As everyone knows who rides the transit system here, MUNI has a serious problem with fare evaders. It costs the system gobs of money every year, and, by all accounts, appears to be getting worse every day.
Occasionally, MUNI and the Police Department do the absolutely unthinkable and try to actually enforce the law. Yeah... stupid, I know. But it even works for a while, until the populace's collective liberal panties get in a twist and then it's back to the same old shit.
Here's the latest from SFGate...
Does this ever happen to you? I'd been producing a radio piece about fare enforcement over the course of a few weeks. Then the day it aired I learned that the mass enforcement had been suspended. We added a quick explanation to the story and aired it as planned, but I wish we'd had more time: In the days since, as I've done more reporting, it's become clear that the craziness my recorder captured was indicative of the larger problem that got the program suspended.
Here's what happened: Last year Muni started a new effort to get people to actually pay to ride its buses and trains. The most effective way it found to do this was "saturation enforcement." That meant putting about 15 uniformed officers in one spot at a time to bust fare evaders. (When there are fewer ticket-writing inspectors, they are simply outnumbered by scofflaws, who simply walk away scot-free.) Even though the policy was effective - fare evasion has gone down significantly since they started - Muni said it would abandon the saturations and go back to putting a couple inspectors at a time in each spot. Why? ...
... Because of complaints to San Francisco's Immigrant Rights Commission.
People were worried that inspectors were demanding proof of payment from riders who didn't speak English, evoking the image of officers badgering the old Chinese man who simply can't understand what he is supposed to do. But ironically, the saturations actually decrease the possibility of this kind of cultural misunderstanding. With that many officers in one spot there will always be one who can speak your language. When I was on the Muni platform, I heard several inspectors speaking fluently in Spanish and Cantonese.
It wasn't just immigrants that felt picked on: mild-mannered, middle-class, fare-paying riders were driven into an irrational spittle-flecked rage by the sight of the inspectors. There's something about this show of force that rubs people the wrong way. This is all totally irrational, but it's also real, so Muni has to take it seriously. Whether or not public policy is right, it also has to make people happy. Call it the Feeling/Thinking problem. After all, the ultimate purpose of any government agency is to make the lives of the people better and happier. If any program, even if it works, perpetually causes strife and outrage, then it has failed the Thinking/Feeling test. So should Muni stop? No, it just needs to figure out how to do enforcement that makes people feel more secure - rather than less.
Lorena Melgarejo, vice chair of the Immigrant Rights Commission, says that the people she represents need fare enforcement; they are the ones who depend most on a functioning bus system: "This is our Muni," she says. "We don't want to lose $19 million a year and have Muni cutting those lines that we need because people aren't paying." But, she says, the fare enforcement should work, "the same way the census this year has worked." That is, a careful campaign to convince people that the effort is not against them, but for their benefit. Little changes could help, she adds, like if the inspectors wore white shirts, rather than dressing like cops (or immigration officers).
Really both sides in this fight want the same thing. It's gotta be tough for the Muni inspectors to bend to accommodate irrational behavior. But if they can figure out a way to both be right, and make people feel good - if they can solve the Thinking/Feeling test - it will make their jobs a heck of a lot easier.
Same old bullshit.
Now, out of the many classes and genres who evade fare paying, the biggest problems are usually with the insane, the homeless dirtbags, and black ghetto youth, but in terms of sheer numbers, nobody beats Mission Street (that's the Hispanic section for those of you who don't know S.F.) and the huge numbers of people who jump on the back of buses for free. Now who knows if they're "illegal" or not... my guess is that it's just another "entitlement" that "immigrants" (translation: non-whites) have grown very accustomed to.
It's actually a bit of a running joke... many times I've seen people jump on the back to have the driver yell at them something to the effect of "Come on... this isn't Mission Street!"
Fare evasion will always be a crime because it is committed mostly by the "downtrodden" and "socially vulnerable" (translation: anyone who isn't white - though insane or drug-addicted dirtbags get a bye), and therefore nothing will be done that might "offend" the thieves.
Sadly, a Rudy Giuliani-style crackdown would never work here - and not just because of the fascistic political correctness; SF's transit system is almost the opposite of NY's - it is bus based rather than train based - and thus is much, much harder to police (not like MUNI or the cops have any real interest in trying).
No good fare evading bastards!