Muni plastic transfers: taking the bus is now for the rich

San Francisco’s public transit system is best known for three things: rarely being on time, frequently breaking down and giving out those long, colorful, paper transfers that crafty commuters can fold up to make it look as if they have more time left to ride. One of those things is about to change.

San Francisco’s Municipal Transit System announced Aug. 24 that it plans to stop using the driver-distributed paper transfers in favor of implementing a fare machine that will eject plastic cards with 90 minutes on them. By more diligently requiring its patrons to pay the standard fare of $2.25 every 90 minutes with these cards, SFMTA is contributing to the increasingly high cost of living in an already expensive city.

Currently, even when a passenger obeys the rules and doesn’t fold up the transfer, paper transfers are good for a varying amount of time, depending on when a passenger begins their commute. This morning, for example, I got on the bus at 8:45 a.m. and the transfer the driver ripped off for me was good until 11:30 a.m. Sometimes when I board the bus at 6 p.m., the transfer will remain valid for the rest of the night.

The new plastic cards will ensure that riders can only use a transfer for an hour and a half. If riders take a bus or train any later than that, they will have to pay an additional $2.25. This may not seem like a lot, but for riders who rely on Muni for their every day transportation needs, cost mount quickly.

Many people take the bus because they cannot afford gas or an Uber. Biking is theoretically always an option, but for people who live across the city from their place of work or who live in San Franciscobut work in the East Bay, this option is either very labor-intensive or unrealistic.

As a student without a car, I rely entirely on the bus to take me to and from school and work. Previously, I could travel to and from both places in one day on five dollars. With the new transfers, it will cost me $9 to get to school and work and back every day.

SFMTA provides an affordable alternate mode of transit. Once the 90-minute plastic transfers are in place, however, that won’t be the case anymore.

Less wealthy citizens may want to consider investing in a bike or walking to work because, apparently, even riding the bus has become an elitist activity in this city.

Latest comments
  • Uh, I’m not sure a transportation option that still costs less than $2,500 a year for that many trips can be considered anything close to elitist. Sorry that your loopholes are closing, though.

    • Given that a Fastpass is $70 a month it’s only $840 a year.

      • Haha even better.

  • SF is a City for the rich, regardless of how you cut it. But, I guess we have a chance to change that by voting against the densification plans that City Hall has in store for us. Most neighborhood groups agree that the best change is less. If you feel that way, support Prop I and J, and K. Vote for a pause in construction and a new plan. It’s not too late to sign the petition to STOP SFMTA and be sure to let them know how you feel about those pass restrictions: http://pac.petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-sfmta-san-francisco

    • Less change = no new housing. You realize that makes things more expensive for those of us who call San Francisco home? I want to stay in San Francisco, and you are making that harder. “Most neighborhood groups agree that the best change is less.” Um, ok? Most neighborhood groups (I’ve been in multiple) are run by homeowners or long-term renters with rent control, who have no interest in making SF affordable for future generations. Please stop being selfish and allow SF to build housing for its future residents.

      • Exactly. This NIMBY attitude is one of the main drivers of escalating costs. Supply and demand is a pretty basic concept.

        • Except among SF’s progressive fringe. Many of them (e.g., David Campos) honestly do not believe that supply and demand do not apply to the SF housing market.

          • It actually seems that most of SF’s political moderates do not understand how complex supply and demand are, and many clearly have not looked for housing in a market where there is nothing _available_ except high-end condos that did not sell during a boom time like we’re now experiencing. If we build more affordable and low income housing – “affordable” means that someone on $150k can squeeze it into their budget – the future will offer boundless opportunity to tear down properties that are run-down, but which people are clinging to because of rent control, and build condos where people who really, REALLY want to fucking pay $8000 a month for a one bedroom can go to town. Of course, if you REALLY want to spend that much, there are probably furnished suites with maid service available at the Four Seasons for less.

  • It appears that the SFMTA or some other city department needs the money to remove and replant street trees on Van Ness and Geary Blvd. You get to pay for that one way or the other.

    • Almost all of the trees the city are tearing out are dying of natural causes. Far cheaper to remove them now than pay out in lawsuits and service outages when they topple.

  • If it currently costs you $5 each day (assuming you use muni on weekends as well) it would make more sense for you to buy the monthly pass, which would actually save you money

    • I imagine she’ll claim many people can’t manage to save up the money to buy one. Maybe Muni can do layaway?

