SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – BART is looking to spend millions of dollars putting fare cheats out of business. But it turns out, it’s against state law to go after juveniles.

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Under a law that took effect in January, people under 18 cannot be arrested or cited for fare evasion.

The point of the law, by state Senator Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys, is to keep minors from racking up huge criminal records just for jumping fare gates.

KCBS and San Francisco Chronicle Insider Phil Matier reports in Monday morning’s Matier and Ross column that BART has not issued a single citation to a juvenile fare jumper this year.

Meantime, the agency says fare evaders in general are costing the system as much as $25 million a year.

The mob of kids who took over a train at the Coliseum Station last month and robbed a bunch a passengers all jumped the fare gates, according to BART police.

The law doesn’t mean kids get a free ride. BART station agents and police can refuse entry to juveniles who don’t have a ticket, and juvenile fare evaders can be ejected from the system.

For years BART director Joel Kellor has been trying to turn back a growing tide of fare jumpers.

“It’s is a substantial problem,” says Keller. “We’ve had reports that it could be three to five percent of our riders, which could amount to 22,000 riders a day.”

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Now BART is gearing up to spend about a million dollars to hire inspectors to track down the cheats but under the new law juveniles won’t be held accountable.

But as Keller sees it, it’s BART that winds up being handcuffed.

“Without accountability and consequences, it’s going to be difficult to reduce this fare evasion problem,” says Keller. “The problem continues and gets worse.”

That’s not the case right next door at Muni, where an army of 80 inspectors roam the system, checking for fare cheats and handing out tickets to juveniles and adults alike.

“It’s $58 for youths, $110 for adults,” says Muni spokesman Paul Rose.

There’s no mark on anyone’s record and it seems to be working.

“We’ve seen the numbers go down,” says Rose

Not so at BART, where when it comes to kids, the rule is still catch and release.

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“We need help through the legislature for that to happen but if there aren’t consequences, whether they are good kids or not so good kids, they are likely to find that an attractive thing to do,” says Keller.