Advocates, Supervisors Push for Alternatives to Proposed Muni Service Cuts

97744120_e2290ca682.jpgWith the MTA proposing deep service cuts to Muni and $5 fares on historic streetcars, transit advocates are concerned about where the city’s transit system is headed. Flickr photo: Thomas Hawk.

A proposal to drastically cut Muni service while raising some fares has angered and energized transit riders in advance of Tuesday’s MTA Board meeting, and has left advocates and elected officials in search of alternative measures to fill the agency’s $16.9 million budget gap. Proposals are starting to pour in from advocates as well as members of the Board of Supervisors, who currently have limited control over such service cuts.

One proposal would address that very issue. Supervisor David Campos told the Chronicle he hopes to put a measure on the November ballot that would give the Board of Supervisors control over three of the seats on the seven-member MTA Board, which is currently appointed entirely by the Mayor. The proposal is similar to one suggested by Supervisor John Avalos last year, which would have given the Board of Supervisors say over three MTA Board members, with the Mayor retaining control over three members. Voters would elect the seventh member.

Campos has not offered details of his plan yet, including whether the public might elect one member, but he said the proposed service cuts reflect deeper problems with the agency. "There appears to be a systematic problem with Muni and change has to begin at the top with the MTA Board," Campos told the Chronicle.

Susan King, a transit advocate who works at Livable City, said changing the way the MTA Board is chosen is part of the solution. While the current system was intended to "depoliticize" the MTA, said King, transportation shouldn’t be removed from the political process. "Transportation should be a political issue. It affects the very core of people’s ability to survive," she said. "The voters and the people who use the roads in San Francisco, who also vote, need to have a bigger voice."

The MTA’s recurring budget crises have highlighted the agency’s long-term need for more stable funding sources, but the current focus is on finding a way to avert this round of cuts. As a near-term solution, King and Walk SF President Manish Champsee both think extended parking meter hours should be part of the equation. "I understand the Mayor is opposed to that, but I think he also has to understand the devastating impact the existing service cuts and existing fare increases have had on a lot of people," said Champsee.

"They need to phase that in," said King. "Maybe not some of the things like enforcing parking until midnight, but they need to do parking on Sundays and they need to do that immediately and say ‘our backs are against the wall, we don’t have any other choices. It’s either you guys or the transit riders.’"

King would also like to see the MTA revise its policies on free disabled parking placards, free parking in parks, the price structure of residential parking permits, and citations for people who illegally drive in transit-only lanes. Another option is to add a tax to downtown parking garages to make up the cost of PCOs who routinely are forced to direct traffic at rush hour.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA), said he’s already directed TA staff to move quickly to assess another part of the MTA’s proposal to close its deficit, which would entail the TA transferring $7 million in funds directly to the MTA. "My goal is to try to be as supportive as possible," said Dufty. "Obviously, Muni is hemorrhaging. If we can help fund some of the maintenance, some of the large supplies, some of the hard costs in the maintenance, that’s something we need to step up to do. That’s kind of the top priority."

Dufty also would like to see a more nuanced approach to the service cuts. "Maybe we should look at the low-performing lines and focus the cuts there rather than the key lines that are carrying the overwhelming majority of riders every day."

As for averting the cuts, Dufty, citing the city’s Transit First policy, said he thinks it’s time for the MTA to revisit the proposal to sell taxi medallions, which could bring in millions for the agency. Would Dufty now support extending parking meter hours? "Where I’m open to it is, I think the MTA is saying there may be neighborhoods that actually want it, and I would be more comfortable with that," Dufty said.

Though the December 2009 service changes went relatively smoothly, and may have given the MTA Board a false sense of confidence about future service cuts, there are plenty of signs that riders and activists don’t see this round of cuts the same way. "I think a lot of people are angry and they’re going to show up and tell the MTA Board that," said Champsee.

In a comment on Streetsblog’s original story on the proposed cuts, Fran Taylor of the community group CC Puede warned that angry riders and activists should focus on the real forces behind service cuts as they gear up for this afternoon’s MTA Board meeting. "The only way to fight this latest assault on public transportation is to work with the union, include all the riders, and develop strategies that transform the disruption these proposals represent to us as individuals into disruptions to business as usual for our attackers," wrote Taylor. "We need sit-ins, pickets, serious actions, and we need the Muni workers acting with us. Stop insulting them — they’ve got a tough job and deserve every penny they get."

