Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime

"Sir, You Are Not Allowed To Take Pictures On Muni Property!!"
Sir, You Are Not Allowed to Take Pictures on Muni Property!! by What I’m Seeing.com

It seems like day in and day out, increasingly, idiot cops and security guards continue to try and push photographers around. This most recent case is more personal to me because it hits close to home on the SF Muni and happened to a friend of mine Plug1.

Plug1 was doing his usual thing, which is documenting the hell out of daily SF life, when he was approached by an over-zealous muni transit fare cop, Fare Inspector #32.

From Plug1:

“Before I could get the 1st shot off, Fare Inspector #32 started marching towards me, hands in the air, yelling at me to STOP TAKING PICTURES!! So I put down away camera, walked towards him and answered his statement with a question. I asked him if he could cite me the specific Muni code that prohibited a Translink Card carrying passenger from taking pictures of Muni Personal on Muni Property. He could not. Instead he responded that I needed his permission and demanded to see my credentials and the pictures on my camera. He added that in fact, if I was unwilling to turn over possession of my camera to him he would seize my camera and have me arrested.”

Now first off. There is no prohibition against taking personal photographs anywhere publicly accessible in the Muni system. Public photography is allowed on both Muni and BART in the SF public transportation system. Secondly, no cop can ever make you delete images or seize your camera. Photography is a First Amendment right and they have no legal right to demand or do this. If Plug1 was arrested in this case, in fact, he’d have great material for a wrongful arrest case against SF Muni.

It sounds to me like this cop simply didn’t want his photo taken and decided to try and illegally bully Plug1 to get his way. This is an abuse of power. I hope Fare Inspector #32 is disciplined for this.

Now my own policy about shooting strangers is that if they ask me politely, 99% of the time I won’t shoot them or I’ll agree not to publish their image. In fact, over the years I’ve also taken down many images from my Flickrstream, blog, etc. when people have contacted me and asked me to take them down. On the other hand, when someone decides to be a prick about it, like this cop did, I’ll almost always publish their image and bring attention to the fact that they were being a pig — like Fare Inspector #32.

Somebody at Muni needs to inform Fare Inspector #32 that photography is in fact allowed within the muni system and that it’s an abuse of power for him to threaten paying customers with arrest over the crime of photography. Photography is not a crime.

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  1. The funniest part of this whole episode is that the city of San Francisco happens to be a place that attracts tourists. Tourists who bring cameras. And tourists who often use public transportation. Of all the transportation agencies who’d crack down on photography, you’d think that MUNI would be last on the list.

  2. Gary says:

    Is it just me or does he look like a former drug dealer or gang banger? Maybe there was an underlying reason or guilty conscience about why he was worried over a photo being taken!

  3. Plug1 says:

    Thanks, Thomas.

    You’re online reach is far greater than mine — and I hope our posts will encourage Muni to make public a well-thought out and sensible photography policy.

    The sad part of all this is that most of us are photographing Muni b/c we rely on it each and every day, and are able to find beauty in its daily minutia. It is a shame that Muni has no obvious current policy available, and worse that its lower level employees feel empowered to make up these “rules” on the fly.

    I look forward to one of us getting a response back from the SFMTA in the next few days, and clearing up an issue that has been plaguing local photographers for the past 10 years.

  4. Owen Byrne says:

    Muni Fare Inspector #32 may have the last laugh:

  5. Celine says:

    Gary, I’m curious — why does he look like a former drug dealer or gang banger? Really, I want to know.

    Thomas (and plug1), thanks for bringing this issue to light once again. Why are people so afraid of folks with cameras?

