Seniors, Youth and Disabled To Get Reprieve on Muni Fast Pass Increases

Mayor_in_post_P2P_q_a.jpgMayor Newsom fields questions from reporters today at Showplace Triangle. Streetsblog reporter Michael Rhodes in foreground. Photo by Bryan Goebel.

MTA Board Director Bruce Oka has confirmed to Streetsblog that a proposal to increase monthly Fast Pass prices for seniors, youth and the disabled will not be considered to help solve the MTA's budget crisis after the outcry from those communities.

"If push comes to shove I would rather do fare hikes in a way that will hurt the least number of people. But we heard from the public that seniors, disabled and youth cannot afford what they’re paying now," said Oka, a longtime disabled rights advocate, who added that he would rather see a hike in the monthly Fast Pass price for adults than service cuts. The proposal was to raise the discount Fast Pass prices by $10. They are already scheduled to go up to $20 in May from the current $15.

Streetsblog has learned that the fare hikes proposal has actually been unofficially off the table for a few weeks, but as Oka explained, the Mayor's Office still wanted it on tomorrow's MTA Board agenda. The Board will vote on a series of proposals to bridge the agency's $16.9 million budget gap, including a ten percent cut to Muni service and various monthly Fast Pass increases. A broad coalition of groups is expected to turn out to oppose the measures.

Oka said he will not vote in favor of service cuts tomorrow, and believes there might be enough votes on the MTA Board to reject them. He added that he plans to continue pressing for extending parking meter enforcement, but might be the lone director to support it.

Mayor Gavin Newsom confirmed as much about the fare hikes this afternoon while speaking to reporters after the Pavement to Parks announcement at Showplace Triangle. Newsom, responding to a question from Streetsblog, said it's possible $1.7 million of the $17.5 million the MTA is expected to receive in redirected Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) funds could be used to fill the gap left by eliminating that proposal.

"We could use that, but that would be a temporary reprieve, because it doesn't annualize to address that concern next year," he said. "But it doesn't take TWU off the hook to step up and do the right thing."

Newsom said that of all the proposals to reduce the MTA deficit, the proposed Fast Pass hike for seniors, youth and the disabled "is the one thing I want off the table, and I'm confident we'll get there." He said he had a meeting planned on the issue later this afternoon, presumably with MTA Chief Nat Ford.

Earlier this week, Ford told supervisors, acting in their role as the board of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, that the $1.7 million would be used for operations, mostly for maintenance. The MTA has not officially clarified whether that money could alleviate fare hikes.

In his remarks to reporters, Newsom, while acknowledging the drastic statewide cuts to transit, said service cuts and other painful budget remedies before the MTA Board tomorrow rests on whether Muni operators are willing to give up a raise.

"We've asked the labor union, the Muni drivers, the Muni operators, to step up. They're due a raise and we're saying, please don't take a raise in this environment, don't make things worse, help us out, help the riders out. Help seniors, youth and disabled out. If you do, we won't raise the fare for seniors, youth and disabled, we won't make the service cuts as acute as we otherwise would."

Newsom said the choices the MTA Board makes tomorrow will be "conditional choices, subject to what the union does next week." Transit Workers Union members rejected a recent package of concessions, with many operators saying they weren't properly informed about the proposal. Newsom, as he has before, vowed to press ahead with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's proposed charter amendment if drivers don't agree to concessions.

Newsom said extending parking meter enforcement to Sundays was still under consideration, but that it wouldn't happen anytime soon.

"What I am adamantly, vehemently against, is extending the parking meter hours in this economy, and hurting small businesses. For those who are eager to do it, take a look at what happened in the East Bay, and how that was received," he said, prompting cackles from some reporters and TV photographers. "Meters have been increased over the last number of years, people forget that, substantially increased since 2004. It's not as if parking has not become more punitive."

Still, Newsom admitted that some businesses have contacted him, urging him to do it because it would actually be favorable for business, with higher turnaround.

Oka said the Mayor is so opposed to extending parking meter hours that Newsom refused a request to do it downtown where Oka believed he could get support from merchants.

Update: In response to this story, MTA spokesperson Judson True called to clarify Oka's remarks, and said the discount Fast Pass proposal is not off the table, and will be decided by the MTA Board tomorrow. "Clearly, this is a painful proposal and we want to find another alternative but the proposal is very much on the table until our board decides otherwise in public, and there is no guarantee that will happen tomorrow.”