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.

  • The writing is on the wall – own a car or get the f*ck out.

  • patrick

    and I just went car-free on Sunday…

  • patrick! congrats! We’ll have to get a drink and drown in our sorrows together. Trust me, as much as I have been bitching lately about getting screwed over by the city, living car-free is much much better.

  • And that’s just to finish out this fiscal year in June, if I understand correctly. Good grief – SFMTA is soooo negligent when it comes to keeping pedestrians safe when they encourage more driving of private cars by cutting services. Arrgghhh….

  • So let me get this straight they’re proposing that in order to ride all MUNI/Bart including the express buses you would need to buy two $70 passes totaling $140 a month? Are they seriously thinking people will cough up that much money?

  • I’m thrilled someone is going out and actually generating new revenue for the MTA. But it’s sad testament to the dysfunctional SFMTA Board that Mirkarimi, a Supe, is doing it and not one of the Directors, each of whom is bound under the City Charter to diligently do just that.

    And $5 million is $5 million and all, but it won’t come close to putting a dent in the $100 million deficit for next year. Is asking ten freaking dollars a year from a car owner really too scary? If so then where do they get off asking disabled seniors for ten dollars more per month

    Mike, I feel you. It is really infuriating.

  • I see that MUNI is getting a new transit director who will be getting $225,038 a year – I wonder if he’s getting a dedicated parking spot too as part of his benefits package?

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/44237

  • @mike and patrick: I was seriously considering getting rid of my car last spring. Then the cost of a fast pass was raised (and the cost of my car permit wasn’t increased by much), and I heard of service reductions, and I found out that I couldn’t use BART on a fast pass, and caltrain prices mile for mile pushed above the price of gas, and they also reduced midday services, and parking is still free in the city on weekends, and…

    I’d love to get rid of my car at some point, and likely won’t replace it when/if it dies, but I’m seriously worried that MUNI and the priorities of this city and region will leave me stranded and poor.

  • Nick

    What the breakdown on the new Fast Passes?
    $60- MUNI only (no express or limited service). So do you have to pay $2 cash if a limited bus shows up and you want on?
    570-Express -Full MUNI service, no BART
    $70-BART – MUNI (no express busses) and BART within the city

    Here’s a PR idea they can take to compensate for their service cuts:
    it’s a “Yield to MUNI” advertising campaign

    How often is an LRV delayed at a 4-way stop by cross traffic. If private vehicles yield to MUNI it will make it faster. Same goes for selfish peds who insist on crossing the street ever so slowly in front of an LRV. They’re only delaying 200 people. Just wave the driver through and let those people get to their destination already.

  • patrick

    Thanks mikesonn, it hasn’t started off too auspiciously, my fiance got skipped by a bus that was overfull yesterday morning, which made her late for work… and the cuts haven’t even kicked in.

    Is there any serious muni advocate organisation? It seems like SFBC is the most vocal advocate, and they are not even focused on Muni!

  • @patrick, sorry to hear she got skipped over. I think we’ve chatted before about my being able to bike and my wife walking so MUNI for work isn’t an issue (Caltrain can be, but not nearly as bad as MUNI). There is a MUNI Rider Union in the works and there is MUNI summit coming up on March 6th to try to organize some voices.

  • Alex

    @Nick:

    1.) LRVs are delayed ALL THE TIME. Look at West Portal (altho they’ve finally gotten one of the supervisors out there pretending to direct traffic) or 4th and King. If the MTA were to take the idea of efficiency seriously they could avoid a large chunk of the service cuts. As True pointed out at the last town hall meeting, they’re only considering service cuts because the MTA is refusing to deal with the Board of Supervisors.

    2.) Grab the service standards report from sfmta.com and do the math. An LRV trip costs the MTA over $3. A BART trip costs the MTA 87 cents. If you use your FastPass to get to and from work (2*5*4=40 trips/month) only, the MTA will lose over $60/month based on your $60 FastPass. If you use your $70 FastPass to get to and from work on BART the MTA makes $35/month.

    If the MTA succeeds in pushing people onto the LRV lines (the southern part of BART coverage) and diesel lines (express/limited service in the Mission)… they’re only going to lose more money.

    Likewise express/limited service should be cheaper to operate, but as Julie Kirschbaum pointed out, overtime regulations result in more drivers being needed to cover the express runs compared to the same number of local runs.

    This whole tiered monthly pass thing is about as absurd as cutting back on street cleaning and throwing away $4 million each year in lost ticket revenue.

  • patrick

    Thanks again mikesonn, another question for you, or anybody who may know. I don’t follow other city departments as much as Muni, so I may just not have heard, but I don’t seem to hear nearly as much about other departments having these level of budget issues.

    If they are not having the same issues, how is that Muni is in such dire straits, but other departments are not? Thanks to anybody who has more information.

