As Muni Prepares for Route Changes Saturday, Deeper Service Cuts Loom

IMG_0748_1.jpgMTA Executive Director Nat Ford briefs members of the media on upcoming changes to Muni service. Photo: Michael Rhodes

This Saturday will bring wide-ranging changes to Muni, a broad reorganization of the city’s transit system that MTA Executive Director Nat Ford called the most complex service changes in a generation. But while this round of changes will be virtually net-neutral in terms of overall service and revenue, Ford said the MTA’s looming $19 million mid-year budget deficit will force the agency to consider much deeper future service cuts.

"I don’t think we can avoid ever taking a look at that," Ford told reporters at a briefing on the upcoming service changes. "It’s something that we regret doing … However, we have to deal with the physics of our finances."

"There’s no way to avoid what is probably our largest cost driver. The Muni service is the largest cost driver for the MTA, and to deal with any deficit situation, we will have to continually look in that area."

The upcoming service changes were originally intended to help close the MTA’s $129 million budget gap this spring, but the final package did not net any savings, as service cuts were balanced by enhancements. The result will be a de facto implementation of some Transit Effectiveness Project recommendations, though the agency isn’t classifying the route changes as such. In total, the MTA will save about $3.2 million from adjustment to operator schedules as part of the changes, but that figure is the result of "efficiencies," not any service cuts, said Ford.

While further service cuts could be on the table, "there is no examination right now of any fare increases at all," said Ford. Muni fares were already increased in July as part of the spring budget deal, and the monthly pass rate will go up again in January.

The MTA’s consideration of further service cuts comes amid the Mayor’s opposition to extending parking meter hours to help bridge the agency’s budget gap, and will force the MTA Board to weigh transit service cuts against a plan to reap more revenue from parking meters. As Streetsblog reported last month, the agency’s community outreach on its parking meter study has been slow, and the Mayor has actively worked to scuttle its implementation. MTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan noted at the time that the public is growing increasingly upset over the prospect of broad cuts to Muni, and has indicated a willingness to vote for extended parking meter hours in spite of the Mayor’s opposition. It’s not clear yet whether a majority of the board would join him, but as the prospect of further cuts becomes more real, the choice will certainly become starker.

For now, the MTA is still busy preparing Muni riders and operators for Saturday’s service changes. Muni ambassadors in full livery of orange hats and bright yellow vests are out in force to alert riders, and the MTA has conducted extensive outreach. Ford said the agency will turn its attention to further cuts once the December 5th changes are in place.

"Right now, we’ve been focused on this service change," said Ford. "Once we get the dust settled on this over the next couple weeks, the next few months, then in earnest we’ll really take a good, hard look at what we can do to close that $19 million gap between January and June."

Unlike this round of cuts, the next is not likely to be balanced by enhancements, Ford indicated. "Going forward, we will have to take a deeper look in terms of modifications that are probably not as productive as we want them to be."

  • Really Mr. Ford? Really?!

    How in the world can the director of a transit agency characterize transit service as a “cost driver.” Service is your raison d’etre, Mr. Ford!

    I wish Mayor BadCoif McTantrumpants had a spine and would get behind raising revenue from parking. Doing everything in their power to raise revenue for transit is the Mayor’s and Ford’s mandate.

    Pity the agency’s transit side is self destructing just as we get the good news about all the bike lanes.

  • “I wish Mayor BadCoif McTantrumpants had a spine and would get behind raising revenue from parking.”

    This implies he thinks that is the right thing to do regardless of how it affects his fundraising. I’m not sure.

  • It is really disgusting to see Ford and Mayor Football Bat brag about these cuts and lie about them. It’s even more disgusting to watch the Chronicle print these lies and mislead the public.

    The MTA board and Ford are bankrupt when it comes to leadership or running the system. Time to change it all – this system is simply not working, and to keep running around protecting an idea that has failed, namely the MTA commission appointment process, is fucking idiotic.

  • How in the hell does Muni get into the point where there’s a $19 MILLION mid-year deficit with all the deferred maintenance going on? That’s absolutely nuts.

    As for those service changes, did the SFMTA publish a time schedule? No. They just handed their scheduling stuff to Google Maps and 511’s Trip Planner program, but we the people need a full time schedule to make Muni accountable for no-shows and lateness.

    The public will continue to get angry at this agency until some real action starts rolling. Start protesting, putting fliers in the literature holders of the buses and trains, call your city supervisor, and tell Newsom and Ford to shove it.

  • We are in this fix because the State of California cut all (or almost all) funding for public transportation during our memorable summer-long budget crisis. They pushed the pain down to the cities, and now we are feeling it in spades. I agree, we need to raise taxes to fund decent public transportation. I vote for a gas tax. Increased parking costs would also be acceptable. Certainly it’s not acceptable for Muni drivers to add to costs by not showing up for work.

  • Kenny L.

    Ford’s got to go. He’s an idiot.

  • Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger is in the city doing his impression of Al Gore telling us what areas of the Bay might be affected by global warming. All the while cutting funds for and not supporting transit. Too bad we can’t all have bio-diesel Hummers.

  • zsolt

    The first commenter is right on. Why don’t we just eliminate service altogether and get rid of this pesky “cost”. We could finance many more parking spots with that money! Quick, someone tell ANSWER.

  • @the first commenter, it costs money to operate transit service and Muni service is the biggest operational cost in the SFMTA budget. That’s simply a statement of fact and it would only really be a shock if their was something else costing the SFMTA more than Muni.

    @Akit, the state cut around $54.8 million from the SFMTA budget, and the Mayor’s budget cut another $24 million in funding from the City. Those and a lot more smaller cost increases and revenue losses happened after the SFMTA budget (not quite a balanced budget, but the gap was closing and would have been even narrower the next year) had been approved.

    The Board of Supervisors has a roll in this as well. When the SFMTA came to them to approve about $14 million in service cuts, it was the Board of Supervisors, not the SFMTA who added around $9-10 of new service before they’d approve the cuts. That is not as adversarial as it sounds, the Board trusted the MTA to make the decisions about what to cut and add without any micromanagement, but still it negated most the saving,.

    Likewise, even if the entire SFMTA Board were to, say for example… vote unanimously to extend meters 24/7, it wouldn’t go anywhere unless they could get the Board of Supervisors to approve it as well. If anyone wants to see parking hours extended, you have to work on getting your district supervisor to support it as well.

  • Ellen

    Until the public throughout California realizes that there is a role for govt. in providing public services, and that tax revenue is necessary to fund these services, we’ll continue on our path to third world status. Restricting Prop. 13 to owner-occupied residential housing would do more to solve a myriad of problems than any piecemeal actions.