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SFMTA seeks to accelerate cable car fare prepayment

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Cable Car bell-ringing championship
An iconic symbol of San Francisco -- a cable car -- slowly rolls toward Powell and Market in the early morning in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Muni riders and tourists could soon have to prepay before boarding San Francisco’s iconic cable cars.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors held their first hearing to discuss the transit agency’s budget over the next two years, but also discussed  having passengers pay before boarding the cable cars starting as early as fall 2019.

Clarification: The SFMTA’s plan to go cashless on cable cars is not part of the transit agency’s two-year budget as previously reported.

The push for going cashless on cable cars began last year when two former cable car operators were arrested and charged for embezzlement for allegedly pocketing fares. Cable car operators are the ones who collect the fares and issue receipts to passengers.

Undercover operations from The City’s Controller’s Office led to the arrest of the cable car operators. In a report, the office recommended the transit agency to eliminate cash handling by cable car operators.

Directors last month during their board workshop expressed interest in going cashless on the cable cars.

Diana Hammons, revenue manager for the SFMTA, said going to cashless is something the transit agency can do, but will take “significant commitment” primarily from the communications side, including working with the tourism industry and hotels:

“The most important thing is to make sure folks know what the rules are before they get there.”

An early preliminary plan was presented to the board where passengers boarding at cable car turnarounds would need to buy their fare at ticket kiosks before boarding the cable cars beginning sometime this spring.

The SFMTA would then begin posting signage at all stops and start a communications and marketing campaign of the new fare rules.

Hammons said the goal is to begin the full implementation of prepaid fares in fall 2019 at all stops.

Directors in the upcoming two-year budget will also consider several options to incentivize passengers and tourists to prepay before boarding a Muni vehicle such as increasing the single-ride cash fare differential from 25 cents to 50 cents, implementing a fare differential on Visitor Passports purchased in advanced and adding a day pass option on Muni Mobile.

The public will be able to weigh in on transit agency’s budget in-person and on social media.

The transit agency will have town hall meeting on March 2 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch in the Latino/Hispanic Community Room.

On March 7, the SFMTA will have an online town hall meeting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., which will be streamed live on the SFMTA website and on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. The SFMTA is requesting the public to submit questions in advance using the hashtag #SFMTABudget on Twitter.

The public can also attend the regular board meetings at City Hall on March 6 and Mar. 20 at 1 p.m. in room 400 to comment on the budget.

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