How to Fight the SFMTA and Win: True Story (“Evading Fare”)

SFMTA in San Francisco is well known for its tight rules, aggressive ticketing and even aggressive towing. Locals know towing zones are serious things which is why you often see people staying in cars or even double parking with the Hazard signs on or “San Francisco valet”, but what surprised me most was when 1/05/13 I got a handwritten ticket for “evading fare.”
The scene was something out of a horror movie: I used my Clipper Card to get on a train near Dolores Park, my card signaled it was low so I had planned to reload it upon arriving at the next station since my entry station didn’t have any machines. Upon arriving at Montgomery Station, all three of my friends exited the station and I get held back by an officer who said the machines were “broken” and to “come here” Upon walking near her she scanned my Clipper Card and announced that I am evading fare. Totally confused I try to reload the card with monies, or pay my fare in cash or even get the machine but she doesn’t let me, “You are evading fare.” I even open my wallet with cash asking to pay because I don’t understand the issue. “Its a $103.00 ticket not to mention my pride as a hardened criminal now that I am known to be “evading fare” I’m pissed but I also know that NO ONE FIGHTS THE SFMTA AND WINS.
My roommate a few weeks earlier had a hearing regarding one of her rental cars that got towed. She lost. Every single friend I know who either protested or appealed lost, but despite my low odds my pride could not swallow this $103.00– I would spend the next few weeks dedicating my life to fight this ticket as if my life depended on it. 1) Step One: Request a Hearing
I prepared a written request for Hearing and followed the rules and format of such request. In my case, my “grounds” for dismissing the citation were:

  • Entrapment
  • Insufficient Proof of Violation of TRC 7.2.104
  • Citation Not Valid (incomplete)
  • Violation of Clipper Card terms and conditions 3.4, 3.5, 12.2

First I had to look up the actual “charges” of my citation (TRC 7.2.104 “Fare Evasion – Clipper Card). Then I needed to see if there were any holes or explanations from situation. From the SFMTA perspective you needed to prove: 1) Intent and  2) Validity

For Entrapment I needed the common legal definition and compared it to my circumstances. And for violation of Clipper Card conditions I was thinking that I am not an ill willed person, in fact there is no way what I did was wrong. Why didn’t the conductor stop me? Why couldn’t I pay in cash? Why was I going through this for having -1.25 on my clipper card. Why would I ever want to do the wrong thing over the right thing, what are my rights?

After reviewing the Clipper Card terms and conditions I found a few interesting things:

  1. 3.4 “If a ride costs more than the cash value on the Cardholder’s Clipper® card, Clipper® may let the Cardholder complete the trip even if the fare exceeds the Card’s remaining value. However, sufficient value must be added to the Card to pay for the prior trip before the Card can be used again.”
  2. 3.5 “If, for any reason, the Card is not accepted for fare payment on a participating Service Provider, the Cardholder may be required by the Service Provider to pay the fare in cash.”
  3. 12.2  “All information and data relating to the Cardholder collected by the Clipper® FPS shall be used by MTC and the Service Providers for the purposes of the operation and management of the FPS and shall serve as a source of information and data for transit and/or related services in general but shall otherwise be dealt with in a confidential manner by MTC and the Service Providers unless:
    1. The Cardholder’s express written consent has been obtained; and/or
    2. Otherwise required by law or ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

For a full copy of Clipper Card Terms and conditions go here.

Now I know this is a pandora’s box but my rationale was this: my data was illegally obtained and couldn’t be used against me in the first place. This could open up a whole gap in all of the way citations for Clipper Cards and trains are enforced. It also means that the city of San Francisco could possibly be cutting revenue from Clipper Card. And then of course there was what I thought was the weakest argument– that the citation was not valid.

I created a well written doc and walked in a copy to the SFMTA office and mailed a copy to: 11  South Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94103 (note: make copies of everything and always mail a copy to the SFMTA attn: Hearing Division)

2) Step Two: Request for Hearing — Denied
After receiving a letter that it was pending (see here), I received a letter that the citation was “valid.” But how could my citation be valid when I am requesting a hearing due to my suspicion that the citation is not valid? Then I received a second one and realized that likely this is a templated response and unfair to my rights, I’m demanding a hearing and getting denied the right to have a hearing?

3) Step Three: in Person Request for Hearing, Pay Fine
You’re only other option now is to request again a hearing via mail or in person but after having my request already denied for “valid citation” I couldn’t imagine a different outcome via mail.
I also figured I could simplify my reasoning to contesting the citations validity since it appeared this is the only thing that matters despite my surprise. I went to the station and went to two different windows, paid my fine (yes, you have to pay the fine in order to even “contest” it) and then waited. (note: bring wifi and snacks the wait is long)

A Hearing officer called me into a room and before I could scream and holler and make my case he simply stared at a computer screen in silence, printed some papers and then asked me if I had the original ticket with me which of course I did. He then went into another room and it occurred to me that the citation in file did not match my current citation which means the officer is busted for adding info after the fact. (Note: its actually “legal” for an officer to add information after the fact to a citation, but a notice must be mailed to you). The original citation which I had was technically not valid and an update had not been mailed.

