The MTA released detailed plans (PDF) today for how it would eliminate ten percent of Muni service – the most severe cuts in the Municipal Railway’s 97-year history. As promised, almost every line would see service reductions, a draconian measure MTA staff is proposing to help close the agency’s $16.9 million end-of-year budget deficit. The MTA also revealed today it faces projected deficits of $52.7 million and $45.3 million for the next two fiscal years – even after calculating in the proposed service cuts and other deficit-closing measures.
Most of the staff recommendations made to the MTA Board last week are still included in an updated end-of-year budget presentation (PDF) to be given tomorrow, though a $3 increase in the F-line historic streetcar fare has been jettisoned following opposition from several of the members of the Board. That proposal has been replaced by a plan to increase citations by $2 instead of by $1.50, which would make up the $0.2 million that an F-line fare increase would have produced. MTA staff is continuing to recommend that the Board approve plans to raise fares for discount passes, require a premium monthly pass for cables cars and express route buses, wrangle labor concessions, and charge city employees for parking.
The Board will hear the fleshed-out proposal for service cuts at its meeting tomorrow. MTA staff analyzed performance data by hour for every route from June through November 2009 and January 2010, and came out with plans to spread the ten percent reduction in service hours across the city’s routes. Even the city’s most-packed routes would see reductions. For example, the 22-Fillmore would now see peak frequencies reduced by a minute, and midday frequencies reduced by two minutes. The 14-Mission would drop from ten-minute peak frequencies to 12 minutes between buses, and from 10-minute evening headways to 15-minute headways.
Nor was rail spared. The K-Ingleside/T-Third line, for example, would see a three-minute increase in peak headways, from nine to twelve minutes, and evening frequencies would reduce from ten minutes to 15 minutes.
Local bus routes were hit with even bigger increases between buses. Travel between the Mission and the Richmond would get even harder, as the 33-Stanyan would see a ten-minute reduction in frequency at night, with buses running only every half-hour. Peak frequencies would see a five-minute hit on the 33, from 15 to 20 minutes, as would midday frequencies. The 3-Clement and the 18-46th Avenue would also join the ranks of lines with only two buses an hour in the evening.
Overnight owl service would be reduced across the system to 60-minute headways, from the current 30-minute headways on all overnight lines except the 108-Treasure Island, which currently runs every 45-minutes. It would also be reduced to one trip an hour.
In spite of the historic severity of the proposed cuts, certain alternative measures remain off the table at the Mayor’s insistence, including extending parking meter hours. The parking meter proposal, which staff says would improve parking availability and could raise close to $10 million annually, had some support from three directors at the last MTA Board meeting, prompting MTA Executive Director Nat Ford to say he would have to bring it back for the Board’s consideration. In spite of that bold stance from some of the directors, political pressure may be silencing that plan yet again.
Upcoming Budget Deficits will be Worse
Even with the cuts, the agency would still face budget deficits of $52.7 million and $45.3 million for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. With the currently proposed ten-percent service reduction projected to save $28.5 million annually, the agency will need to find other ways to close the gap, or face even greater service cuts that could leave Muni a shell of its current self, with obvious consequences to congestion and to the city’s economy, as well as to elected officials.
The main forces driving the worsening budget for the next two years are a projected increase in the cost of benefits including health, retirement, and other benefits, adding up to about $37 million over two years; an increase in incremental operating costs from capital projects, including TransLink, onboard video cameras, and NextMuni, adding up to $29 million over two years; a slew of economy-related decreases in income from fees and fines; and $42.2 the agency had in its funds this year that won’t be available in coming years. Perhaps the most significant factor in the agency’s recent budget crises, however, as been the state’s raiding of transit assistance funds. The MTA has lost $179.1 million in State Transit Assistance funding over the past three fiscal years as a result.
The MTA Board will hear the updated budget presentations and recommendations at a special meeting tomorrow, followed by a public hearing on the service cuts (officially, "Muni Service Modifications") on February 16. The MTA Board could vote on the cuts as soon as that February 16 meeting, earlier than the original March 2 proposed date. There will also be town hall meetings at MTA headquarters on the cuts and the budget for the next two years on February 6, February 9, March 10 and March 20.