      • I was hoping muni would come up with an offer Clipper cards for college students, like the ones they already offer for students under 18yo (but that system sounds easy to abuse). This author would probably qualify as a student, since he/she is already losing a lot of money.

    • Just what I was thinking! Heck, she doesn’t even need to use it every weekday in a month.

  • Why would you pay $9 a day when a Fastpass is $70 a month?

    • Math. Hard.

    • Monthly pass…
      Calling it a fastpass isn’t exactly correct… but whatever. I guess it’s faster than cash.

  • If you rely on Muni every day why do you not buy a monthly pass? Also, if you rely on muni every day and use it all of the freaking time why would you not be expected to pay for it’s upkeep?

    • It’s a common misconception that transit fares cover the operating costs of transit systems, in fact according to Tom Radulovich in a recent public meeting, BART is the only system in the nation which does, because the federal grants which were available when it was established have dried up.

      • Caltrain recovers 60-61% of its costs from fares, which is one of the highest returns in the country for similar systems.

  • Is the author saying it is elitist, because in the past, she received extra time from a driver too lazy or disinterested to check the transfer? Wonder if the author understands that the purpose of this policy is to both ensure that all riders receive a reliable, similar amount of time on the transfer (we call that “fairness”, not “elitist”). The amount of the transfer has been consistent for years; it’s the drivers who are not implementing it consistently. Muni is not elitist; the author is acting entitled.

    • Yes, she is.

    • In stead of attacking the author herself consider what her argument is. She points out that there is a consistent MUNI fare increase in relation to the transformation of the city social structure. Working class people are hugely impacted in comparison to the wealthier white collar class. I remember 5 years ago the MUNI fare was a dollar, then it became a dollar fifty. Now it becomes $2.25. This increase in living cost might have little to no impact to the middle class and above. But for those who are working class and rely on public transportation, this is a huge change. To consider what’s being fair, prior to this policy, everyone gets a transfer and use it however they seem fit, regardless whether the driver implement or not and who you are. Now with the increase in MUNI fare, this excludes a portion of the population simply because they can’t no longer afford the transportation cost, from $5 a day to $9 a day; it almost double the transportation cost. By doing so, the essence of public transportation is diminished and transformed into “middle-class” public transportation. In which, they don’t need to use public transportation as they have private transportation.

  • “riding the bus has become an elitist activity in this city.”

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!

  • Relax, there’s nothing stopping you from just hopping on without paying at all, since you seem completely at peace with fare evasion.

    • Fare evasion drives me nuts too !

    • True. There is no difference between hopping on thru the back and folding up the transfer when the fare inspectors board the bus and get a closer look.
      You get a fine either way for not holding a valid transfer or Clipper.

  • This is how they do it in NYC (have done for years) and it appears to have worked out pretty well. I think we’ll manage.

  • I like the paper transfers too. But Muni simply won’t become elitist because 1) you can buy a Clipper card and monthly pass with which you can spend all day on Muni; and 2) it’s simply cheaper than driving and parking. When I take Muni, I will never pay parking ticket, expensive parking garage, buy gas, or incur additional wear and tear on my car which results in service and maintenance.

  • How about fare evaders? Especially on thr 14 and 49 lines, less than half the patrons typically pay.

    Assuming paper tickets will get you more than the allotted time to transfer is a reason to NOT use a Clipper card, but people who use Clipper Cards arent elitist…

  • This is an idiotic argument. The transfer time has always been 90 minutes. Just because you could take advantage of a loophole by an archaic paper ticket system does not suddenly make the system elitist. Are you suggesting that it’s elitist to have to pay the fare that you’re supposed to pay? How much money is Muni losing because they aren’t properly collecting fares? If anything the people who are not paying are the elitist ones – what makes them think they are above paying the required Muni fares?

  • Sour grapes from a scofflaw.

  • This may not seem like a lot, but for riders who rely on Muni for their every day transportation needs, cost mount quickly.’

    Dear Jessica: There’s a magic card call a Clipper upon which you can load a monthly, unlimited ride pass.

  • let me guess: you’re under 25 and you moved here in the past 3 years. my eyes are rolling so hard right now that one fell out. brb…

  • Your attempt at class warfare fails. 0/10, no points

    • Seriously.

      I feel pity yet I can’t stop laughing.

