MTA Directors Balk at F-Line Fare Hike, Want Meter Plan Back on Table

3453322873_f0aef6957e.jpgFlickr photo: Jeremy Brooks

Three members of the MTA Board of Directors today voiced their unwillingness to vote for measures that would drastically cut Muni service and raise various fares to close a $16.9 million budget gap, and they insisted on taking a further look at extending parking meter enforcement hours, a proposal the Mayor has strongly counseled the MTA to kill.

Outside the Board meeting, MTA Executive Director Nat Ford said he would
respect the directors wishes on the parking proposal. "I’ll have to bring
it back before them. That’s what they want and we’ll see how it goes
from there," Ford told Streetsblog. "Clearly, there’s a lot of tension
around that issue, and the Board feels that’s one of the solutions to
help close our budget. So, I’ll have to bring it back."

The directors discussed a plan presented by MTA staff that would close the gap in part by cutting service on every Muni line and raising fares on several monthly passes, as well as raising the F-line fare to $5. In spite of tremendous political pressure to remain quiet about extending parking meter enforcement hours – something MTA staff initially recommended as a measure to improve parking availability and generate revenue – the three directors apparently could not stomach voting to gut Muni while ignoring the parking proposal.

Director Cameron Beach was the first to broach the topic, after dozens of members of the public voiced their opposition to the cuts, many citing their support for extended parking meter hours as one alternative solution. "I would like to see the parking meter situation revisited," said Beach. "I realize it is politically very unpopular."

Director Jerry Lee echoed Beach’s sentiments. "We do need to take a look the meter enforcement in terms of [whether there is] a possibility of either extending hours or not extending hours but going until Sunday," said Lee.

"I think we’re neglecting the parking meter enforcement. We have to extend the parking meter hours." -Bruce Oka

The most impassioned support for revisiting the proposal came from Director Bruce Oka, who spoke with determination as he framed the issue as a choice between further increases to disabled and senior monthly pass rates or extended meter hours. "Normally, I’m pretty flexible. I can hold my nose and vote on anything, but I refuse to vote on something when I believe we have not looked under every rock for every source of funding," said Oka. He continued:

"Everything right now has to be on the table. Everything. I mean, we’re raising fares. I think we’re neglecting the parking meter enforcement. We have to extend the parking meter hours. We have to find dollars. If Room 200 doesn’t want that to happen, well then he’s [i.e. the Mayor] got to come up with money. He’s got to come up with a way to do what we need to do. If he’s not going to let us raise parking meters or extend parking meter times then he’s got to come up with some money. I’m not going to vote for any more increases in senior/disabled fares. I will not do that. I will not vote for another pass increase until we can be sure that we’re getting what we’re paying for now, and I don’t think we are. I frankly don’t think we’re getting $2 worth of bus rides. I frankly am tired of hearing, ‘well we can’t do this.’ I want people to tell me why we can’t do this. Show me why we can’t do it. I want to see that before I’ll vote to raise any fares."

Oka’s frustration with the Mayor’s position was palpable and not surprising, given that the MTA Board is being asked to vote on service cuts and fare increases that will be very unpopular, and which the Board will get credit for, while the Mayor remains relatively protected from the political fallout.

Director Malcolm Heinicke didn’t mention the parking meter plan, but did voice concerns about the F-line fare increase and premium passes for express buses, which he called bad ideas. Beach concurred on the F-line. "I am certainly going to oppose any increase in the F-line fares," he told the Board.

Heinicke also called for a more rigorous approach to cutting service, informed by Transit Effectiveness Project data and focused on the least-used lines. Board Chairman Tom Nolan, on the other hand, said he felt the across-the-board reductions were a fairer way of approaching the cuts.

Nolan, who previously told Streetsblog he supports extending parking meter enforcement hours if necessary, was conspicuously silent on the matter today.

Several directors also asked Ford whether residential parking permit fees could be a further source of revenue. Currently, MTA staff is proposing raising the fee by $20 to $96, which would allow the agency to fully recover the cost of administering the program. MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose explained that the state vehicle code prohibits local agencies from charging more than the price of cost recovery for residential parking permits. A plan to charge more than the cost recovery price is not likely to bring in revenue in time for this budget cycle, Bose added, but the MTA is working on state legislation to give the agency more flexibility in what they can charge for the permits.

The MTA Board will continue its deliberations at its February 16 meeting, when MTA staff will present a more detailed plan to close the budget gap.

Not surprisingly, the public comment period drew plenty of suggestions from riders for how to fill the budget gap. Henry Pan, a student at Galileo Academy high school, directed the Board to remember the city’s Transit First policy. "Why target us, the common people," asked Pan. "Why not target the drivers?"

He added: "Make it ridiculous to drive in San Francisco. Charge the drivers. Just leave our public transportation alone."

Also at the MTA Board meeting today, Nolan was re-elected as Board Chairman, and Vice Chairman James McCray was re-elected Vice Chairman. The Board also voted to extend Ford’s contract as Executive Director through January 16, 2014. At Ford’s request, the Board also elected to reduce his salary by two percent, from a planned base salary of $315,140 to $308,837 this fiscal year. Ford remains the second highest paid city employee.

