Fare and Square

A ticket crackdown looms for BART riders in the new year, complete with officer bodycams, gate alarms, and criminal citations.

Muni-style fare inspection officers are coming to the BART system in January, to bust gate-hopping riders who haven’t paid. While Muni has been using the “proof of payment” system for years — with patrols making unannounced fare inspections — BART has been far more lax, and would only issue warnings if an agent saw you sneak through an entrance or exit gate.

That all ends on Jan. 1, 2018. The BART Board of Directors voted in October to adopt the same proof of payment system that Muni uses, which means fare cheats can be caught and issued citations in stations, on moving trains, and anywhere across the entire BART system.

“BART has a serious fare evasion problem, losing millions every year to people across all demographics,” BART spokesperson Taylor Huckaby tells SF Weekly.

Each evasion adds up: The transit system estimates it loses anywhere from $15 to $25 million each year. And the effects of such a loss are enormous.

“Because we are one of the least-subsidized major transit agencies in the United States, loss of ticket revenue has an outsize effect on our ability to operate,” Huckaby says.

It’s an open secret among broke San Franciscans that certain BART stations have swinging metal gates. They’re intended for bicyclists or people in wheelchairs and strollers, but anyone can just walk right through without paying.

The transit agency tried bolting the Embarcadero Station’s gates shut in November 2016, and it worked: More than 5,000 riders used the proper pay gates on the first day the swinging gates were stuck shut. But when BART expanded that strategy to the Montgomery Street station, it received an immediate citation from the city’s fire marshal. Turns out California fire code prohibits public exits from being locked. They’ll remain open and accessible, although BART is making a few changes in the new year.

“We are hardening our stations by raising the barrier height, as well as setting alarms on the emergency swing gates to further discourage people from fare evading,” Huckaby says, “as well as putting up new signage to make it clear that if you’re inside the fare gates, you need proof of payment.”

The new fare inspections will be partially handled by BART police, and partially by agents it calls community service officers.

“CSOs are unarmed police officers who deal primarily with civic infractions, like parking tickets,” Huckaby says. “We currently deploy CSOs around the system in parking lots and elsewhere. The new fare evasion team will consist of six new CSO positions and an administrative officer.”

But unlike Muni paper transfers, which show a very clear expiration time where the paper is ripped, BART paper tickets often have a very weak imprint where the ticket value and boarding time are illegible. Could riders just present an old, faded ticket to fool the fare officers?

“Ticket-reading machines will be able to determine whether the fare is valid, either by scanning a Clipper card or paper ticket,” Huckaby explains.

It may sound a little severe that BART fare inspection officers will be wearing body cameras, but BART police have been wearing them for quite some time.

“All of our officers have body cameras as standard policy,” Huckaby says. “When interactions are recorded, there’s less room for obfuscation.”

But the most severe aspect to BART’s forthcoming proof of payment system is that fare evaders could now face criminal citations. While first and second citations would bring a civil charge and a $75 fine, a third within a year could net a criminal citation for adults and a fine of up to $250.

That’s pretty strict, but the consequences won’t kick in until Feb. 1, 2018. And while BART’s proof of payment system begins on Jan. 1, officers will only give verbal warnings for the month of January.

“We wish a sense of civic pride and community were enough to have people pay their ‘fare’ share, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case,” Huckaby says. “Introducing a program to dispassionately and equitably check all riders’ tickets creates consequences for fare cheats, provides order, and ensures the people who do pay their fares feel valued.”

Paying riders may feel more valued in a proof of payment system, and BART might even see less of the high-profile thefts and assaults that plagued the agency this summer. But let’s be honest: Fare inspections don’t work because they make paying riders feel valued. They work because they make fare cheats pay big fines and experience belittling public humiliation.

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