MTA Board Vote on Service Cuts and Fare Hikes Confirmed for Friday

2257840138_5d67b0dae2.jpgRiders could soon be waiting longer for buses and trains. Flickr photo: burpsean

It's official: The MTA Board will be voting on a ten percent cut to Muni service and a ten dollar increase in the senior/youth/disabled monthly Fast Pass price this Friday.

Facing a $16.9 million end-of-year budget deficit, and having seen a plan to help reduce the deficit through union concessions fall through, the MTA Board will be voting on a full slate of measures nearly identical to those proposed at meetings last month, according to the meeting agenda posted on the MTA's website.

That's despite vocal opposition from transit and senior advocates, which led the MTA to search for any means possible to scuttle the senior/youth/disabled Fast Pass price increase. Instead, the Board will consider the plan in its full form.

Several budget solutions MTA staff proposed in the January budget presentations won't net as much as originally hoped for, since they're now projected to take an extra month or two to implement. That has added up to about $1 million in revenue the MTA won't be able to collect in time to help with the end-of-year budget.

Softening the blow is a $17.5 million diversion of funds from the Oakland Airport Connector project, which recently lost out on a bid for federal stimulus funds. MTA Executive Director Nat Ford announced the agency would be able to use $1.7 million of that for operating expenses, $4.8 million for preventative maintenance, and the rest for light rail vehicle rehabilitation. It's not clear just how much the maintenance portion could help with the end-of-year deficit, but MTA spokesperson Judson True confirmed the $1.7 million in operating funds would go straight towards reducing this year's shortfall.

The agency is still hoping for labor concessions from the operators union, Ford told the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) Board today.

TA Chairman Ross Mirkarimi told Ford he plans to work with the MTA to process Muni's request for $7 million from the TA to help balance its budget. Mirkarimi made it clear the transfer wouldn't come without conditions, however. "I want to make sure the TA is not just a bank per se," he said. "I know that's how we're perceived, but I want at least to have that kind of collaborative relationship so we have some response in how money is dispensed."

The request will go through the TA's Plans and Programs Committee next month, and committee Chair David Campos said he wants assurance the MTA has done everything it can first on other issues, like reducing unnecessary work orders from other city departments.

The MTA's budget picture for the next two years looks even worse, with a cumulative deficit projected at around $100 million, after taking into account the currently proposed service cuts and fare increases.

To help whittle that down, Mirkarimi announced today that he'll be proposing a 10 dollar additional vehicle license fee in the city that would generate $5 million annually for the MTA. Mirkarimi said the measure is authorized by SB 83, and could go on the ballot in November. "I'm extremely interested in looking at all feasible ways these new revs can help deal with current funding shortfalls," said Mirkarimi.

"It would be the first genuinely new piece of transportation revenue in a long time, well over a decade," said TA Executive Director José Luis Moscovich.

A draft of a necessary nexus study on the plan should be ready by the end of March, he said, and the TA Plans and Programs Committee would consider the findings in April. The TA Board would have a June 15 deadline to decide whether to place the item on the ballot for November.

Mirkarimi also announced at today's TA meeting that he plans to direct TA funds towards a planned management audit of the MTA, and hopes to follow up that audit with a first-ever audit of the TA.

An update to an earlier version of this piece: The $70 premium monthly Fast Pass would be good for all premium services, including BART within the city, express buses and cable cars. There will not be three separate premium passes.