Muni Considers Fare Hikes, Service Cuts as Deficit Grows to $129 Million

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The MTA is now considering fare increases and service cuts to deal with a deficit that has grown to $129 million. The shortfall has worsened because of the state budget crisis, the sinking economy and the elimination of the State Transportation Assistance fund.

"The hit we’re taking from the new state budget is the biggest blow to our budget since January," said MTA spokesperson Judson True.

The Board has already approved hiring freezes, furloughs and delays in equipment repair. A cash infusion from reserves made up for $77 million but the remaining $51 million gap requires further measures.

Pages 10 through 13 of this budget presentation (PDF) to be made Tuesday to the MTA Board outline a possible range of options for closing the gap, a menu of items staff thinks is realistic. Options on the table:

  • Increase the $1.50 cash fare for adult single rides to $2.00 
  • Increase the monthly Fast Pass fare to $60.00 (It’s scheduled to go up to $55.00 July 1st)
  • Raise monthly Fast Pass fares for riders who also use BART by $5.00
  • Raise the fare on the historic F-Line by $1.00

The MTA is also considering raising parking fees and the controversial sale of taxi medallions. The proposals would have to go through a series of public hearings before they could be adopted. The MTA budget must also be approved by the Board of Supervisors. 

"There aren’t any easy choices, but right now everything is on the table," said True, who added a
presentation by CFO Sonali Bose is intended to give the Board and the public staff’s
recommendations for options to address the deficit and "the difficult
decisions have to be made by the Board after public input."

The next MTA Board Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 17th, at 2pm in City Hall room 400.

Flickr photo: pbo 31

  • Is the boarding time ever considered in these analyses? Like, if more customers are paying with two dollar bills rather than a dollar bill and a handful of change hopefully they’ll get on the bus a little faster?

  • First we are noted as the lowest efficient service area, with the 17 Parkmerced Bus, proposed cuts to this service, and additional low-frequency of the M-Lines (See Rachel Gordon SF Chronicle article last weds.) Now we get the next steps to chop service, raise fees, for seniors, disabled, students and families, that already are at the brink due to the economy, rising costs of living, health, transit, housing, and lack of jobs. Where is the real concern by the SFMTA, when they spend millions analyzing and cutting services, rather than step FORWARD in the development and running of the basic services to keep SF a municipal city, instead of a third world transit system…? FIX MUNI, or get someones “head” on a platter….

    That includes the mayor, whom was busy looking for truant kids, over concerns that the entire muni system is breaking down again.

    Where’s the focus, when we do not see a livable, sustainable city..?

    Someone, anyone with any experience within the organization, step up and run the damn system…! What does it take a city take-over by residents?

  • Matt

    There are so many things that Muni could do for FREE that would speed up service.

    For one thing, why are there bus stops on every block? It takes almost an hour to ride the 1-California from downtown to the Outer Richmond even with no traffic because the bus stops on every block. Many transit systems place a stop every EIGHT blocks–that way, the most anyone has to walk for a bus stop is still only four blocks. Imagine how much faster the bus would move if it only had to stop 1/8 as often.

    For another thing, perhaps Muni drivers could have the power to cite people who drive on the bus-only lanes. I hate these people!

    I’m full of ideas 🙂

  • The main culprit is in Sacramento. The state budget process is a farce, and we’ve ended up with the inevitable farcical result: cutting public transit funds when ridership figures are higher than ever.

    I wonder if any study has proven that increased fares lead to increased revenue. I worry that many people will just be driven back into their cars if fares go up, which will leave the rest of us paying more to ride Muni through more congested streets.

    I would be quite irate if the fare for just the F line was increased without an increase in reliability of the underground lines (J to N and T). I often use the F for this reason; it may be much slower, but it’s also much more reliable.

    Mike Fogel: I’d be all for raising cash fares to $2 if Translink fares remained at $1.50. It would encourage riders to get a Translink card, and that would would make a bigger impact on stop expediency than whether riders are using notes or coins.

    Matt: The transit systems that place stops every eight blocks probably don’t have to go over the hills that the 1-California does. Could you imagine elderly and disabled people trying to walk the four blocks from Mason to Leavenworth Street? There are stops at every corner of that part of town for a very valid reason—I know some able-bodied people who’d baulk at walking up that part of Clay Street. Stops are more sparse in the Richmond because it’s flatter—there might be some merit to them being sparser still, but in the meantime, may I suggest the 38L, which is only two blocks away and stops about every eight blocks as you suggest?

