Ridership on Muni buses and trains was up to 86% of pre-pandemic levels on weekends last year, and up to 68% on weekdays, but revenue across the SFMTA remains down — and are these ridership numbers even real if people don't pay?

The SFMTA is seeking public input on their upcoming 2024-2026 budget, which is due on the mayor's desk by May 1. And they're now sharing the complete numbers from 2023, when Muni services saw a 25% uptick in passenger trips over the previous year — and things are way up from the pandemic doldrums of 2020 and 2021.

"Since the pandemic, we’re more nimble in how we plan and provide Muni service," the SFMTA says in a blog post. "After decades of focusing on downtown commutes, today we focus on connecting neighborhoods. We can’t add service without more funding. But we can still make improvements – and we are."

With a view toward improving some of those inter-neighborhood routes, the agency is seeking public comment at its upcoming meetings on February 22 and March 2.

Chart via SFMTA

But when we're talking about ridership and passenger-trip metrics, can we even trust this data when it comes to buses — where, more often than not on some routes, riders get on without paying?

Muni says that ridership is up across the board, and nearly reaching three quarters of what it was before the pandemic hit — but the system is still, obviously, seeing the impact of fewer people needing to get downtown. The weekend ridership figures likely reflect increased attendance at big events like Warriors games, and riding the light-rail trains where, if you enter at a station, it's harder to be a fare evader.

Just counting paying customers, Muni has seen a big uptick in riders on lines like the 22-Fillmore and the 49-Van Ness/Mission — the latter, surely, because the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit lanes finally opened. But if, just with paying customers, weekend ridership on the 22-Fillmore is at 138% of 2019 levels, what is the real increase in ridership counting all those who aren't paying their fare?

These are figures just for the 22-Fillmore:

Chart via SFMTA

The SFMTA has talked about increasing fare enforcement in the past, but the agency remains understaffed, and anecdotally, few fare cops are ever seen outside the Civic Center Area — i.e., within a few blocks of Muni headquarters.

And while ridership may be up across the board, Muni is still dealing with revenue issues — and revenue in 2023 was at 56% of pre-pandemic levels. And this is despite Muni leading all other regional transit agencies for the number of transit rides it provides, representing nearly half all rides in the Bay.

As KRON4 notes, via the SFMTA, the agency has some plans for making up some revenue, starting with eliminating that Clipper Card discount that was implemented to get more people using Clipper Cards. That will mean that fares for Clipper users will go from $2.50 to $3.00, which they say will generate $5.2 million annually.

Bumping up parking fees would generate another $3.7 million, and reinstating taxi fees would generate $12 million. Another $2.9 million could be raised by giving an inflation adjustment to residential parking permits.

Let your thoughts be known on all this, if you care to, via Zoom, at 5 p.m. on February 22, and the agency will be hosting an in-person open house on March 2 at 11:30 a.m. at the Richmond branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Photo via SFMTA