  6. […] Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime … […]

  7. I’m suprised FI#32 didn’t use the “I’m normally an undercover cop and don’t want my photo taken” excuse.

  8. Recently we had an issue with Glebe police in Sydney, Australia.
    We wer holding a peaceful protest outside of a scientology org, when all of a sudden like 6 police officers came along and tried to illegally move us on, stating no permit had been filed (which it had), and demanding that one of our photographers delete footage from his camera. Below are some comments from our forum…

    Comment by RSG a member of our party:
    “In fact, the police officer said to delete any footage with police in it, as Zhent had done a sweep around of the entire street with his video camera that included us as well as the police. When questioned, the police officer said something about footage of police in uniform will jeopardise those individuals if they later want to go undercover, as it can be used to find out that they’re police. He stated that any footage taken of police is illegal.”

    Comment of Zhent photographer in question:
    “I was approached and asked to delete footage from my video camera after doing some generic shots of anon and the the org, which the police happened to be standing in front of, it was not actually about the constable doing the move-along announcement.
    I was informed in so many words that it is illegal to film police officers, someone else will have to fill in the exact statement here.

    I of course questioned this and was told, as RSG said, that footage of police officers could potentially jeopardize them if they went undercover. I don’t believe i was not quoted any exact law about this, and certainly none about required deletion of footage.

    I sympathized with their statement but strongly objected to deleting the footage, knowing that I was well within my right to keep it and that being coerced to delete it would be unlawful and an abuse of photographers rights.
    However the officer in question firmly persisted, and I didn’t want to cause trouble (or get charged for some ridiculous offense), so I did delete the footage.

    I am certainly not happy about all of this and I hope we can use this to bring an understanding to the police about the rights of photographers and the relevant police authority.”

    Anyway, we didn’t end up moving on, but they did make us turn off the music, so we sung all our favourite tracks loudly to keep up the spirit.

    We have video footage of the cops trying to move us along online here: http://vimeo.com/4232109

  9. Ari says:

    I love the picture of him holding up his cell phone with the little camera lens visible. You know that thing people use everyday to take pictures with all over the city, but of course it’s not a ‘dangerous’ camera.

  10. plug1 says:

    just got a response from Muni. you can read it here: http://bit.ly/lSIDg

  11. […] Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime […]

  12. […] f‎e‎w d‎ay‎s‎ a‎go I b‎log‎g‎e‎d‎ a‎bou‎t an i‎nc‎ident‎ of […]

  13. Kenton says:

    I understand the concept of Muni personnel checking the various transit options (one-day Passport, three-day Passport, seven-day Passport, A Premium inclusive of (BART usage), CityPass, Disabled, Lifeline, M Muni-Only exclusive of (BART usage), Senior, Translink/Clipper and Youth for proof of payment.

    My only disagreement is with my trial usage of TransLink/Clipper card. Muni fare inspectors inform that their handheld card reader can’t verify its validity through plastic cardholder because it is not comparable to the TransLink/Clipper card readers on coaches. That is not the passengers’ fault. Customers have to remove their TransLink/Clipper for validity. Make handheld card reader comparable to actual TransLink/Clipper card readers.

    I find this very intrusive and inconvenience. All the sources below do not indicate that customers have to remove their TransLink/Clipper® card from anything for validity. Customers place their TransLink/Clipper cards into holders to protect the card from the elements. A loose TransLink/Clipper card in a pocket, hip pocket, back pocket and purse is subject to being lost.

    Source: proper translink card storage.pdf

    See page 2 of the following web-link regarding proper storage of TransLink (Clipper).


    All of the above transit options exclusive of TransLink/Clipper can be displayed (flash) with no action taken (for validity) by the holders. I would rather tag the vehicle TransLink/Clipper card reader again to indicate the TransLink/Clipper card was already processed. There should be equality among the transit options.

    Free Translink® cards for all Muni customers!

    Source: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mfares/TransLink.htm

    Clipper® users must tag their cards when entering the fare gates at Muni Metro stations or when boarding a Muni bus, streetcar or light rail vehicle. Muni fare inspectors or other authorized personnel may request a customer’s Clipper® card to verify its validity. POP–Muni fare inspectors or other authorized personnel may issue citations to customers who fail to display valid proof of payment upon request. Source: Available at all transit shelters with transit maps.