  • Peter

    because the bus stops on every block.

    true dat. the bus is just an oversized cattle car taxi service. it treats its inhabitants like animals — tossing them around every which way, and then stops on every block to make it convenient – right in front of your home and work. it’s a total disaster. what happened to the TEP stuff?

    i like the idea of TEP – eliminating unnecessary stops, eliminating unnecessary ridiculousness, etc.

    don’t up bus fares — we’re already making bus people suffer enough, having to ride those contraptions. it’s time to phase out buses.

    i like the idea of banging BART riders for a lot more — they can afford it.

    and i like the idea of banging F-Line riders for a lot more — they can’t afford it as much, but someone’s gotta pay — it’s time we hit the monied classes a bit more this time.

    we have to look at the idea of feeder buses getting people to light rail stops — paratransit and all that. streetsblog and streetfilms is crazy about all things Bogota and BRT, but i haven’t seen much in the way of feeder bus systems.

    if we run neighborhood shuttles, they can be smaller, more efficient, more comfortable, cheaper to maintain, more flexible, less dangerous, etc. then we make the light rail lines the workhorses they were designed to be. more use of the rail system will give us justification to lay more rail instead of putting more and bigger and crappier buses on the street which will of course end up on Market Street, messing up any chance we have of making that street decent for humans to inhabit.

    and we need to address the other side of transit — human-powered transit. we need to start planning for real intermodal transit — how to ride your bike or walk a mile or four to the nearest rail stop, etc. people who want to live in the sticks can do so, but we can’t be running taxi services to your doorstep for time immemorial.

    we need a little personal responsibility. we need some land-use and zoning and other changes to allow transit-impaired folks the ability to get around easier. we need to start using some real transit money to build bike facilities in and around stations, possibly accommodating more bikes on board, etc.

    dump the bus, Gus!

  • Peter

    p.s. great photo!

  • Peter

    I worry that many people will just be driven back into their cars if fares go up

    ain’t nobody getting back in their cars. these days, people can afford a car or a house, but not both. people who are riding mass transit will continue to ride mass transit — even buses. people don’t have a choice. the last resort is to walk or bike, and that’s not really possible in this town, so people will continue riding transit.

    that said, i’d love to see actual models that predict how much revenue we’ll be able to gain per unit of fare increase. one would hope and think that our transit agencies actually do this fare stuff scientifically, but i doubt it. economists and transit officials will have a good idea of the elasticity of demand for transit — we should all be able to see the models, slide the sliders to figure out cost projections, etc. hopefully Google Transit and TOPP are working on things like this.

    The transit systems that place stops every eight blocks probably don’t have to go over the hills that the 1-California does. Could you imagine elderly and disabled people trying to walk the four blocks from Mason to Leavenworth Street?

    Yes. I see elderly people every day who are in better physical shape than me. But this whole idea that we’re supposed to spend tons of money to cater to rich people is a bit absurd. If you want to live in the most impractical, most expensive part of town — fine, I’m not mad at ya – but don’t come calling for a bus stop every 50 feet. We need to start thinking about smart policies. Do we want to encourage people who can’t walk up and down hills to live at the top of a hill? I ride my bike, so I won’t consider living at the top of a hill, unless it’s easily bikeable. Others should be compelled to go through that same decision process.

    There are stops at every corner of that part of town for a very valid reason—I know some able-bodied people who’d baulk at walking up that part of Clay Street.

    Talk about getting zero sympathy from me. There’s going to be a transition time when elderly and disabled and even normals folks are going to have to be smart about not living at the top of hills, not living in Orange County, not living in the middle of the desert, and all sorts of inhospitable places. Our hills are a gift from God (if She exists), but that doesn’t mean everyone should live at the top of them.

  • Matt

    Michael Scheper: Good points and I certainly don’t mean to be callous toward the elderly or handicapped, but it also doesn’t make sense to hobble the entire system for the benefit of those less fortunate few. Perhaps there’s a compromise–put in more stops in hilly areas, then make the stops very sparse in flat areas? There’s just no good reason why it should take an hour for a bus to cover a few miles.

    Imagine if you offered this to San Franciscans: If you are willing to walk four blocks to your bus stop instead of just one, we will make the bus move 2-3 times faster. They might even save money by saving gas due to less braking. Who would turn that down?