Livable City’s King also thinks a collaborative approach is the best bet for saving Muni from a deep gutting of service. "I think it needs to be a really strong and united force of progressives, social justice advocates, alternative transportation advocates, labor – because the bus drivers are going to get more abuse – and everyone pulling together and saying no, this is not acceptable."

MTA
Board meeting
, Tuesday, at 2 p.m. in San Francisco
City Hall, Room 400.
The budget discussion is Item 11 on the
agenda, and there will be a chance for the public to comment.

  • Sue

    If anyone needs more ideas about how to raise revenue to support our cash-strapped public transportation system, they can look at the San Francisco Green Party transportation plank:
    http://www.sfgreenparty.org/workinggroups/indivworkgroup.gem?wgidx=2&action=homepage

  • kevin

    Forget finding new sources of revenue. They key to the reducing the budget gap is by overhauling the expense structure. This starts by eliminating unnecessary jobs, reducing overtime, digging deep to identify and eliminate waste, reduce the number of lawsuit payouts, and address employee benefits. This on top of making sure every rider pays their fare.

  • Dufty – “Where I’m open to it is, I think the MTA is saying there may be neighborhoods that actually want it, and I would be more comfortable with that”.

    Well Bevan, tell ya what, let’s find the riders who actually want service cuts and fare increases, and only cut/raise service/fares for them!

    “Stop insulting them — they’ve got a tough job and deserve every penny they get.”

    While I don’t think the drivers are the root of the problem, nor the fall guy for the solution, this statement is a bit tenuous. The insults don’t come from mid-air – to insinuate that is an insult to the riders. Forget the salary – the various work rules that allow random absenteeism and don’t allow immediate termination for some of the gross misbehavior are enough to drive the ridership insane.

  • So Dufty wants to be Newsom pt. 2 huh? Not getting my vote – that is for sure.

  • the right wing meme of simply “cutting overhead” isn’t enough. No business or agency is 100% efficient, and while yes, Muni could spend its money more wisely (maybe by getting better managers who cost less?) when you take away gas tax money that it was counting on, that’s not Muni’s fault, but they’re the ones who have to make up for it somehow.

    We know what a workable Muni looks like – we got it (more or less) with the TEP. Now it’s just a matter of finding out how to pay for it. This “cut cut raise fares raise fares” dance we do every year is just going nowhere and no one wins.

    On a side note : this talk of unity with (all) unionized transit employees is lovely but it is a two way street. They need to stop seeing the owner/riders as an impediment to lifetime benefits and salary, and stop treating us like shit too. Until they start seeing us as their allies, it’s hard for us to see them as anything but part of the problem.

  • I learned at SPUR’s “Parking” lunch discussion last Thursday that free parking for handicap placarded vehicles is a State Law … until that gets changed, I don’t know how parking meter rate or schedule enhancements add much to SFMTA revenues.

    Something that should be adjusted and could help are the residential parking permit pricing … why not $600 a year? Still cheaper than the Fast Pass these days, but a little closer to their value.

    Cost cutting needs to happen too … last I heard, Muni still had some ridiculous lack of accountability in regards to sick day call-ins from workers.

  • So what’s the correct MUNI budget? I figure it’s around $75/person/month now — $900/year/SF’an. For this we get a terribly unreliable, slow system. Is dumping more money into the system going to substantially change this? I doubt it.

  • @jamie, state law also caps the fee on residential parking permits to cost recovery, only what it takes to administrate the program.

  • Alex

    There are so many fantastic opportunities for real reform contained within this post and its comments. I sincerely hope that someone at one of these advocacy groups reads through everything and works to come up with a comprehensive proposal. Individual pet peeves on their own won’t amount to any meaningful change. Coming up with a comprehensive collection of actionable items is a hell of a lot more than any member of the MTA, TA, or city supervisor boards has done so far.

    King misses the mark with regards to meter maids. Meter maids are relatively profitable. If there’s any part of the operation that doesn’t need to be subsidized by businesses, PCOs are it. Even with an astoundingly low enforcement rate, meter maids typically bring in more than the city pays them in cash and benefits. Cutting meter maid positions makes little sense. Along those lines, perhaps the city ought to reinstate weekly street cleaning. The bi-monthly street cleaning has already been shown to be a money loser. Street cleaning is perhaps the easiest way in which the city generates parking ticket revenue. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Much like I had hoped that the state’s budget stalemate this year would prompt a rewritten constitution, I hope that the MTA can take this opportunity to rethink a number of its policies and agreements. While I agree that not much can be done right now without additional funding, throwing money at the MTA is very much a short term fix. There are plenty of opportunities for increased efficiency within the current system that are being ignored wholesale. Opportunities beyond improvements in labor. For instance: multiple unit trains on the F and T/K lines, shifting more service towards limited/express lines (e.x. 28 vs 28L), POP on the buses, stop reduction, street cleaning, parking enforcement, BART “subsidies”, and so-on.

