MTA Board Tweaks Budget Proposal Following First Public Hearing

IMG_2779.jpgExecutive Director Nat Ford and Directors Cameron Beach and Rev. James McCray listen to testimony.
The Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, in a marathon meeting that lasted nearly six hours, voiced support for fare hikes, but balked at a budget proposal to charge 50 cents for transfers and indicated it favors service reduction options that will impose the least impact on Muni riders to close a $129 million deficit.

The discussion to pare down some of the MTA's proposals came after a public hearing that drew more than 80 speakers, including Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. Hundreds of people showed up for the meeting in Room 400 at City Hall but many had to be directed to two overflow rooms, including the North Light Court on the first floor, where they watched the proceedings on large TV screens.

Taxi drivers opposed to the auctioning of medallions dominated much of the testimony, but some Muni riders, wearing orange stickers emblazoned with "No Muni Service Cuts," expressed outrage at the proposed 50 cent fare increase and cuts.

Beyond Chron writer Paul Hogarth of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Transit Not Traffic Coalition urged the Board to expand Muni's Lifeline pass for low-income riders.

"Our firm position is that no fare increase is acceptable without first fixing the low-income Lifeline Fast Pass. Without that option for low-income folks, many people in San Francisco will not be able to afford public transit," said Hogarth.

IMG_2759.jpgAn overflow crowd watches the meeting in another room.
Other speakers complained about proposals for scaling back specific routes. Rider Don Baker was concerned about service reductions on the 17-Park Merced.

"We don't have any other options in that area. I'm disabled. I can't walk that far. Our community is made up primarily of seniors, students and the bus service is utilized well until midnight. I've ridden it that late and they're quite full," said Baker. "Cutting the bus service doesn't seem like the appropriate way to balance the budget."

Herbert Weiner, a former member of Rescue Muni, was worried about the future of the 2-Clement.

"By eliminating the 2-Clement east of Park Presidio the seriously ill and frail will be forced to walk an agonizing block to catch the 1-California or 38-Geary. For those who are old or ill this distance will create physical hardship," he said.

Rider Steph Feiring said she doesn't think Muni is doing enough to keep its fare boxes in good shape.

"I've been on a lot of buses and the fare boxes aren't working. In fact, in the last three days I was on four buses and the fare boxes were broken," said Feiring. "I understand there's a budget problem and all these things are taking income away. I think you might want to think about what you can do to fix some of those things."

IMG_2785.jpgBOS Prez David Chiu testifies.
Board of Supervisors President Chiu also testified, complaining about work orders from other departments that are expected to tap at least $83 million from the MTA's budget by the end of next year. The Board of Supervisors Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today at 1:30 pm, at the request of Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

"As you look at your budget I ask you to carefully look over every single work order and ask yourselves whether the expenditure is helping you meet your promise to San Franciscans and if Muni is not spending money on anything other than transit there needs to be an excellent reason."

He added, "If your final budget includes millions of dollars in work orders to other departments along with service cuts and other fare increases I think that is going to be a bitter pill for the Board to swallow."

After the hearing, Board members discussed the budget proposal, mostly agreeing that single-ride fares should be raised to $2.00, and the Fast Pass should go up to $60 in January. It's already scheduled to increase from the current $45 to $55 on July 1st. Most were opposed, however, to a proposed 50 cent charge for transfers.

"I'm okay with a higher cash fare and with the appropriate adjustment in monthly passes," said Director Cameron Beach. "Most monthly passes on transit systems are 40 times the one-way ride. We're 30 or 32 times the one-way ride."

"I will not vote for anything that has pay for transfers in it or eliminating transfers. We tried eliminating transfers way back when, and I remember what happened. It doesn't work," said Director Bruce Oka.

Director Jerry Lee agreed with Chiu, saying his biggest concern is work orders. "My other concern is I'd like to take a look at the $14 million in overtime that is showing up on the overtime expenses." 

Director Malcolm Heinecke proposed, and the Board agreed, that MTA should investigate charging a tax for rental cars at San Francisco International Airport. He said it would require voter approval.

"I think that's an idea that politically would be acceptable to the city and frankly it has a policy goal because it will promote visitors to our city to take our cabs and take BART instead of renting cars at the airport," he said.

Heinecke and other directors indicated they favored service reductions outlined in Options 1 and 2, instead of the more drastic proposals in Option 3. See the complete budget proposal here.

"Pushing into Option 3, it seems to me, that the incremental savings would be rather minimal and we were in many instances incurring a situation where we were now asking riders to take two different routes," said Heineke. "The route transfer is not seamless. You have to get off, you have to wait for the other bus, and I think that would really have a disproportionate affect that wouldn't be worth the additional savings."

Directors postponed a decision on declaring a fiscal emergency. They are scheduled to hold another public hearing April 21st and take a final vote on the budget April 30th. 

Photos by Bryan Goebel