Under California Vehicle Code section 40202(a) a citation is not valid if the following fields are missing:

  • the date
  • approximate time thereof
  • approximate location where the violation occurred
  • the violation, including in reference to the section of Vehicle Code, Public Resources code, local ordinance, or federal statute (i.e the actually citation must be noted)
  • fine / penalty amount

The hearing officer, though he couldn’t say how the ruling would go just that I would simply get a letter in the mail said he thought I had a valid case and would recommend that I also file a formal complaint with the city regarding the officer at hand. Very uneventful to have a “hearing” without a “verdict.” You wait.

Step Four: Wait for Letter with Ruling, Citation not Valid
About two weeks after my in-person hearing  I received my letter stating that my case was “dismissed” due to my citation not being valid (all my other points were not addressed) and a check would be mailed to me. A few weeks after the letter from the hearing a check arrived. All in all it took me (12 hours of prep: research, printing, sorting, mailing), $103.00 + $43.00 dollars in supplies, and of course my time both in person and running around.

I called Clipper Card and several times tried to get their legal department or information to which they fought me, I wanted to inform them to investigate SFMTA not the other away around but they were hesitant. The saga itself took 9 weeks and was very stressful and frustrating but, I promised myself that it was principal and that if in the very low chances I won against the SFMTA I would write a blog post about it and give people instructions.

Feel free to use any templates or formats above. Lets see if the SEO for “How to fight SFMTA” or “How to beat citation 7.2.104” work. If for nothing else, I feel like my situation had purpose.

For a copy of this blog post and information in PDF click below. And if you really need help or a template for one of the letters shoot me an email and I will help you: e (dot) cachette (at) gmail.com

http://www.elliecachette.com/uploads/4/4/2/8/4428249/beatingsfmta.pdf

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18 thoughts on “How to Fight the SFMTA and Win: True Story (“Evading Fare”)

  1. I also have the same issue! I was even told by the guy who issued me the ticket that if I submit a written request, they would disregard the ticket…WHAT A LIAR.
    I’m wondering if it was worth all this time? And what happens if you don’t pay this fine? I feel like the worst thing that will happen is that they’ll take away my clipper card or something.
    Thanks for your great advice

    Like

    • Hi Crystal
      It seems that this happens all the time, that’s why I’m writing an article about it. Could you email me at silvestroelisabetta at gmail dot com with your story? I’m trying to find as much evidence as possible to prove this point. Thank you!

      Like

  2. I had the same thing happen to me. It is not only the money. I mean if I forget to feed a meter, I may be pissed, but I’ll pay the (exorbitant) fine. But when you are trying to do the right thing . . . actually coming into the station to pay for your fare and then being treated like a criminal . . . it’s humiliating and maddening. I will be trying to fight my ticket as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Right on, Elisabetta.
    Not only is it humiliating to be “arrested” for their mistakes, I was also told I could do 20 hours community service, but that was not the case if you choose to have a hearing! You have to request a hearing OR do 20 hours community service, you can’t get a hearing and then pay thru community work.
    On the positive side, I had no wait for the hearing and my hearing officer was a very friendly and seemingly sympathetic woman.
    Make sure you never ever admit in the hearing that you didn’t pay (for whatever reason) they use that to justify the fines.
    MUNI enforcers have become like the gestapo raiding the buses…and charge MUNI for overtime, etc. and they couldn’t possibly collect in fares what it costs to send out these teams.
    (Usually they bust a couple of homeless people who won’t be able to pay anyway).

    If they hadn’t doubled monthly passes while cutting services in half, I’d be more open to MUNI.
    I personally think people should boycott en masse.
    $103 for a $2 is 50+ x the amount of perceived infraction. Plus they are intimidating as faux-cops without real power tend to be and it’s no way to run a business.

    SF should look into following our Northern Neighbors sensible lead. Portland and Seattle have free downtown buses bec you are not polluting, nor causing traffic, are helping with congestion, etc.
    Here it costs more for them to print up daily transfers than they can collect in fares… One of the myriad reasons they are operating at a loss. Totally terrible system.
    Reasonable, nominal fare (or free and subsidized like Portland and Seattle) would result in higher use of the system and fewer abuses. Better use of wo/manpower and not freak out the tourists and regular citizens.
    They are making it feel like a police state.

