Fare Inspector Holds Passport and Frisks (update with SFMTA comments)

New Passport
Photo by Flickr user Cold Cream Coffee

While things are looking apocalyptic for Muni, Muni rider Bill sent us a disturbing account of a fare inspection. Here’s what Bill wrote:

At about 6 p.m. tonight (2/1), I listened to a fare inspector on the 8x (bus #6238) ask a rider for his pass. Then the inspector asked him for ID. Once the man produced an Irish passport, the inspector then wanted to know where the man lived in San Francisco and how long he had been in this country. And then, while still holding on to his passport, she headed for the door with instructions that he follow. As the bus pulled away, she had started to pat the guy down.

Can a fare inspector request ID and hold onto it while they question and pat you down? The whole thing just didn’t seem kosher.

This sounds horrible. Positively Draconian. Did anyone else reading this see this go down? Surely a complaint can be lodged, with route, bus number, time of day, description of the POP officer in question. 311. We’ve sent questions to SFMTA for their official word on what fare inspectors can and cannot do, so stay tuned as we update this post.

We got in touch with SFMTA’s public relation officer Kristen Holland, who said that a fare inspector can ask to see your ID “for the purpose of writing a citation.” However, “The transit fare inspectors are not authorized to search Muni customers or their personal belongings.”

Another update from SFMTA: So far they have received no official complaint regarding this incident.


  • DanB

    I’ll let you know which ways I feel about this thing just as soon as I get over my shock that a fare inspector was actually sighted on an 8X.

  • Fare inspectors have no police powers, in fact, in the reports on fare evasion reasons, one category was “walked away”.

    A pat down is very bizarre, something else must have been going on. Maybe the inspector was an undercover?

    • DanB

      The only context I can think of here is that the guy used a youth/disabled/senior pass he wasn’t eligible to use and got caught. I believe that’s outside the spectrum of fare inspection and more of a police issue. Of course, I’m only basing this on my observations of BART police doing spot checks of people using the red/green tickets, so that may not be the case at all for Muni.

  • Daishin

    I hate to break your collective bubble but these sorts of things happen all the time with fare inspectors on MUNI. It’s just that I imagine that the people who write in to MUNI Diaries are working all day and only take MUNI to and from their employment.

  • Sunset Redbird

    I believe you are under NO legal obligation to show a fare inspector identification since they are NOT peace officers. Most of them remind me of the CETA workers from the 70’s and 80’s and Workfare of the 90’s–uneducated, thugish types who get their kicks harrassing decent folks. If you keep walking, they have no powers to apprend. Many of them seem like as one of my cop friends calls them “perp” types! Mental midgets earning City pensions at our expense! I routinely verbally abuse them while glady displaying my proof of payment–it’s cheaper than drugs!

    Given that, if they can’t demand an ID, they have no right to search, pat down, or anything of the like. They’re not cops… They’re on a par with

  • Al

    I would have reported it right away as they don’t have a right to search anyone as they are NOT cops. I also have a name for them. I just call then “Transit Rats”.

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