was unveiled in November.

Under the direction of new security chief Lea Militello, who arrived in November, Muni has issued 37,718 fare-evasion citations over the past nine months, a major jump from the 21,061 tickets handed out over the same time period in the year prior.

Compliance also has improved — last month, Muni recorded a fare-evasion rate of 4.7 percent for its transit passengers. That marks a 50 percent drop from its levels in 2009, when the agency conducted its first major overview of fare-evasion rates. A citation costs $100.

Militello, a former commander with the San Francisco Police Department, has abandoned the agency’s former practice of deploying heavy resources to a few specific lines with a history of security problems. Instead, she has dispersed the agency’s 50 fare inspectors for transit across The City, covering every single line, whether it travels through Pacific Heights or the Bayview district.

“Just the other day, we popped on the N-Judah line and cited two emergency room doctors for not paying their fare,” Militello said. “Everyone has to pay their fair share when they ride Muni, no matter if they’re from St. Francis Wood or the Excelsior.”

Muni also has increased its saturation efforts — where officers stop every passenger on a bus and request proof of payment — from two days a week to three, and has placed greater emphasis on responding to passenger complaints, Militello said. It recently hired seven new fare inspectors as well, she said.

The agency’s enforcement efforts have drawn criticism in the past from minority and immigrant groups, who feel particularly targeted by the crackdowns. While Militello has de-emphasized enforcement efforts on lines traditionally used by minorities, those passengers still have plenty of distrust for the enforcement strategies, said Jaron Browne, spokesman for POWER, a grass-roots civil-rights group.

“The fare-enforcement program invokes a huge amount of fear and really has a negative human-rights impact for minority and immigrant passengers,” Browne said. “The fact that we have armed officers enforcing fares seems unnecessary and extreme.”

Fare evasion has long been a problem for Muni, with a 2009 study concluding that the practice cost the agency $19 million a year. There was some trepidation among transit riders that the problem would get worse with the advent of all-door boarding on Muni buses in July. However, new revenue reports indicate fare-evasion rates have not increased as a result of the program.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was corrected on September 10, 2012

Correction

The September 9 San Francisco Examiner story about Muni's crackdown on fare evasion erroniously referred to new Muni security chief Lea Militello as a former sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. She actually rose to the rank of commander.