SF eases penalties for Muni youth fare evaders

Muni fare youth evaders will soon be able to skip the courthouse to pay their fines.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed on the first reading Tuesday an ordinance to amend the transportation code that will allow the Municipal Transportation Agency to issue an administrative citation to youth under the age of 18 who violate any public transit laws including fare evasion.

Currently, youths who commit public transit violations receive a criminal citation.

Fines for fare evasion will be much lower with the new changes. Youths will pay a $56 fine, half of what an adult pays for the same citation. The fine for not giving a seat for a senior or disabled person will now be $112.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who took the lead in urging the state legislature to change the law last year, said:

“I think the problem is and it has been a concern of mine and others, low-income communities are heavily impacted because of the criminalization of young people for fare evasion over the years and administrating this violation in the court system has usually placed young people into the court system.”

The state legislature approved SB413 last year that allowed local transportation agencies to set the administrative fines for youth fare violators and other transit violations. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

State officials had already passed a similar bill in 2008 for adults. Adults currently pay a $112 fine for a fare evasion and can pay the fine by mail, online or by phone. They can also the protest the ticket.

Youths, though, currently pay up to $380 in administrative and penalty fees and have to appear in court to or else the court issues a warrant, a SFMTA staff report said:

“This increases the workload of the court system and penalizes youths and their families more significantly than adults for the same violations.”

The staff report also said the police department and SFMTA’s transit fare inspectors issued a total of 819 citations to youths in 2015. All of the transit violations were heard to juvenile court.

At the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee on June 20, city Youth Commissioner Jillian Wu, who represents District 1, said though The City has provided the Free Muni For Youth Program, the court system still has hundreds of cases in juvenile court for youth fare evasion:

“As a city, as we invest in free Muni for youth, as we wanted to see youth have access to our City and not become ensnared in the criminal justice system for riding the bus to school, to work, to after school programs, family responsibilities or simply just to travel around The City.”

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved the changes at its Feb. 16 meeting.

The new fines will become effective 30 days after Mayor Ed Lee signs the ordinance.