Savings from Muni Service Changes May Not Prevent Additional Cuts

2618718909_fb26e6a846.jpgThe 38-Geary Ocean Beach branch will be eliminated in December, but the 38L-Geary Limited will get increased service. Flickr photo: juicyrai

In light of news that the Mayor opposes extended parking meter hours and that taxi medallions may bring in $12 million less than anticipated, the MTA's mid-year budget could be in trouble, threatening to bring deeper Muni service cuts than the ones on the way later this fall.

Adding to the uncertainty, it's not clear that the first round of service cuts will result in the savings originally envisioned.

The Muni cuts approved by the MTA board in April will not be nearly as painful as they first appeared, when a five percent reduction in service hours was proposed to help cover the agency's $129 million budget gap. Thanks to a compromise reached with the Board of Supervisors, the $13.4 million in service cuts will be partially offset by $8.7 million in added service, including greater frequency and extended hours on some lines. The result left net service reduction far less than five percent, and net savings closer to $4.7 million.

Over the past five months, MTA staff has worked to finalize the package of service changes, which are scheduled to go into effect December 5. Julie Kirschbaum, who coordinates the MTA's Transit Effectiveness Program (TEP), said the overall service reduction will be much lower than five percent.

"There will be a much lower percentage of overall service reductions," said Kirschbaum. "We're also working very hard to try to get efficiencies out of the schedules that don't come from service hours, that come from, for example, cutting the schedules more efficiently, having less operator downtime."

At a SPUR Transportation Committee meeting today, Kirschbaum also noted that though the "TEP itself was never envisioned as reducing service," it "very much informed our budget," allowing the MTA to make more precise and rational choices about where to make cuts.

For now, the precise amount of savings from the service changes hasn't been nailed down, but MTA spokesperson Judson True said the agency is still aiming for savings in the $5 million range approved in May. If the changes don't yield as much savings as anticipated, the MTA's mid-year budget crisis could become even more intense.

Asked whether further service cuts would be on the table, as The Snitch at SF Weekly suggested today, True said that isn't the case, yet. "I am not aware of any plans right now to even consider service cuts," said True.

Faced with a mid-year budget gap well in excess of $10 million, however, the MTA may be forced to make new plans. Along with parking meter enforcement and taxi medallion revenue, add the exact savings from the December Muni service changes to the list of factors to watch closely.