  • In times of depression where Keynesian stimulus is the order of the day, government should be figuring out ways to put money in transit riders pockets instead of taking money out.

    Our delegations in Sacramento and Washington are uniquely positioned to make a difference on this yet nothing is happening.

    We need to be lowering fares right now and increasing service because it is good to pump transit rider dollars into the economy rather than the into government as higher fares from the demand side and because the depression makes driving all that more expensive and transit needs to be beefed up to pick up the slack.

    Feinstein, Boxer, Pelosi, Leno, Yee, Ma, Ammiano, we need infusions of moolah from on high to keep our transit system from being outclassed by Calcutta in these tough times.

    -marc

  • Mike S.

    why isn’t anyone proposing even modest increases to the state gas tax??

    1. At about $2.10 per gallon, people will not change their travel habits over a few cent hike (we saw last summer that changes started occurring at about $3.25-3.75)

    2. It sends the right market signal that most of us need to find more efficient/environmentally friendly ways of traveling.

    3. It provides vital funding to transportation and transit.. the areas we need to invest in the most to handle California’s next big growth spurt.

    This is such a low-hanging fruit!!

    Other ideas:

    Does anyone agree that the Muni needs to secure modest concessions in work rules and pay scales for new hires? When thousands of unemployed people are willing to drive a bus for HALF the wage of a union worker, we need to seriously consider where we’re spending our money.

    Yea.. I agree with everyone above, I’d rather take elimination of bus stops to service cuts any day. Faster buses mean each bus gets done with its route faster and thus you can eliminate costly runs, while keeping the existing frequency.

  • Belgand

    Cutting stops is definitely needed. I live along Hayes and the 21 stops at every single block. The route is flat and there is simply no need to stop (or install shelters when some lines have little more than a splotch of paint in the middle of the road) on every single block. It’s certainly convenient, but I don’t think that it would be a huge problem if we moved it to every three blocks and it would most likely increase speed.

    Service cuts are not the answer. Not when Muni is consistently unable to provide the 85% on-time service that the voters have required of them. We’re already dealing with the problems of having cut service. A better idea, well before any of these, however, would be to cut management salaries. Muni is continually cash-strapped already and is not functioning anywhere near the level we need. No bonuses and lower salaries for the people who need to be fixing these problems. If anyone in the management of Muni is making more than $100,000/year they need to have their salary lowered for failing to do their jobs properly (i.e. having a system that works correctly) before trying to squeeze the users on both ends (higher fees, less service).

    The idea of offering a decrease in fare for using TransLink is a great idea that would speed boarding. The problem is that they’re still taking far too long to roll it out officially and even though it’s been working for years now now that it’s in another testing phase I still have had issues where the readers are not even turned on.

  • alesha

    What if passengers who board the back of the busses without paying actually paid their fares? Not all of them have fast passes.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Alesha, how much revenue do you reckon could be raised by 100% perfect fare enforcement? Keep in mind that some people will simply choose not to ride if they can’t ride for free, and enforcement is expensive.

  • Cutting stops is cutting service.

    Why should we encourage a race to the bottom on salaries? I’ve got a feeling that people would get cranky driving the 14 Mission for $14/hr and would burn out very quickly. Where could they afford to live on $14/hr?

    That said, work rules need reforming and the conversion of wage ceiling to wage floor in Prop A was supposed to be a reach across the chasm to labor, with work rule concessions to follow at contract negotiation time. Newsom and Ford renegotiated the contract without any change in work rules.

    One example of a work rule I’d like to see changed, and this really exposes my inner fascist, is that operators on the Metro division be required to depart the terminals of their lines at the time specified on the schedule. Currently, it is “the culture” of the Metro division that they get to depart at will. I am sure that there are other work rule changes that might crimp the latitude of TWU 250’s working people but would result in time savings to hundreds of thousands of working people.

    The TEP was supposed to be a three pronged study, route realignment, labor reform and capital planning. Only the first leg of that stool has been completed that I can see.

    Collecting fare probably costs the system as much time as frequent stops and would be a more reasonable cut.

    The ADA requires that public services be provided equivalently to persons with disabilities, and would probably be the basis for a lawsuit if stops were eliminated.

    Gas or vehicle taxation requires state action.

