It was that rarest of occurrences: a heart-warming BART moment.

Exiting just ahead of me at San Francisco’s 16th/Mission station one day last week, a woman, probably in her 20s, approached an unlocked side gate on the station’s concourse.

She glanced behind her and toward the agent’s booth, 20 yards or so away, to see if anyone who would do anything was watching.

Then she pushed the gate open and left without paying her fare … almost.

She hadn’t noticed the two BART cops standing just outside the gate, attending to a man suffering some form of medical distress. One of the officers looked at the young woman and smiled broadly. She turned with a “can you believe this?” look and headed toward the exit gates to put her ticket through like the rest of us fare-paying losers.

I couldn’t help it. It was so pleasing, and so surprising, to see a fare cheater get caught — even better than getting a seat at rush hour — that I whooped and called out, “There you go!” Another passenger broke into raucous guffaws.

If you ride BART with any regularity, you know how unusual that scene is. BART police have publicized focused enforcement targeting fare evasion in the last couple of months — including one involving Chief Carlos Rojas himself — and by our count, have announced issuing about 175 citations and warnings to fare jumpers and gate swingers in just the last five weeks.

But the prodigious scale of fare evasion on BART appears to dwarf the enforcement effort.

Earlier this year, the agency estimated as many as 22,000 people a day may glide in and out of the system without paying fares. The cheaters cost the agency, which is struggling to balance its budget, as much as $25 million a year.

Now, the agency is spending $2.65 million in the current year on a series of pilot initiatives to stem the tide of fare cheating. At the downtown Berkeley station, for instance, 5-foot-high glass barriers now surround the entrance to new, Clipper-only fare gates. Similar hard-to-jump barriers are slated for other stations.

BART is also moving to restrict movement through “swing gates” adjacent to agents’ booths throughout the system — a popular access point for fare evaders. The agency is also working to make it harder for people to use station elevators to avoid payment, in some instances incorporating elevator access into the stations’ paid areas.

At San Francisco’s Embarcadero station, the system’s busiest and the stop believed to have the highest incidence of fare evasion, BART is testing video software to try to get a handle on just how many people are using swing gates or jumping fare gates.

And at its meeting Thursday, the BART board of directors is scheduled to consider another step in cracking down on evaders: an ordinance that would help implement a “proof of payment” fare-checking system by imposing fines on those caught on trains or in paid areas of stations without valid fare cards.

The fines — $120 for adults, $60 for juveniles — would be administrative, not criminal. The new ordinance, to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, if approved, would be enforced by BART police and by a new six-person group of community service officers who would patrol trains and stations with new handheld fare-inspection devices.

BART’s proposed protocol for fare inspections would direct officers to inspect everyone on a car or in a given station area, requiring them to “progress from one person to the next closest person, not skipping any persons in between.”

To try to ensure that anti-fare-evasion measures are enforced in a non-biased manner — in other words, that fare inspection don’t focus on minority riders or those who appear to be homeless — fare enforcement operations will be recorded on body cameras, according to the BART proposal, with random video pulled for review on a monthly basis.

BART Weighs New Ordinance to Crack Down on Fare Cheaters 13 September,2017Dan Brekke

  • Affen_Theater

    Proof of payment (POP) is long overdue. Relying on well-compensated do-nothing “station agents” to, at most, helplessly and disinterestedly watch as people jump or bypass faregates with impunity just doesn’t work. Proof of payment works all over Euope and in essentially all of the German-speaking areas, and in very large and crowded cities with their share of ethnic minorities, refugees, immigrants, homeless, vagrants and tourists … so there is absolutely no reason POP can’t work beautifully here on BART.

    Contrary to the misnomer “the honor system” … POP is the “trust but (occasionally) verify” system. Instead of very expensive barrier-oriented station designs with do-nothing agents to watch over rider-unfriendly expensive-to-acquire and operate faregates, you can have simple, open accessible stations with a small number of roving fare inspectors who check and cite those without proof of payment onboard and in “paid only” station areas. Similar to the statistics behind how a slot machine or casino always comes out ahead, the “house” only has to check and catch fare evaders every once in awhile in order to come out ahead and erase all the benefit of getting away with many free rides. Riders are only bothered to show their tickets every once in a while instead of while being funneled through faregates (like livestock! moo!) FOUR times each and every day they commute.