  • @Alex excellent job spelling out why the tiered system is a broken concept. Though what gets me more is their proposal creates a situation where you can’t by a ticket which works on both express lines and Bart, which is annoying.

    If they need to raise it then sticking with one fast pass and raising it across the board makes more sense.

    In any case, the crappy part about all this is unless things change the current political roadblocking (state funding, parking meter hours, vehicle fees, unions, etc.) I’m guessing that we are likely looking at seeing MUNI increase their base fair to $2.50-3 next year.

  • Andy Chow

    The tiered pass is a stupid idea, especially for Muni only services. Express fares are impractical to implement and put more burden on the drivers. If it were to be enforced properly, it would create more issues between drivers and the passengers and causes more delays. Like what we have now, whatever “express fares” could just be simply ignored by the drivers and the riders, essentially making a Muni fare a Muni voluntary donation.

    The bus stop reduction should be on the table, as well as changes in charter to eliminate automatic pay raises.

    Many of the bus stops (like those on Van Ness Ave) are too short for two buses. As a result, buses bunch up on some corridors just to get their turn to serve the bus stops (and got stuck behind red lights for doing so), if not trying to make a curb stop altogether. By eliminating some stop, there’s a potential to make some others longer so that bus stops work more efficiently.

  • @patrick, long story short, a majority of MUNI’s funding comes from the state and they haven’t paid for the last 3 yrs (along with partial payments before that). Also, many of the city’s other departments charge work orders against MUNI, i.e. police, to help pad their budgets. And I’m sure police and fire have had ballot measures passed to give them protected monies.

    That is pretty general, but hopefully someone can add some depth to that.

  • patrick

    That’s right, I completely forgot about the state screwing local community transit funding… illegally even…

  • Andy Chow

    The State Transit Assistance is a significant source of funding but it is not the majority of the funding. Otherwise we will be talking about a even larger cut.

    There’s also a decline in local tax revenue, which is also a significant source of operating revenue. In this economy, fewer people buy cars and plasma TVs, therefore less money from sales taxes.

    On the expense side, operator wages go up because of the charter requirement. While staff in other departments share the pain through furloughs, bus driver get a pay raise. Yes, other departments are putting their hours in Muni’s dime, but that’s a smaller part of the expense.

  • patrick

    The state has already taken transit funding. The reason I asked is that local tax revenue should affect other departments in a similar manner to Muni, but the state defunding of transit does explain much of the pain Muni is experiencing above and beyond many of the other city departments.

  • Andy Chow

    Because SF is a combined city and county, the city receives a lot of state funding for services typically provided by counties, such as public health and welfare. The state is cutting budget left and right, so transit isn’t the only services affected, but the kind of services that are targeted because of the perceived lack of use by politicians.

    Muni on the other hand is somewhat better off being a part of the general fund city program rather than a separate transit district like AC Transit, SamTrans, BART, and VTA.

  • andrew

    We have 2007 Prop A to thank for the automatic increase in operator wages. Big mistake to support that.

  • icarus12

    Patrick#10, your fiance must love you very much.

  • @icarus12, my wife hasn’t left me yet. Actually, she is more adamant about staying car-free then me most of the time.

    And patrick, wasn’t she your girlfriend not too long ago? If so, congrats on that too!

  • Michael Rhodes

    @Colin Fahrion: The MTA has clarified that there will be just one premium monthly Fast Pass, good for BART within the city, express buses, and cable cars. The documents posted for Friday’s agenda seemed to indicate there would be separate premium passes, but I’ve updated the piece to reflect that this is not the case.

  • @Thanks for the update Michael! And thanks for the excellent reporting on this issue.

  • That should’ve read @Michael thanks… Anyway, Streetsblog is doing a much more impressive coverage of this than our local dailies.

  • icarus12

    Patrick@10 and MikeSonn@23:

    Check out this great article on couples and environmental values and you will understand my comment. Hope love conquers all. If there’s ever a divergence (not in whether but in how much) your guys and your women value a particular environmentally friendly practice, you will know you are not alone. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/science/earth/18family.html

  • @icarus12, it brings up some good issues. Not only that, but the extra stress of having to plan a night out around MUNI is enough to cause tension. However, that is minor to having to find money at the end of every month for parking, parking tickets, car payments, insurance, repairs, etc. So you just need to take it like every other disagreement, talk and try to find some middle ground.

    Not to take away from your very good point, but I would think that most people in that article would have issues about something else if they agreed on the environment.

  • Andy Chow

    I think it will be great of Muni could offer a day pass without the cable car access. San Jose, LA, Sacramento, San Diego and others all have unlimited use day pass that cost around $5-6 range. That could avoid the issues of time limits with transfers and ensure quicker boarding especially for later in the day.