Quick Hit: Let's Re-Examine That $8 Million Question, Shall We?
Reading all the coverage from this week's brouhaha between the Board and the Mayor and the MTA over their "budget" has been interesting, to say the least. It's clear that the Mayor and the MTA ignored Sup. Chiu, Sup. Dufty, and the Board at their own peril, all the while as legitimate questions were being asked about how (ir)responsibly MUNI spends our money.
However, there's one point that is getting repeated over and over again, be it in the Examiner, Beyond Chron, or elsewhere, on the issue of Proof of Payment. Over and over we hear the soundbite "$8 million spent to bring in $300,000" and it "sounds" right. Unfortunately, in this case, both Sup. Chiu (who coined this term to much applause at the meeting) and MUNI and MUNI Boss Nathaniel Ford, are both making mistakes.
That's because the point of the proof of payment system is not to collect its weight in fines - to do so would mean that they'd have to issue over 130,000+ fines at $60 a piece to make that much money (aka 365 tickets per day). Are there over 100,000 scofflaws on MUNI? Probably. Is it physically possible to issue that many, with the person-power we have now?
Probably not (especially in a town like San Francisco where you have people ready to protest at any moment, people who lie to fare inspectors about their identity, and fare inspectors more interested in hassling law abiding photographers than doing their job).
More to the point, as I've said before, the point of issuing fare evasion tickets is to get people to pay their fares in the future. Otherwise, by the logic of the "bounty hunter" model, MUNI shouldn't be issuing any fast passes or tickets, and instead have citizens dodge the inspectors on their way to school, work, etc. Fines should never be seen as an area for revenue stability and growth - they should be used (as with parking tickets and other fines) to first and foremost enforce the law and discourage unsafe behavior.
However, MUNI and the $315,000 Man, Nathaniel Ford, showed their side of this classic MTA/MUNI bumble when no one could tell Sup. Chiu how much more in fares the system was receiving as a result of the program. To spend $8 million on a Proof of Payment system with the idea that one would reap more fares as a result, and have no real data to explain to concerned Supervisors and the public why their spending plan makes sense isn't going to hold water with a skeptical public. Especially when you consider this tooting of horns earlier this year indicating a rise in fare collection. WTH?
Sup. Chiu is to be applauded for providing leadership at City Hall where it was lacking on the issues of mass transit, global warming, and budget priorities. I would simply suggest that if we're going to ask the MTA and MUNI to refigure their budgets to something a bit more sensible, we focus on everything and make sure we're measuring properly, to get the best results possible. MUNI and the MTA need to be better at explaining themselves, and it's a bit worrisome when we have the bureaucratic fallacy of "one hand not knowing what the other is doing."