Muni Price Hike Eases Taboo of Fare Evasion

Sharon Lim
Newswire21.org

Muni has raised its fare so much that some passengers no longer consider it a crime to sneak aboard.

“It may be wrong to ride without paying, but it is unfair for the less fortunate people to scrounge around for money. People have to get around somehow,” says Sandy Hinejosa, a MUNI passenger who now pays $70 for a monthly pass to commute from Balboa Park to downtown.

The city has raised the cost of Hinejosa’s pass from $55 to help cover the budget shortfall. MUNI also sent out more inspectors to help catch fare evaders, but not even the security workers agree it’s worth the effort.

“You’re not even going to make any difference from catching a person,” says fare inspector Ce-Lon Lam. “They don’t make the deficit.”

Although it’s a petty crime, the growing acceptance of fare evasion reflects how ethical boundaries tend to shift in rough economical times. On a minor scale, the phenomenon is similar to the idea of stealing food to feed your family after an earthquake.

“I don’t condone [fare evasion] but I think it’s understandable for a person to make choices if they need to get across town,” says Supervisor John Avalos.

Much of the community sees the need to make Muni more affordable. Avalos says the current means of transportation isn’t fair for the unemployed while the district’s less fortunate people do what they can by finding a ride, walking, or biking.

POP Cops
Despite these opinions, the “proof of pass” inspectors aren't slowing down any time soon. According to Lam, the fare increases aren’t providing the POP inspectors any extra money. While their job is to catch passengers without passes, it’s also to scare others in making sure everybody boards with a pass or transfer. The fine for not having a proof of pass ranges from $50 to $450.

Even MUNI supervisor Ferdinand Cadelina admits it would cost more in hiring security than what the city is losing to fare evaders.

According to Avalos, the fare increase has helped drivers, maintenance, and cost of living for other workers. But some passengers don’t know the reason for increase, and they overlook those who sneak aboard. Avalos agreed it would be “great” if MUNI was subsidized or free.

Low-Income Option
The obscure $30 “L” pass is an option for individuals with proof of making under $10,000 a year. They must register, provide a social security number, and be reevaluated every year.

“Even if it’s hot and sunny, you’d be surprised to see how long the line is,” says Lam. “People will wait two hours to try and discount a pass to $30.”

Newswire21 had a hard time finding anyone who condemned those who snuck aboard. Most expressed their understanding and empathy towards fare evaders.

“How else are some people expected to go from point A to point B?” asks Angeline Quintilla, who travels from West Portal to downtown. “You have to take any opportunity that will help you reach where you need to go.”