The SFMTA has given everyone a reprieve from fare-inspection sweeps since early in the pandemic. But in a few weeks, the free ride (for those who've been taking advantage) comes to an end.

"At the beginning of the public health emergency, Muni fare inspectors took on disaster service worker duties, but Muni never stopped collecting fares," the SFMTA explains in a blog post, adding that the agency still depends on fares for 20 percent of its revenue.

But, at least to start, fare inspectors won't just be boarding buses and looking to bust fare evaders.

"Rather than focusing solely on enforcement, the priority will shift to helping customers comply with fare policies," the agency says. "To support this new approach, our Transit Fare Inspectors will be returning over multiple phases this fall and they will have a new look."

That new look includes a new polo-shirt uniform, which I guess is supposed to look friendlier than the old one?

Photo via SFMTA

"They will eventually issue citations again, but the focus will be on service and compliance," the SFMTA says.

It's unclear how long each of the three planned phases will last. But in Phase 1, inspectors will solely be offering customer assistance with kiosks and payment options. Phase 2 will include fare inspections — asking for proof of payment — but no citations will be issued. Phase 3 brings with it a return to citations, which cost $125 for any fare-evasion violation.

According to the SF Examiner, citations will start being issued again by December 1.

If you don't want to be dealing with paper tickets and transfers or fumbling with a Clipper Card, you can download the Muni Mobile app and do your fare paying there — fare inspectors will just have to touchlessly scan a code on your phone if and when they show up, for proof of payment.

Muni is, of course, suffering financially due to the loss of ridership during the pandemic, and it's as-yet unclear if they'll be fully bailed out.

It's going to be mid-winter or spring before Muni light-rail trains return to service, following extensive inspections and replacement of faulty splices, at least two of which failed when the system tried to restart service in August.

Related: What's a Splice? Explaining Why the Muni Metro Is Now Closed For the Rest of 2020