I-Team

Clock error leads to Muni ticketing mistake

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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The fines paid by hundreds of drivers are now being refunded because of a mistake uncovered by the ABC7 I-Team.

This was a highly-touted pet project of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a plan to ease traffic by targeting double-parkers and cars stopped in transit lanes. But a simple glitch caused one big problem.

Business is slow at 74-year-old George Chen's smoke shop in San Francisco, so the $85 parking ticket he received in June came as a shock.

"I am just surviving right now. If I pay a ticket, it's just, the whole day is shattered," he said.

George has a commercial license which allows him to use the loading zone in front of his store until 4 p.m., when the lane is supposed to be cleared for mass transit.

George knows the rules, so he took a closer look at the ticket.

"I think the time's wrong," he said.

George called the I-Team and we accompanied him to the Municipal Transportation Agency, the MTA.

It turns out he was caught on video by a forward-looking camera on a Muni bus, part of the transit-only lane enforcement project.

The time on the video says 16:33 -- 4:33 in the afternoon.

"It wasn't after 4:30 p.m., I was out there before 4 p.m., somewhere around 3:30 p.m.," George said.

To get to the bottom of this, the I-Team filed a Public Records Act request three weeks ago -- the results have just come back. On 17 buses, the camera recorders failed to adjust for daylight saving time in March.

The clocks were off one hour, and technicians didn't catch it for more than three months. The MTA issued 510 tickets based on the wrong time.

"This was a classic mistake, and you got to own up to it and you got to fix it," Newsom said.

The Muni bus cameras were a pet project of Newsom. We broke the news to him about the time problem, at the groundbreaking for the new Transbay Terminal.

"For all those folks that got those citations, all I can say is 'I'm sorry,' and it's a completely legitimate concern that should be addressed and you got to own up to it, so we're sorry, lesson learned and let's make sure we don't make this mistake again," Newsom said.

And we broke the news to MTA Executive Director Nat Ford.

"Well, this is the first I'm hearing of that, so I'll have to check back with our staff and see if that is the case, and then we'll have to make sure we correct the problem if there is one," he said.

Ford also addressed an e-mail obtained by the I-Team in which a supervisor acknowledges the "technical error" and says she will "dismiss citations only if protestor questions time of issuance" -- meaning, only if people catch the MTA's mistake.

Dan Noyes: "Is that the way you should handle this? There are more than 500 tickets."

Nat Ford: "No, I think what we should do is if we do have a problem with the tickets and we can verify it, we should refund that money if there was a problem with our system."

Dan Noyes: "And be proactive about it?"

Nat Ford: "And be proactive, yeah, that is kind of simple, yeah."

Ford assures us his office will be proactive and refund more than $28,000 people have paid for these bad tickets, and will excuse more than $27,000 in fines that are still due.

uReport:

So what's wrong with Muni and how can it be fixed?

That's the question posed on uReport powered by YouTube to the candidates for supervisor in San Francisco's 10th district.

The question was asked after a recent candidates forum and you can see the answers gathered by contributor M Ocean View Journal at uReport.abc7news.com or by visiting the links below:

If you have something to share with us, upload videos and photos to uReport.abc7news.com, or e-mail them to uReport@kgo-tv.com.

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Tags:
transportation, muni, gavin newsom, SFMTA, i-team, dan noyes
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