Budget Analyst Takes 100 Pages To Tell Us What We Knew: Muni Could Generate Money Via Fare Inspector Program, But Isn't Organized Enough To Keep Track

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Jim Herd
More good news for Muni...
This morning, the Chronicle reported that the city's budget analyst, Harvey Rose, released yet another damning report on Muni -- and this only hours before the Supes meet to determine (this time, definitely!) if they'll approve the Municipal Transportation Agency's budget.

The report runs to 100 pages -- and, sadly, it isn't on the budget analyst's Web site, so we haven't read it. But, based upon reporter Marisa Lagos' summary, it appears Rose has more astutely reported on a problem SF Weekly brought up in January: Muni's fare inspection program costs far, far more to run than it returns in fines -- and, even if the goal is to goad people into paying, Muni hasn't figured out a way to track if the fare inspectors are cost-beneficial.

Crunching likely salary numbers provided by the city's office of the controller against Muni's posted income from fare-evasion fees, we figured earlier this year that the fare evasion program was costing MTA around six times what it took in (When Supervisor David Chiu began grilling Muni officials about this, the numbers came out even worse). Muni spokesman Judson True pointed out -- rightly -- that the purpose of a fare-inspection program isn't to ding riders with fines but encourage folks to pay for tickets. Still, he could not provide statistics indicating this is what Muni's fare inspector program is doing.  

The report advises freezing the hiring of fare inspectors until the program can be better designed; ominously there is no clear notion of what the program's goal is -- meaning it's impossible to tell if you're "succeeding" (a hallmark of disorganized government. It happens a lot here).

We'll reiterate the same questions we had back in January: Other cities have public transportation. Other cities have fare inspectors. What do they do? How do they define "success"? How do they track whether fare inspections result in more folks paying for tickets? Is there an algorithm that can be employed to figure how much you should spend on fare inspection before it fails to be cost-beneficial?

We may be on a peninsula here in San Francisco, but we're not on an island.

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