    We need to get in gear to leverage our delegations in Sacto and DC to plug the Muni budget hole, and we need to force our absentee Mayor to the table on progressive revenue reform, swapping the job killing payroll tax for a broader based gross receipts tax and making up for the difference of the ill-advised 2001 tax settlement.

    -marc

  • Chris

    I strongly support Mike S.’s proposal to raise the gas tax, but for a while a proposal to raise the gas tax was actually part of the most recent state budget package. A lone Republican in the Senate, however, was able to yank that proposal – all thanks to this state’s absurd and anti-democratic two-thirds vote requirement for budgets and taxes. That same two-thirds vote requirement is the Dems’ pretext for going along with spending cuts that totally eviscerate state support for transit operating expenses.

    I agree with those who say bus stops should be consolidated. Of course the distance between stops should take geography into account and I think eight blocks is too far apart for non-express routes, but any sentient regular rider of Muni could identify many stops that are absurdly close together for no good reason.

    Now for my own dewey-eyed, utopian suggestion: why don’t Muni riders make simple changes in their own behavior that would instantly improve the quality and speed of service without costing anyone a dime. A few examples: stop standing in doorways and at the front of the bus, stand aside to let people get off the bus/train quickly, have the fare ready before boarding, stop hogging seats, and take the damn backpack off when the bus/train is crowded.

  • Just to be clear: I’m not against fewer Muni stops; it’s a good idea. I’m just against reducing the number of stops in very hilly areas.

    While I agree that people should choose where they live based on transport options and where they need to go (this is one of the main reasons I live in the City, even though I don’t like the weather), Nob Hill is one of the densest parts of town, and I think it’s ridiculous to expect large numbers of people to move out of homes they’ve lived in for decades so we can yank their accessible bus stops.

    I’d especially rally behind more express buses and routes. Peter: the 1-California and 38-Geary have limited-stop buses. Since the 1 bothers you so much, have you walked those extra few blocks so you could catch either of these? Do they satisfy you? When I lived in the outer Mission, I’d often let a 14 or two pass so I could grab a 14L and it definitely made a difference.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I don’t think there is a 1L. If there was, I’d ride it.

  • jdub

    The bus stop spacing issue is one I have been interested in for some time. Recently, I have been doing some investigation into Muni stop spacing. Using Google Maps, I have measured the distance between stops, the total route length and have calculated the number of stops per mile.

    So far, I have examined a few routes and have found that the average stop spacing is about 600 ft apart, with about 8-9 stops per mile. The 39 Coit bus stops an amazing 12 times per mile.

    While close stop spacing may benefit the few who have mobility problems, it cripples the system for the vast majority of riders. As Matt pointed out, eliminating stops does not cost any money and is probably the most effective in terms of increasing speed and reliability.

    It is difficult politically to remove stops. However, the emergency that is the MUNI budget deficit is an opportunity to do what heretofore has been politically impossible. We have reached a point where it is no longer realistic to operate the system as inefficiently as we have been doing.

    By eliminating stops and enforcing the bus-only lanes, we have a shot at dramatically improving MUNI service for no additional cost.

  • Let’s also remember that vehicles only stop at stops if people use those stops.

    More frequent service enabled by treatments like TPS and DPT management of transit streets for transit would mean fewer stops in practice if average demand at each stop is at the low level where some would consider eliminating the stop.

    -marc

  • I don’t know if people on this list have ever seen the reaction to proposed elimination of bus stops. There are massive complaints from mobility impaired people who say they cannot walk more than one block to get to the bus stop and would be completely immobilized if their local bus stop were removed.

  • It makes no sense at all to talk about budget cuts for transit in a country which will spend over 500 billion on its military this year (not counting pensions for former military and so on…).

    In hilly Prague, tram and bus stops are spaced to be within a 5-min. walk of most people. Both there but especially in Berlin, stops which do not always have been people waiting at them do not get an automatic stop.

    All-door boarding and alighting would save huge amounts of time, and could keep cash transactions off of the bus. This requires an honor system with undercover staff who could give big fines, or, as I already implied above, a free system.

  • melissa

    The 85% on time performance requirement is based on unrealistic schedules that are impossible to keep. If the schedules were modified to reflect actual traffic and passenger loads, it would make sense to require 85% compliance. As long as outdated and unrealistic schedules are used, there will never be 85% complaince.