    • DrG

      Remember, it’s not the job of the station agents to stop and detain fare evaders. That’s not their job and union rules prevent them from doing so. If they do, they can be fired.
      MUNI does POP. It’s just not enough. Fare barriers are absolutely necessary. NYC does it and nobody complains about it. I’ve used them without any problem whatsoever.

    • hullpv

      The big difference between collecting fares from BART passengers (and passengers on any public transit system) in the U.S. and collecting fares on transit systems in other countries is that BART passengers have a much higher probability of carrying a firearm and possibly using that firearm to evade payment.

      We live in a much more dangerous environment than do the people in Germany so the physical barriers at the gates make much more sense to me than hiring defenseless “fare-collection agents” whose lives would be put at needless risk every day.

      • Affen_Theater

        Needless risk every day!? Quick! You’d better warn all the following agencies!!

        Here’s who else uses Proof of Payment (POP) in the oh-so dangerous firearm-carrying USA:

        In California:
         SMART
         San Francisco MTA
         Santa Clara VTA
         Sacramento RTA
         Los Angeles MTA
         ACE
         Caltrain
         San Diego Trolley

        Other States:
         Dallas Area Rapid Transit
         Baltimore Light Rail
         Buffalo Metro Rail
         Charlotte LYNX
         Cleveland Red Line Heavy Rail
         St. Louis Metro Link
         Seattle Sounder Commuter Rail and Central Link Light Rail
         Portland Tri-Met
         NJ Transit Hudson Bergen & River Lines
         Houston Metro Rail
         Denver RTD Rail

        Oh, and to @DrSFG:disqus … please define precisely what “enough” POP is … and exactly how you know when “it’s just not enough”? And if fare barriers are “absolutely necessary”, then explain why they’re not on all the above POP systems (and that’s ignoring the hundreds of systems that use it across Europe). And whether you’ve “used” a faregate “without any problem whatsoever” (like what? falling down?) is evidence of exactly nothing.

        • hullpv

          My gosh! Had I known that there could be such a passionate-bordering-on-vitriolic and defensive response to a post on a very mundane aspect of life in the Bay Area, I would not have used an idle moment to post here. Apologies for putting your cardiac health at risk.

          • Affen_Theater

            About as mundane as our unique only-in-America socio-political allergy to automated red light and speed enforcement. No, instead we have very highly trained and paid police officers needlessly wasting time on the mundane and near fully-automatable drudgery of speed and traffic signal enforcement while our economic competitors do more with less. Oh that, and our near fetishistic defense of any old good ol’ boy or gal to own as many firearms as they want … “well regulated militia” notwithstanding. Meanwhile, our piss-poor neglected and underfunded and almost exclusively auto-dependent infrastructure bumps along while our costly privatized health care system leaves millions with poor or non-existent coverage, while costs continue to soar and value (results/outcome) for money lags that of nearly every other first world economic competitor countries. USA! USA! USA! MAGA!

  • Tom

    Although, I rarely use BART, I commute via Muni daily. I don’t mind added measures to better ensure riders are paying their fair share. Let’s not forget that both BART and Muni are subsidized. Many public transportation systems are, so each of us is paying more to help make up for lost revenue and to meet the budget. Additionally, anything that makes our system cleaner, safer and more efficient is welcome. Two additional points.

    1) BART and Muni employee overtime. Last year it was reported a janitor was paid $270,000 racking up huge amounts of over time. A few hours here and there, as needed to maintain the system are one thing, but this was just beyond outrageous. I don’t know of a single type of business that doesn’t watch and manage it’s labor costs. Where was management and oversight? Yes there are legitimate times when overtime is warranted, but this can’t be tolerated and we all pay for this.

    2) BART and Muni each provide a critical public service. Doubtless, there is a cost-benefit analysis and diminishing return i.e. higher cost per rider to run the system late night, but in the interest of public safety i.e. cutting down drunk driving, shouldn’t each system run trains until 2:30 AM (30 minutes after bars close) to allow late night workers and bar goers a safer, more efficient way home? Have any studies on this been done and has such scheduling been considered?

  • disqdude

    This is great! I grew up riding the San Diego Trolley, and they have done this type of POP enforcement for as long as I can remember. Perhaps we can lay off all the station agents and spend that money on POP inspectors instead. It works well for systems like the San Diego Trolley; BART’s current method of having well-paid employees sit quietly in glass booths and scowl at passers-by is far less effective not only with fare evasion but also general safety.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area’s transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED’s comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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