Bryan Goebel contributed reporting.

  • Glad to see that higher meter rates and extended parking meter hours are back on the table. Transit riders have been increasing their burden of the MTA budget cuts since I’ve lived in SF (10 years), while it seems drivers are getting off scott free. There needs to be some more equity, especially if we are going to tout ourselves as a green city with a Transit First policy, to actively discourage trips made by personal automobile that can be made with transit.

  • Miles

    Quite impressive to see Newsom appointees (Oka, Beach, Heinecke) standing up to room 200 on some of these issues. Keep it up, guys!

  • Larry Roberts

    Does Nate Ford own a car? If so, why?

  • Nick

    That high school kid has the right attitude, but just like high school being popular is more important than being right.

    “Make it ridiculous to take transit in San Francisco. Charge the riders. Just leave our cars alone.”

  • mcas

    So, now that Gavin isn’t running for governor, is the Chron, Examiner, and SFist allowed to finally call him out on his ‘green’ credentials while gutting transit…?

    How can we make transit a top issue in the 2011 mayor race…? Jeff, Bevan, Dennis, Ross, (alpha by last name): Can we get you on record opposing muni cuts and supporting increasing neighborhood parking, meter hours, and a local VLF…? And, if elected, how many years will you put a moratorium on muni fare increases…?

  • SFHope

    This was my first time actually going down to City Hall. It was an interesting experience being at the meeting.

    I’m glad I got the chance to point out how much better I get treated as a driver than as a Muni rider. I have a car, I ride Muni, AND I have a bicycle. I get treated as a first, second, and third-class citizen respectively in each of these roles.

    It always shocks me that the city bends over backwards to make it easier to drive here, despite the density clearly not being suited to driving. It’s like they want me to drive.

    I hope they start charging me for the privilege.

  • SFHope, I think I saw you speak. Thanks for pointing out that fact. We MUNI riders see it every day, but for someone who drives to stand up and say point blank that you feel like the city would prefer you drive helps prove it.

  • DT

    yeah, what the hight school kid said

  • CBrinkman

    “I’m glad I got the chance to point out how much better I get treated as a driver than as a Muni rider. I have a car, I ride Muni, AND I have a bicycle. I get treated as a first, second, and third-class citizen respectively in each of these roles.”

    Well said, SFHope. And so sadly true.

  • “This was my first time actually going down to City Hall. It was an interesting experience being at the meeting.”

    It was my second. Getting my marriage license was more fun.

  • Regarding the F-Line.

    A few months back, Caltrain staff proposed reducing midday service, increasing parking costs, ending weekend service, and charging for bicycles. Charging for bicycles was so ludicrous that it was attacked vociferously. It would be impossible to enforce, would require a new fare structure, would reduce ridership, etc… The weekend service idea was also pummeled.

    So they dropped the charging for bikes and weekend service ideas and cut midday service.

    $5 for the F is so obviously ludicrous it’s a non-starter, but most of the public comment and a lot of the board attention was on that plank. All good screwjobs should include a headfake – get everyone so pleased that they killed the non-starter, that they just accept all the other places where they got screwed.

  • Agreed John Murphy. I mentioned the extra wait/crowded buses in my letter to David Chiu and the MTA board. This needs to be the fight. The F line was just crazy talk to get the focus off the main issue of increasing headways.

  • Robo

    Nate Ford is taking a pay cut: 2%. Still making over $300K. How will he eat?

  • Robo

    Central Subway. Boondoggle. Kill it before it kills MUNI

  • Tom Nolan is a world class jackass. He has no business being on the board of the MTA, and his background is that of a suburbanite. He was a San Mateo County Supervisor and really doesn’t understand Muni at all. And yet somehow he’s “qualified” and any actual Muni rider is not? WTF?

  • icarus12

    I am also a driver, walker, biker, and bus rider. My wife, not so much. Some journeys just go better with a car – like together to the beach, movies, across town on more than one Muni route, Sunday adventures far afield in this wonderful city.

    I am thinking of several evening outings to the Castro or to Japantown and back from Nob Hill. Wait for 1 California (10 min), wait for 22 Fillmore (20 minutes). Time on board: 20 minutes. Next, repeat on return trip, but first endure freeze, chat while waiting. Freeze some more. Think about the extra hour spent waiting that could have been spent with a good book or chat and tea in warm apartment with beloved.

    After that, we started driving and paying for our parking or finding street parking.

    That said, I would gladly pay for street parking in the evening or Sundays, IF I COULD PUT IN MY PARKING CARD FOR 3 OR 4 HOURS WORTH in those evening or Sunday times. Because that way I could go to a movie or to dinner and not be running out to feed a meter. It’s a different kind of commercial scene in the evenings requiring longer times in venues — it’s not stopping into a shop or two for 30 minutes. So to the MTA, just program the meters to accept more time in the evening or Sundays, and you might see more support from drivers willing to subsidize public transit. You may also keep the merchants in business too. 🙂

    And eventually, if we can get a quick and convenient transit system in place, you’ll entice me and my wife out of the car altogether. Until then, we’re willing to pay to drive.

  • Ted

    We should privatize the MTA and I will gaurantee we would have better service, better fares and less wasteful bureaucracy.

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