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.”

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9 Responses to Quick Hit: Let’s Re-Examine That $8 Million Question, Shall We?

  1. Alex says:

    Agree 100%. The point of POP is to (more or less) emulate a Panopticon model. The point is to obligate more riders into paying. In an ideal world, those that don’t feel morally obligated to pay ought to feel obligated to pay out of fear for getting a ticket.
    Because the POP inspectors go out of their way to not check my TransLink card, the current implementation of POP discourages me from paying a damn cent. Alas.

  2. Bob Davis says:

    And here in LA-LA Land, our Metro is getting ready to spend millions of $$$ on turnstiles/fare gates for the Red Line subway and probably some of the light-rail stations. Most of the local transit observers think this is foolish and wonder how much wining & dining the gate suppliers applied to Metro bureaucrats and/or board members to get this program approved. Admittedly figuring out how much fare evasion the barriers would prevent is in the realm of “voodoo math”, but the likelihood of this project having a positive outcome money-wise is considered to be remote.
    Regarding fare inspectors hassling photographers: That’s a real sore spot with many railfans. New Jersey seems to be a hotbed of “badge-heavy rent-a-cops” and we’ve had reports of hassling at Metrolink stations here in So. Cal. What really ticks off the railfans is security personnel getting after harmless train buffs, and ignoring hooligans bothering passengers and vandals damaging railway property.

  3. Terry says:

    I am so glad you put this in writing because you are -100% RIGHT!!!

  4. @makfan says:

    You have a missing italic tag somewhere…
    At any rate, it is dumb to try and offset the costs of fare inspection with the dollar amount of tickets. Obviously, the idea is to incent people to pay their fare when they might be tempted to board without paying. It’s a balance between checking everyone, every trip versus never checking.
    I often post about Vancouver, because I know it all and in some ways it is like MUNI.
    They have had POP on their SkyTrain service for years, but have been considering installing faregates. I think the problem is that in all the times I have ridden the train, I can only remember one time being asked to show my ticket. After Canucks and Lions games, they have people checking everyone who boards (similar to after Giants Games).
    Of course, they have also recently gone to all-door boarding for their limited stop buses (call B-Lines up here). POP is supposed to make boarding more efficient.
    Fare inspection in San Francisco seems to come in waves. On some days, I get checked two or three times, then I’ll go a few weeks without getting checked.

  5. @makfan says:

    “Know it all” should be “know it well”. I definitely do NOT know it all.

  6. sfmike says:

    Unless you’re getting onto a streetcar that eventually goes underground, you are not going to be checked for a fare. Everyone knows that, so everyone who doesn’t want to pay a fare gets on the bus through the back door. This doesn’t require a study. Anybody who takes Muni knows the truth of it, which leads me to believe that management doesn’t have a frigging clue. And we’re paying $8 million for what, exactly? It’s ridiculous.

  7. Rider says:

    Some food for thought. What I’ve seen them doing in Germany is share enforcement among agencies and send them out round robin, showing presence several days of the month at each agency. I found this a pretty effective way to get under scofflaw’s skin.
    On game day, your stadium ticket counts for local public transportation several hours before and after the game. That’s an easy partnership to forge and you get minimum lines in front of ticket machines / hunting for change while manpower can be used to move people to and from.

  8. david vartanoff says:

    the game-day ticket is an idea I have had for over a decade with this twist–ANY venue w/ x thousand seats the tickets are surcharged with the various agencies sharing the proceeds based on usage. Charging everyone who attends might get some to leave their cars, and the transit providers get a check.

  9. Alex says:

    @sfmike: POP was expanded to a few bus routes as well on a trial basis… it ought to be system-wide. Facilitating expedient boarding is just common sense.

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