Muni basically stopped enforcing fare violations during the pandemic, issuing merely 325 citations during a two-year period. Yet they still employed 43 fare inspectors full-time, which seems perhaps a waste of money?

You may be frustrated at this point in the pandemic that masks are merely “recommended” on Muni. But at the same time, actually paying your fare to ride Muni has also basically just been “recommended” since COVID hit our shores, as fare enforcement has been somewhere between microscopic and non-existent since mid-March 2020.

Sure, that may have been the right call, given the magnitude of societal and financial catastrophe we were enduring. And we should note that Muni is now back at it with fare enforcement, issuing 681 fare citations in May 2022 (that’s up from issuing precisely zero fare citations in the previous month of April 2022). Those numbers come from a Chronicle analysis of how much money Muni lost to fare evasion during the pandemic, but that data also begs the question of what Muni was doing with 43 full-time fare inspectors on staff, who were performing basically no fare inspection for two whole years.    

In a normal, “Before Times” pre-pandemic month, Muni fare inspectors issued more than 4,000 citations a month. But in April 2020, that number dropped to zero, for obvious reasons. The Chron analyzed the last 35 months worth of fare evasion and citation data, and notes that not enforcing fare has led to “thousands of dollars in lost revenue for Muni per month.” It’s a fair point.

But consider that during this basic lack of fare enforcement, “transit inspector staffing [was] remaining roughly the same through the pandemic, compared to two years ago.” according to the Chronicle’s analysis. Per the Chron, that meant 43 full-time fare inspectors. Wouldn’t the fare inspectors’ salaries represent a whole lot more lost revenue than the “thousands of dollars in lost revenue” from fare evaders and no citations?

During 11 of the 24 months between April 2020 and April 2022, there were zero citations whatsoever issued. Another 11 months saw 16 or fewer citations issued.  This does not sound like a large workload for those 43 full-time fare inspectors!

The Chronicle says an SFMTA spokesperson explained to them that rather than handing out citations, “fare inspectors focused more on telling people about discounted fares and activities like handing out masks” during this period.

That spokesperson also told the Chronicle, “Now that we’re in a new phase of the pandemic, we’ll be upping our efforts to ensure riders are paying their fares.” And this is true, fare inspectors are back to issuing citations, and like we said, handed out 681 of them in the most recent month’s available data (May 2022).

But in an average pre-pandemic month, SFMTA fare inspectors issued $250,000 worth of citations. Not counting revenue gained by the deterrence factor created by the inspectors, it seems that $250K dollar amount does not even begin to match the investment of paying 43 full-time salaries.

You can debate whether that was a worthwhile investment in pre-pandemic times. But a time when those fare inspectors were not doing any fare inspecting, while Muni was cutting bus routes like mad, and it seems like a lot of money just flew out the back door.

Related: Muni Fare Inspectors Return Next Month With New Polo Shirts [SFist]

Image: @SFCdouble via Twitter