BART Launching Effort to Get Tough on Fare Cheaters

A BART patron leaving San Francisco's 16th Street/Mission Station through a side gate -- a popular route for fare evaders. BART is launching a proof of payment system to try to discourage rampant fare cheating on the system. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Updated Jan 1, 2018

A lot of paying BART patrons at a lot of stations have this gripe, but I’ll go first.

My regular San Francisco station is 16th and Mission. The concourse features a side gate that swings open to stairs leading out of the station.

Every time I’m headed to or from a train there, I see people waltzing right through that “emergency” exit, thus avoiding paying for their ride. Folks of all descriptions do that with little apparent fear of being challenged (the station agent’s booth is a good 100 feet from the gate), concern about their fellow patrons’ opinions or any legal consequences.

This scene is repeated often enough — perhaps as many as 15,000 or 20,000 times every weekday, at an annual cost BART has estimated at $15 million to $25 million — that the agency has decided to try to do a better job of persuading riders that they should pay for the sometimes questionable privilege of boarding its trains.

BART is taking steps like erecting higher barriers at some station concourses, making them harder to jump. The district is also installing signage and floor decals informing riders they may have to provide proof of payment and warning them against fare evasion

Those are peripheral measures. The heart of the anti-fare-cheating effort is a proof-of-payment system that will require passengers to show a valid Clipper Card or ticket, on demand, when they’re inside a station’s fare gates or on a train.

The system, similar to those already in place on Muni and Caltrain and many other systems, will rely on a half-dozen inspectors, working in teams of at least two, to check fares.

The proof-of-payment rules require a non-biased approach to enforcement: Inspectors carrying card readers will be required to move through an entire car or down an entire platform, moving person to person without skipping anyone, to check fares. That protocol is designed to prevent targeting of individuals based on appearance, age or behavior. To ensure the protocol is followed, fare inspectors will wear body cameras to record their enforcement efforts.

The inspectors will be BART Police Department employees, but not sworn officers. BART police are also empowered to demand proof of payment if officers have “reasonable suspicion” that someone has entered a station’s paid area without paying or any time they approach an individual patron on suspicion of some other criminal act.

What will happen if you can’t prove you’ve paid to get on a train?

The first two offenses in any 12-month period will result in a non-criminal citation and fine of $75 for adults and $55 for minors. Adults who rack up a third offense in that 12-month period will face a possible criminal citation and a fine of as much as $250. Minors, who under state law may not be given a criminal citation for fare evasion, would face continued lower-level fines.

The district’s fare-evasion ordinance, which formally takes effect Jan., 1, also allows all minors and low-income adults to perform community service in lieu of paying the fines.

While BART police may start enforcing the ordinance on New Year’s Day, agency spokesman Jim Allison said last week that the new inspectors were still undergoing training and “are expected to begin their patrols in mid-January.”

He added there will be a grace period of at least two weeks during which inspectors will hand out warnings to those who can’t produce proof of payment.

One final note: How much difference will six fare inspectors make in a system that includes 45 stations and carries hundreds of thousands of people each weekday?

It’s too early to say, clearly. A BART board presentation suggested that fare inspections, along with measures like higher barriers and better video monitoring, could recover $8 million to $11 million a year — a substantial and welcome sum to an agency that considered eliminating service hours this fiscal year because of an expected deficit.

We’ll have a better answer about how the system works in six months or so, when BART police are required to report on the program’s initial results.

Proof-of-payment decals at BART’s North Berkeley station. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Updated Jan. 1, 2018, with BART statement that proof of payment inspections would begin in mid-January.

BART Launching Effort to Get Tough on Fare Cheaters 1 January,2018Dan Brekke

  • saimin

    Caltrain has had fare inspectors for years. Should not be a big deal on BART.

  • DrG

    If you are going to use inspectors, why not just station them at the fare gates at the beginning. Preventing fare beaters from entering and exiting in the first place seems the best way to stop this scourge for now. If they are already in the system and you catch them enroute, they may react to being caught with violence, not only to the inspector but to passengers on the train or in other paid areas.
    But this is not the real answer. The answer is to erect barriers preventing non-payers from entering the system. Look at what the NYC Subway system has done. And you are going to have to redesign the elevators as well.

  • bythepeopleforthepeople

    I am curious what they are actually trying to accomplish. I think it’s a waste of time and funds to hire all those “fare inspectors” As Unlike most other transit agencies including Muni metro, BART is a unique gated and computerized Pay as you Exit system. In other words fares are not deducted from the fare gates until you scan the ticket, pass, or card upon exit station gates. You can actually buy a $1 ticket and enter the system even though the minimum fare is $2.50. Most of the cheating on BART happen by those exiting the station who skip the fare reader by following close to another patron, using the wide gate which takes longer to close, going through a already opened exit, or using the emergency exit gate.
    The new fare inspectors who scans the tickets just like a Caltrain conductor would will not be able prevent them from skipping the gate at their destination. Most homeless riders ride continuously in one ticket and just get off one station away in SF or Oakland which means a cheap day Long stay.

    A much better solution is to improve the gate system to prevent people from being able to jump over gates and fences, those low 4ft fences are a joke, make them up to the ceiling with floor to ceiling fare reader gates, have a delay opening mechanism for emergency exits just as with some retail stores, and close the elevator loopholes that allows riders to bypass fare gate.


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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