It behooves us to remind you that effective January 1, 2017, San Francisco Muni riders who pay their fare in cash will face a 25-cent fare increase. As was proposed in April, riders who pay in cash will be charged $2.50 for a transfer or single-ride fare, while the current $2.25 fee will remain in effect for users of Clipper cards and the MuniMobile app (Anyone? Anyone?). While Muni bills this a “25-cent discount” or “cash-free benefits”, the rather obvious reality here is that a fare increase is being levied on Muni riders who pay in cash or coin.
Jan. 1 #SFMuni fare changes: @BayAreaClipper & #MuniMobile users get a $.25 discount & all-night ride after 8:30pm. https://t.co/yheTk1Umck pic.twitter.com/3ksmrP3Cav— SFMTA (@sfmta_muni) December 9, 2016
This seems like a regressive charge, and — not unlike the Twitter tax break and tech shuttle program — has the optics of a discount for the tech demographic subsidized by the overall general public. Riders who pay in cash, which last I checked is perfectly legal tender, will be penalized for doing so. In the words of a now-obviously unsuccessful Care2 petition protesting the cash-fare increase, “It's blatantly classist, furthers surveillance of movement, and is essentially a poverty penalty tax.”
So SFist reached out to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose for an explanation on why cash-money riders will be paying a higher Muni fare. “These changes are meant to encourage quicker, safer fare payments that allow Muni to spend less time boarding at stops and more time getting you where you’re going,” Rose said, noting that cash payments do slow the overall bus transit process and electronic payments are quicker and more efficient.
Rose was also quick to point out that other fare benefits are kicking in simultaneous to this change. “Most Muni fare changes, like the previous round in September are set by our Automatic Fare Indexing Policy, which aims to change fares gradually, rather than all at once,” Rose told SFist. “To ensure that Muni is available for everyone, the Board of Directors also extended the Free Muni for low to moderate income youth, seniors and people with disabilities. The board also approved extending the youth fare discount to everyone 18 or younger (it used to be 17 and under).”
“Clipper and MuniMobile users who activate their fares after 8:30 p.m. will also get to ride Muni all night [on a single fare]” he added.
It should be noted that the fare change does enjoy some support among some riders. “Cash fares, particularly when multiple bills and coins are involved, do cause delays for all riders,” Cat Carter of the SF Transit Riders Union told SFist. “We believe there should be a greater incentive to move away from cash in the form of a discount for Clipper users, including those without monthly passes, especially as the Clipper benefits are available to users of many other transit systems.”
But as Clipper card users can tell you at length, the card is not without its flaws. Online fare reloading of your Clipper card still (still!) takes three to five days to post. While Clipper has seen some improvements since its 2010 implementation, a cursory look at its recent Yelp reviews contains overwhelmingly one-star assessments with multiple complaints of account holds, fraudulent charges, and blurbs like “worst service ever”, “worst transit system in the history of the world“, and “The Clipper monthly pass system for Caltrain may well be one of the greatest user interface failures of any public transit project I've encountered.”
The SFMTA’s contract with Clipper ends in 2019.
While the new $2.50 cash fare goes into effect on January 1, you’ll probably have a very slight reprieve. It has been the custom for the last 16 years that New Year’s Eve Muni rides are free until 5 a.m. on January 1.
Related: Should Muni Just Ignore People Who Sneak On Without Paying?