    Should I ask for a transfer when I board a Muni vehicle? How can I prove that I paid?

    TransLink will automatically calculate the 90-minute transfer period on Muni, so you are not required to carry a paper transfer. You must tag your card each time you transfer and enter a vehicle so that the card reader can confirm the transfer period is still in effect. The card reader will beep and show a green light to indicate that your transfer is valid. Transit fare inspectors have handheld card readers and conduct random checks of TransLink customers to ensure that they have tagged their cards properly. The handheld card reader only confirms that you have proper payment; it does not affect your card balance.


    (a) For any passenger or other person in or about any public transit station (including an outdoor high-level boarding platform or station operated by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District), streetcar, cable car, motor coach, trolley coach or other public transit vehicle to evade any fare collection system or proof of payment program instituted by the Municipal Transportation Agency.
    (b) For any person to board or ride a streetcar, motor coach, trolley coach without prior or concurrent payment of fare.
    (c) For any person to board a streetcar, motor coach, trolley coach through the rear exit except: (i) when a representative of the transit system is present at such exit for the collection of fares or transfers or the inspection for proof of payment; (ii) when the streetcar, motor coach, trolley coach or other transit vehicle is operating at a station or boarding platform where fares are collected prior to boarding the transit vehicle; (iii) when necessary for access by persons with disabilities on wayside boarding platforms; or (iv) when the streetcar, motor coach, or trolley coach is operating on a transit line or in a Proof of Payment Zone.
    (d) To fail to display a valid fare receipt or transit pass at the request of any authorized representative of the transit system or duly authorized peace officer while on a transit vehicle or in a Proof of Payment Zone.
    (e) To misuse any transfer, pass, ticket, or token with the intent to evade the payment of any fare.
    (f) To knowingly use or attempt to use any illegally printed, duplicated, or otherwise reproduced token, card, transfer or other item for entry onto any transit vehicle or into any transit station with the intent of evading payment of a fare.
    (g) For any unauthorized person to use a discount ticket or fail to present, upon request from a system fare inspector, acceptable proof of eligibility to use a discount ticket. (127)
    (Amended by Ordinance. 287-08, File No. 081340, App. 12/5/2008)

    Source: http://www.municode.com/content/4201/14143/HTML/ach007.html

    What is the difference between TransLink and Clipper?
    The card still works in the exact same way! Simply touch your card to the card reader to verify your pass, or deduct the fare from your cash balance.

    The only difference is that the gold chip that is seen on the TransLink card is now an internal chip in the Clipper card.


    I would enter Metro stations, but not exit from Metro stations to avoid this inconvenience from transit fare inspectors.

    Muni Regulations Local & State


    (Notice: All Activity within Muni Facilities is Video Recorded)

    • Any Eating, Drinking, or Smoking
    • Using Skates, or Skateboarding
    • Bringing Bicycles on the Metro
    • Any Miscue of Muni Facilities
    • Any Disruptive Behavior
    • Disturbing Others with Sound Producing Devices
    • Selling Transfers/Fare Media
    • Malicious Mischief (Vandalism)
    • Transportation of Hazardous Materials
    • Loitering
    • Trespassing on Trackways

    (T.C. 127, 128, P.C. 240, & Associated Sub-Sections)

    Proper ID Required for Discount Fare

    Proof of Payment Required at all times

    Source: Posted on Metro Platform Wall

    Customers are allowed to ride without cash payment if the Clipper reader is malfunctioning; however, transfers will not be issued. Customers will be asked to pay cash if their Clipper card is malfunctioning or there is no value on the card.

    Source: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mfares/ClipperFactSheet.htm

    This is true, if the Clipper Card reader in not working, operators are supposed to treat it the same as a broken fare box and let the patron ride for free. Upon doing so the operator is not to issue a transfer. If you should encounter this type of situation, make sure to record the bus number and please report it to 311. Also keep the bus number just incase you should encounter a problem with a proof of payment officer.

    Source: “Munipsrweb” Munipsrweb@sfmta.com