    Like

    • I just had a terrible experience with Muni “police”, after running to be the last person in the doors, I claimed a seat since the bus started moving and I had a foot injury. My intention was the pay (cash, I’m new to the city and haven’t gotten a clipper yet) as soon as the bus stopped so that I could stand, but a group of people entered blocking me and then the bus reeled forward again. At the very next stop, Muni police boarded and I immediately told the woman that I needed to pay. She harshly said to get off the bus (shame on me for my good intentions, right?) And again harshly asked for my name and address. When I told her the situation and pulled out a handful of old transfers from my backpack to show that I ride legally twice a day for work, that I could not get up to pay, and that I was 2 stops away from my home stop, she told me I was being rude by “arguing” with her. Between this and struggling to even own a car in this city, I’ve been having a hard time even liking this amazing city. Completely unforgiving and totally happy to bleed you dry. I would try to fight but I have no faith that anyone gives a shit about my side :/

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: San Francisco Parking Meters: A $130MM Industry | Meter Madness

  5. I think I found you! I am going to hearing if I need to and I am doing whatever it takes to find the justice. I boarded T line on third street paid with my clipper, sat down, got off at Embarcadero and found 5 muni officers scanning clipper cards right before the exit, so I gave my clipper and one of the guys scanned it and then asked for my ID. I was lost, I didn’t know what’s happening, of course I gave him my ID, when there’s 5 officers looking at you there is not much talking you can do, then he handed it to the other Muni officer, he wanted him to do the dirty work, I guess, but that officer was not having it and said no and didn’t take my ID and Clipper, so this guy who took my clipper first had to do it himself and started filling out this “Notice” as he said, but it turned out to be a ticket. He said you didn’t pay you fare, I explained him that I paid as soon as I got on muni, as I understood the clipper reader wasn’t working and it couldn’t read my clipper. So he asked me to sign the “Notice”. He repeatedly said it wasn’t a ticket and I should go online when I get home and explain my side and I will be okay. Guess what: I came home, started reading about it and realized he just gave me a ticket by fooling me! I’ve never dealt with muni officers and didn’t know their system! But guess what: it’s the end of the month – they need their quota! So here I am, searching the information I am going to need when I go further with this case…

    Like

    • Around 30% of the readers are looking at the page on tickets. Millions of dollars a year are falsely charged by SFMTA and Muni to both drivers and Muni riders. SFMTA doesn’t care who you are or how you move around as long as they can get some money out of you for using “their” streets. They think they own the streets and we pay for them. That is not the way it should be and millions of citizens are rising up to fight them and reduce their powers and authorities. ENUF already!

      Like

  6. I just receive my first ticket violation today because the tagger wasn’t able to tag my clipper card and I didn’t notice it until an enforcer came on the bus and tagged my card. I have over $40 on my clipper card and I didn’t have any intentions to not pay for my fare. Since I know it’s hard to contest this issue since it is my fault for not being aware of my clipper card not getting tagged, could I contest this violation in a different angle? I searched the STOP ID location that the “officer” had recorded and its a different bus route, different direction, and not the exact location of where my violation was recorded. If anyone could help me and respond back, I’d greatly appreciate your input and expertise in this field.

    Thanks and have a wonderful day!

    -Rich

    Like

    • Just out of curiosity, did you pay your fine? My daughter just moved here and had an issue with her card, and ended up with a ticket. I’m not wanting to pay it (she’s 18 and has NO money, and we are doing everything we can to have her dancing here for a year). I just don’t want her to end up with more trouble because if it.

      Like

    • Rich, How did your Muni ticket complaint go? People are asking. I generally don’t have time to look into this, but, I am checking on it today. You sent a message last month about it?

      Like

  7. I usually take Uber or Lyft, but decided to take MUNI today to be a practical SF Citizen. I went to Walgreens to break my $50 since MUNI doesn’t give change, and I got on the 38 Geary at the corner of Geary and Market. I paid $2.25 and went and sat down. At Geary and Masonic, the SF MUNI Officers boarded the bus and asked to see my Clipper Card. I don’t take MUNI, so don’t have a Clipper card and I told them I paid cash. I didn’t grab a transfer since I wouldn’t be needing one because my final destination was on the same route. They forced me to get off the bus and proceeded to give me a ticket for $116.00. When they asked the bus driver if I paid, he just pointed to the transfers and mumbled “They are right there”. He never gave me one nor told me I would need one as a proof of purchase or receipt that I paid $2.25 to take the bus. While the officer wrote me the ticket, the bus I paid for and was legally on drove off and I had to wait for the next one making me later to my destination. It was upsetting, embarrassing and completely unjustified. I refused to sign the ticket, but now I have to go and take the time to protest a $116 ticket just for deciding to take the bus home today. This unjustified enforcement should be illegal. TOTAL BS and UNFAIR ABUSIVE Treatment of their own citizens just to make a buck.

    Like

  8. Hey guys, I had a valid muni fare ticket that I bought through the app. Getting off on van ness, the inspector insisted that I did not have a valid fare as the ticket was not “activated’ Until a few minutes prior to her stopping me. This is absurd and illegal, I have a valid fare and proof of payment yet she issued me a standard fare evasion ticket. Can someone please advise on next steps? This is just morally wrong.

    Like

    • Many people claim the scanners don’t work. I have not experienced any of this because I don’t take the Muni. Others claim they have fought this and won. Were you by any chance at Powell Street? I understand that most people get “caught” there. Good luck.

      Like

      • I bought a digital app through the muni mobile app for iphone. This was at the van ness station. I have a recept of the purchase and a saved image of the ticket being activated. The problem is the muni inspector flat out lied and said I did not have a ticket. Any advice on next steps?

        Like

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