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MUNI Riders In San Francisco Being Arrested

By Jim Kirwan

San Francisco Bus Riders are being intimidated and sometimes arrested for their failure to prove that they paid the $2.25 fare. There is no notice of this totally disproportionate fine anywhere on either the buses themselves or on the transfers. A ticket is arbitrarily handed out if and when any passenger cannot PROVE that they have paid the fare charged to ride the bus. The minimum fine is $109.50, for any violation of this unwritten rule.

The “officers” over half of which only wear partial uniforms, the rest of their “uniforms is casual wear and shabby. These thugs board the buses with four to six officers and then demand ID and proof of having paid the fare. The buses remained stopped while this mini-interrogation is conducted. The “officers” are rude and they want to leave the impression that they are threatening. The implication they leave the passengers with is that unless they can prove that they have paid the $2.25 to ride the bus; then they are criminals who can be ordered about like cattle. The officers confiscate the ID of the “offender” and then order them off the bush, where some have been arrested: All of this, including the$109.50 fine, over a matter of $2.25.

SFTMA fare inspector Marco S. Caterina* said they spend a few hours each day at a different intersection — having spent yesterday at McAllister Street and Van Ness Avenue — checking Muni riders for proof-of-payment and checking IDs of those without it. SFPD officers stand by as enforcement.

But members of Muni Operators & Riders Expanding Public Transit (M.O.R.E. Public Transit) stood nearby, handing out fliers for a May 5 rally at City Hall, saying that they’d seen this going on for about four months.

There will be three buses lined up and people are just trying to get to work and get somewhere,” said Sarah Carlson of M.O.R.E. Public Transit.

She and her colleague, Forrest Schmidt, said this particularly has been a problem for non-English-speaking riders, saying they get threatened with arrest and even deportation if they fail to show any identification.”

These flash inspections are reminiscent of TSA and just as disgusting, except as yet I haven’t seen any hands-on body searches being performed—maybe that’s next. There was an article posted on the web which says that they have stopped this procedure as of yesterday (literally) because of complaints. But yesterday I was caught up in three such search-entries and this took up to thirty minutes per search, as there was resistance to their tactics and manner. One thing is certain they have NOT stopped!

While I was watching I observed that the city took in at least $1,000.00 for the supposed fact the city had “lost” a grand total of $22.50. Of course the city also lost the respect of all the riders on each busload of victims because of the threats and attempted intimidation which failed to work on most of the unsuspecting passengers.

Then it happened again today and I found myself wondering how is it possible that a public transit agency can just decide to charge their riders over a hundred dollars for failing to pay a $2.25 fare? How was this figure arrived at? What happened to proportionality? What happened to informing the public in a very public manner of this suddenly new charge from semi-rent-a-cops that are sketchy at best and less than professional in their manner?

These new rules should be posted on the outside of the bus and on the Fare-box in large lettering so that anyone who might not be aware of this new wrinkle would expect to be charged for their failure to pay. But instead the whole operation has the look and feel of a drug raid, in which no one was spared.

Yesterday I saw a man in a wheelchair that was not in control of his body, on his way to his doctor who was being escorted by a male nurse, who had brought him onto the bus and was staying with him, on their way to a medical appointment. The bus was stopped and they began to do their thing. The orderly had forgotten to pay in the scramble to get his patient into the bus and secure in his place.

He tried to explain to the “officers” but they demanded his driver’s license, which he gave them. He told them that he would gladly pay the fine, if they would just mail it to him at home. They demanded that he get off the bus immediately. He asked for the return of his license, they denied his request. They again insisted that he immediately get off the bus: He tried to explain that he had to get his patient to his medical-appointment and that he was on his way there when this occurred.

The “officers” were unimpressed. They wanted him to get off the bus and leave the man who could not speak or even control his upper body, where he was on the bus. This angered the nurse and he began to shout. “I said I will gladly pay the fine, but I’m not getting off this bus!” was his reply, at which point the police with guns were called and the driver ordered another bus to allow the rest of us to resume whatever was left of this luxurious $2.25 cent ride that had already been interrupted for another twenty minutes for the sake of this highly questionable “search of the passengers” which they made clear to one and all that “if you cannot produce proof-positive that you have paid the fare ­ you will be ticketed!”

They failed to mention that if you fail to pay the fine immediately, the fine will double. The bus was filled with “challenged-people” the poor and the elderly along with many immigrants that spoke little English ­ which probably accounted for the number of tickets. If I had had a cell phone all of this would have been recorded, but I don’t have a cell phone now.

As we left the bus the police were arresting the male nurse as we were boarding the replacement bus.

While waiting for a bus this afternoon it suddenly dawned on me that some kind of official-notice ought to have been given to the public before they get on the bus: About what would happen if they failed to pay their fare or if the flimsy piece of paper that is the transfer just simply cannot be found?

Definitely there is no such thing as being let off with a warning

Maybe MUNI is afraid that if they tell people what they’re doing then maybe they’ll lose riders, because of the fascistic nature and the obscene size of the fines plus the method of determining who is allowed to ride and who is not. None of this is mentioned anywhere in any of the literature regarding the question of taking the bus, or some other form of transportation where they will not be immediately considered as criminals, just because they’re riding on a city bus?

Then I wondered if the Mayor approved of this; or the criminally inclined Board of Supervisors? Afterall they’re always looking for quiet ways to beef up the income of the city and the size of those fines could really go a long way toward becoming a real bonus to the supposedly cash strapped city.

When an ‘officer’ in a ragged uniform comes up to me and demands to see PROOF from me that I am not there illegally—it makes me mad. That’s because I’m supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty: but then we’re in the new-age of shoot first and then ask questions of the corpse that the victims become when that procedure is followed to the letter of the new threat - from all police of any stripe in this lawless place.

This whole affair just feels like extortion masquerading

As more fake security combined with a totally outrageous fines

That cannot be justified as fair or balanced!

If this was just routine the cops could just board the bus and go about the business of checking each person, while the bus continues to move. When they finish they could get off the bus at the next stop and no one would be interfered with. Any discussion between people and the investigators could be carried out in a civil manner. But when the whole bus is stopped for 5 to 15 minutes or more and 40 plus people all become suspects, then that becomes a very different thing entirely, especially during peak transportation hours.

After doing some more checking it’s clear that the buses being targeted are running what can easily be seen as a profiling program targeting those with a lack-of-income as well as those who have no other choice than to ride the buses.

Someone in City Government needs to be fired over this and the city needs to apologize to the public at the very least!

I’m going back to walking; at least there I don’t yet have cops checking on whether or not I have the right to walk on the city sidewalks…


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