Every day, dozens of backpack-laden Lowell students trudge up Eucalyptus Drive and wait, sometimes for as much as a half-hour, to catch the bus home. They fork over their Fast Passes or change only to watch, at almost every stop, more and more people jump on the bus through the back door without paying proper fare. As of May 2010, MUNI will increase the cost of Fast Passes and fares, but it should consider cracking down more effectively on fare evaders instead.
Youth Fast Passes have increased to $20, and may even be increased to $30. According to SFMTA, (sftmta.com), both dates and amounts are subject to change “due to the budget deficit.” In the past student Fast Passes were not just a convenience. They were a necessity for youth that needed to get to school every day, a bargain price of only $10 a month. MUNI is subsidized by the city, so in effect these discount Fast Passes were San Francisco’s guarantee that students could commute affordably. By raising both pass and fare prices, our city is damaging its original intent to provide affordable transportation for all. Getting to school, especially in a district where some students must travel an hour across the city to their campus, should not be a financial hardship for anyone.
Not only is the price increase expensive, doubling from 35 cents to 75 cents for a ride, and $10 to $20 for a Fast Pass in around five years (and raises are constantly discussed) but it especially taxes the law-abiding citizens who pay for their MUNI rides. Every day, freeloaders plague the city’s bus system. Shouldn’t MUNI look in their pockets for revenue, rather than their paying customers? According to the San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.org), in 2009, MTA analyzed their fare citations and estimated that about 10 percent of riders don’t pay the proper fare — and that costs MUNI around 19 million annually.
Even when fare evaders are caught, currently most get only a slap on the wrist in the form of a $50 fine, or possibly a trip to court. Because people are so rarely caught, and many fines are not paid or pursued, “back door riders” don’t have the incentive to stop. If there were an increase in MUNI police to check proof-of-payment, and an increase in MUNI office workers to ensure all fines were paid, more people would be caught, and actually pay the fine. In the short term, an increased revenue from these fines, which currently range between $50 and $500, would help MUNI with the most urgent of its budget issues. In the long term, knowing that MUNI is cracking down on fare evaders would significantly reduce the number of people willing to take that chance, increasing MUNI’s financial health.
MUNI has urgent budget issues, but the answer is not to overcharge legitimate customers, hurting people's mobility and reducing their incentive to take eco-friendly public transportation. This “solution” is unfair, but also ineffective because the pricier the Fast Pass, the less attractive and affordable it will appear to commuters. Moreover, those who ride without paying the proper fare will likely increase, further devastating MUNI. Instead of the fare increases, MUNI should target freeloaders and continue to allow paying students to take the bus home without breaking the bank.