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Nobody Pays The Bus Fare in San Francisco

By Onyx Hunter



It was one of the colder mornings in San Francisco and my morning bus to Ocean Campus arrived. I entered the bus and as was the norm nobody said a word, another bus goer who was grinning and looking out the window was wearing steel toed boots, khaki work pants, a black shirt and had a tool belt in his lap all caked in dried gray paint seemed like the perfect man to ask about if he paid the bus fare.

I told him I was a student journalist and asked if he paid the fare, he gave the bus driver a look and to which I followed his line of sight, he said promptly and guiltless “No” “Why’s that” I said, “I forgot on my way in, and I don’t think I have my card.” “You don’t think the fare inspector will catch you?” “I’ll get off if I see him.” he retorted. The cast of people in the bus shuffled and began to crowd slightly, our conversation wasn’t muffled by the people who boarded because they were all silent but we lowered our voices to respect the crowd.

“Curbside” Illustration by Sarah Clayson.

I kept looking at the bus driver with fiendish anxiety, although I had never known a bus driver to throw a rider off but I valued this conversation enough to be wary of his gaze.

“I heard that the fare inspectors handed out something like 180 citations in 2020. They might start giving more out soon” I told him, “Well I’ve never seen one” he said.

 I reframed what I first asked him, “Would you pay the fare of $2.50 each time you get on the bus everyday?”


His answer gave me pause “Why?” 

“$5 is too high, I didn’t even know what it was till you told me.”

An older man, wearing a bucket hat, neat box framed glasses and a large canvas bag attached to a stroller, who must’ve heard us speaking for half the ride spoke up “There’s a monthly pass for $40” and I said back to him “It’s $80 for us.” He sat up and widened his eyes like he had heard me but didn’t believe me, I told him twice and he chuckled.

Infographic by Carolina Raciti

He asked me the question I had asked when I first arrived on the bus and this time the words were not filled with the hollow expectations of a student journalist who didn’t have manners. “I’m paying when I arrive.”

I’d like to say the price of the bus fare is of no meditative importance but in all fairness I think there is reason to lower it’s price as to entice more bus goers into paying the fee and of course generating some level of revenue to sustain SFMTA. 80 dollars as it stands for a monthly pass is far too high and any person who buys it is unlikely to get anything close to a return on its usage.

One thought on “Nobody Pays The Bus Fare in San Francisco

  • Erich Stratmann

    As with the growth of City College over 7 decades from 5,000 students to 90,000 students, then down to 64,000 (in a City of 12% growth over that period), Muni is a victim of its bloated self-service…taking the citizens of San Francisco along with it. As Mayor Newson said on the Ron Owens show years ago, MUNI has no budget problems – they can just hire more meter people. Since they discovered the two hour pass requirement as a means of annual revenue AND parking ticket income…it has been spread cancerous-like across the city. Add to that the street sweeping system, which could be hiring many more homeless to actually sweep, but the loss of ticket income would be disastrous. Then when one pulls into a bus zone to let out the 98 year old sister of a previous mayor near her restaurant (since the fourth street project has eliminated the white zone at the restaurant) you get a ticket from the camera on the bus pulling into this temporary bus zone. Just last week they changed, without neighborhood input, the three blocks next to me into 2 hour zoning. Muni derives almost 50% of its income from parking tickets. And now, in order to build late fees, they no longer provide a return envelop…nor do they mail notices with envelops to you if your ticket blows away. This way they build late fees. The city encourages turning parking garages into condos as we are “short” on housing in a City with virtually no increase in population in, again…7 decades. We will build hundred unit buildings with ZERO parking, the result being 1-200 cars being dumped on City streets where they can get more tickets for MUNI income. They say it is safe for 80 year old citizens to get off work at midnight and transfer twice from Market street to home….are you kidding. If you want to go to the hardware store five minutes away by car…take MUNI for an hour and a half round trip, killing productivity. Luckily I have just a few years to live with this cancerous entity, uncontrolled by the Supervisors, paying a Muni bus repairman close to $400,000 in a recent year when you view the annual top ten checks paid out by San Francisco. Bus fares are almost irrelevant. By the way….surrounding City Hall are parking places reserved for City Hall employees. Apparently they do NOT take Muni to work…or to be productive in their jobs.

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