It’s likely transit fare enforcement gets weird practically anywhere. In San Francisco, good and bad behavior of fare inspectors and fare evaders fall on every point on the spectrum.
Personally, I tap my card every time. On days when the fare isn’t in my budget, I walk (even when it takes more than an hour to get home). It isn’t that simple for everyone, but most of us have seen fare evaders who travel only a short distance. They’re doing it for the thrill, and when paying passengers see that happen it sways public opinion in favor of aggressive enforcement.
There are other passenger habits which can put innocent bystanders on edge — or drive us to desperation. Sunflower seed shells, food wrappers, the empty (we hope) aluminum can which rolls back and forth on the floor, the wad of chewing gum you discover when just a minute ago you thought you’d settled into the last available seat…
It’s my understanding that fare inspectors on SF Muni aren’t supposed to touch passengers. Some of them do, though, and a small number of them have singled out passengers of the opposite sex for selective enforcement.
Clarification: I haven’t witnessed actual sexual harassment from any fare inspectors, and haven’t personally seen other biased behavior on the part of that agency’s employees. The sexist enforcement came from inspectors who were behaving as if they thought they were defending themselves against a stampede of ex-spouses.
To offer perspective, a number of years ago a very professional, friendly fare inspector in San Francisco, Tony Lama, rescued a passenger who had fallen onto the tracks in one of the Downtown subway stations.
The link to a City Lab article describes how fare evasion is dealt with in other countries.
As an afterthought, it may be smart to share one of the most cynical and realistic guides to the New York City MTA ever to be uploaded to YouTube.
This post appears in slightly different form on a private social media page.