  • I disagree with all the naysayers. its hard being a broke student and having to commute all the way to state. its hard relying on a system thats unreliable and its hard when the city politics are so skewed and the benefits of the city are going to the rich. and people claiming the affordability of living in the city, take a look back at what you do for a living i think she is trying to highlight that these disparities will continue to happen if we keep succumbing to these muni fare increases and changes in service because people that live here NOW can afford them. muni is one of the worst managed public transit systems in the US and there is public records to prove it. its not fair for the people of SF to have to pay for a failing public transit system from one renegade to another, i’m with you Jessica!

    • You know, there are many problems in the city. Affordability of housing and food is way up the list of problems. The cost of transit, though, is not one of the unaffordable things. You can currently pay $70 to ride Muni as much as you want (or $83 if you need to use BART). Once you exceed 15 days of riding, the pass wins out easily. There is no cheaper way to get around. The fare rules are $2.25 gets you 90 minutes of travel. True, you used to be able to milk the system to get more, but that was really a way of cheating the system.

  • It bears repeating, and I hope the author answers: why would you even pay $5 per day when a monthly pass is $70?

  • That’s a bit uncalled for.

      • You ain’t him.

  • A Day Pass (excludeing the cable car), follows the model of other Transit agencies. A day pass (excludeing the cable car) would eliminate the need for a transfer, which is a good thing.
    Passports is a product, for those who want to ride the cable car.
    A Passport $17 (or 7.5, average rides) A Day Pass $5.75 (or 2.5 rides average rides).
    Many common commuters using MUNI, most average daily riders, infrequently ride the cable car.
    SFMTA should roll out a day pass (which excludes the cable car). VTA, and AC Transit, have a day pass via Clipper. Sadley Samstran, has a day pass but you must pay cash. Remember, if you ride transit daily, you really should buy a monthly pass.
    The other real complaint in this article is cubic, or what we know is clipper, they are so limiting, they hold back transit agencies, and anytime you want to do something with clipper or cubic, it is very costly to the agency.

  • If being able to manage 90 minute transfer windows means I’m rich, someone owes me a bunch of money.

    You know, because I’m far from rich. Or elitist,

  • If you live in the Outer Sunset, your 90 minute transfer will run out quickly. If you board the N at 48th Avenue, for example, and ride all the way to the Ball Park, 45 minutes will be gone by the time you get to your destination. I live near 47th and Judah, and often take the 18-46th Avenue, which runs only every twenty minutes on a good day, to go grocery shopping at the Ocean Beach Safeway. Just that one stop at Safeway, and the travel time there and back, would have used up my entire 90 minutes.

  • The author must have her eye on an internship with Fox News, because she omits a key facts to give her readers what they to hear and not what they need to know.

    The company that made the farebox system in use today went of of business a while ago and replacement parts are scarce or no longer exit.. Not replacing them is not an option. All of the players in the farebox manufacturing industry (read: 2) only make boxes with ad readers as standard equipment, and there is why students are victims.

  • I was a tourist in your city in May. I got myself one of those clipper cards. There was no check if I was a tourist, so if you don’t need a monthly one get one of those weekly including cable car ones.
    I found your public transport great and affordable. I travelled all over the place and found the cable cars great for some trips which would have been much slower than muni. I live in London in the UK and our public transport costs a fortune compared to yours and really isn’t that much better. Aren’t there student discount on Clipper? Also so many places are in easy walking distance from Market street, you could probably safe quite a bit of money by just taking one bus and walk a bit.

  • Ah… this article. What this article is really saying is “boohoo, now muni is actually enforcing a way to actually pay its fares.”

    Protip Nemire, just hop on without paying. No one gives a shit. But then dont come crying to all of us again when Muni up its fares. Again.

    Let’s be real here.

    Its not about “Muni is now elitist.”

    ITs not about “Muni is no longer an option to the poor and middle class.”

    It’s about “Change is bad. Change is different. I can no longer hope that the driver will just give me a transfer that is good for all day. Boohoo Muni is now enforcing its hour and a half rule for transfer.”

    I say if you want to find the real elitist, just look in the mirror.

  • So the author is upset because she can’t illegally ride muni anymore? “As a student without a car, I rely entirely on the bus to take me to and from school and work,” and I still manage to be an adult, get to work, and help pay for the upkeep for public transit. Maybe the author would do better living in a different city.

  • Welcome to the real world.

    DC Metro cost $1.75 for 90 minutes and there are no monthly passes. Good bye paying $68 dollars a month. I’m paying $4 a day because I rarely have exact change and Metro keeps my $.25.

  • Good to see the GGX has maintained its standard of journalistic excellence since I graduated