Muni To Cease Fare Evasion Saturation Stings

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Ashley Harrell
You won't be seeing this anymore -- to the relief of fare-evaders and terrified immigrants
Transit riders who still haven't gotten their May Fast Pass can breathe easier. Due to complaints from the immigrant community, Muni is halting its saturation stings of buses for fare evaders, SF Weekly has learned from Immigrant Rights Commission chair Angus McCarthy. The Municipal Transportation Agency is set to announce the moratorium later today or tomorrow.

McCarthy says he's heard of potentially four or five cases of riders caught for fare evasion, then arrested on other charges, and then reported to immigration authorities. In one case, a phone technician on his way to work on the bus was stopped by officers, who grew suspicious because the man was carrying many phones. They found he had no proof of payment and no ID, McCarthy says. The technician was arrested and then reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, McCarthy says. His attorney couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

"In fairness to Director [Nat] Ford, he did sit down with us and got a we got a moratorium on the enforcement for now," McCarthy said, adding the meeting was last Wednesday. "We get it that people have to pay their fares and there's a lot of jumpers. The issue is the saturation [stings] with unintended consequences."
 
Nearly one in ten Muni riders don't pay the fare, robbing the agency of $19 million a year, the MTA reported last October.

Immigrant rights groups sat down with Supervisor David Campos and the MTA a month ago saying they "felt harassed and very fearful of riding the bus because of the saturation stings," says Hillary Ronen, Campos' legislative aide. Ronen says some immigrants thought that the MTA fare inspectors were immigration agents.

Ronen says she understands that regular fare inspectors will continue checking for fares, but MTA will halt the sting operations in which "the police and fare enforcement officers will descend on a particular bus at a particular time and pull people off the bus who don't have proof of payment. My understanding is that it's the saturation that was so terrifying, especially to people who don't know what's going on."

Update 5:20 p.m.: The SFMTA announced in a press release that it suspended its Proof of Payment saturation deployment on Friday, May 7. The decision was made after the May 5 meeting with the Immigration Rights commissioners Angus McCarthy and Lorena Malgrejo and the Executive Director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, Adrienne Pon.

According to the press release: "In light of the continuing national discussion on immigration and the confusion surrounding the 'uniform' presence with saturations, the SFMTA and the IRC have agreed to suspend saturations and work collectively in developing a training and outreach program for SFMTA Transit Fare Inspectors and Supervisors." The training will have an emphasis on "cultural and linguistic competency in serving immigrant communities."  The release confirmed that the fare inspectors have been mistaken for ICE agents or police officers. 

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