    For that matter, Campos and Dufty miss the mark too. The MTA does NOT need to be more politicized. Full stop. What is astounding is that the TA could simply have $7 million laying around that they can simply throw at the MTA. San Francisco is a consolidated city and county. Simply skewing the MTA without taking into account the power that the BoS has already with the TA won’t do us any good. Is there not some reasonable way in which we could consolidate the MTA and TA? Perhaps by splitting the number of seats that the mayor and BoS’s pick evenly, and having one seat be elected? And, really, all of this talk of cutting underperforming lines sounds fantastic. Except that these “underperforming” lines feed the popular routes that everyone is so fond of.

    As for the permissive sick day rules, it was explained to me that the allowing unplanned absences was a concession made to allow for the no-strike clause of the current TWU contract. If this is the case, both rules ought to be addressed. Pretty much every other transit agency (locally and nationally) operates without a no-strike clause… but it’s unclear to me that their absenteeism is significantly less than it is locally.

    Let’s not dance around the labor issue either. Whether the MTA is simply unable to attract the best and the brightest in its current state, or is simply incapable of training its employees, I don’t know. I recall being onboard an inbound L a few months ago. The driver was aware that the train would be inoperable in the subway (she couldn’t get the steps up) so she pulled it into the West Portal intersection to talk to the supervisor. They went back and forth for almost ten minutes. This was ten minutes with no inbound or outbound traffic on three lines, no automobile traffic, and effectively no pedestrian traffic. The driver then pulled the train into the station, made us all offboard, and proceeded to take the train through the subway out of service. Not only were three lines blocked for 15+ minutes, there was also a bunch of wasted space as a useless train was plodding through the subway. How much time did it take the metro to recover from this?

    Hell, if you want to talk about easy reform, let’s talk about disabled placards. Easier physical access for disabled folks makes tons of sense. Free parking anywhere in the city does not. If it is indeed state regulation that mandates free parking with disabled placards, let’s use that novel direct democracy tidbit… the much maligned ballot initiative. Throw in a carrot too. Maybe an allowance of a few additional disabled spaces per area? Reduced cost of the placards? Reduced/eliminated time limits as long as the meter is paid up?

  • Sorry for the tangent, but the block along the Temporary Transbay Terminal on Main Street that I walk by every day appears to be a free parking mecca for now – and also quite the growing trash collection as there is no street cleaning going on.

  • Amusing – KTVU channel 2 just had a short vignette regarding this – the only topic discussed is “ZOMG SAN FRANCISCO IS THREATENING TO INCREASE THE PARKING PERMITS – FOR THE THIRD TIME IN RECENT YEARS”. No mention of MUNI fare increase or service cuts.

  • It’s hard to make a comparison when other cost increases aren’t even measured. It was just meant to scare the suburban folks into thinking their wonderful car bubble is being threatened.

  • Richard

    We should not charge the disabled for parking unless you do a mean test. How a congestion tax on cars that drive into downtown SanFrancisco.

    Have a $25 yearly license fee for all the bicycles in the City

  • Richard, please. While parking is still very very under-priced, you bring a $25 bicycle license fee to the table? What about the unlicensed drivers on the roads? What about the residential parking permit costing 1/10th of its market value? You are just baiting and we don’t have time nor do I have the patience.

  • California Vehicle Code section 39004 limits the price of bicycle licenses to $4, renewable annually for $2.

  • Edgar

    There are lots of ways service could be IMPROVED while saving money for MUNI.

    Example #1: Why is the Sutter #3 bus still going up Fillmore and Jackson, streets that are already served by their own lines? Increase service by the #2 bus and eliminate the #3 altogether.

    Example #2: How many uncoordinated bus routes are serving Van Ness? Sometimes buses from several routes arrive all at once, and sometimes half an hour passes with no bus from any route! Eliminate all of the irrelevant routes from Van Ness and have one bus that serves Van Ness reliably every 5 minutes.

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