MTA Board Approves 10 Percent Muni Service Cut; Discount Fast Pass Spared

IMG_1563.jpgMuni riders packed the overflow room at the South Light Court in City Hall, waiting to speak to the MTA Board. Photo: Matthew Roth

At one of the most heavily attended MTA Board meetings in recent memory, the MTA’s directors voted 4-3 today to cut Muni service by 10 percent and require $70 premium Fast Passes for express routes and cable cars, but jettisoned a proposal to increase the price of the senior, youth and disabled discount Fast Pass to $30.

Hundreds of people showed up to speak at the meeting, many of them protesting the discount Fast Pass increase. The Board voted on the measures after over three hours of testimony, but even before public comment began, MTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan made it clear the discount Fast Pass increase was off the table.

Nolan framed the reprieve as conditional upon the Muni operators union accepting salary and benefits concessions, which they previously rejected.

"I am proposing eliminating increases for seniors, youth, and disabled based on my confidence the union will step up to the plate and offer their fare share," said Nolan.

He told fellow Board members he was confident the union would do so, but comments from Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Irwin Lum today suggested just the opposite.

Lum told Streetsblog that operators would not be re-voting on the concessions, and that the MTA needs to rethink its strategy. "They’re trying to put the burden on operators," he said. "We do not make the budget. There’s ways that they could find wasteful spending in management, there’s $65 million in work orders. We’re not the problem."

The MTA’s deficit is actually slightly less dire than originally projected: A windfall of ARRA funds redirected from the Oakland Airport Connector helped bump the end-of-year deficit down to $12.1 million from an original projection of $16.9 million.

IMG_1569_1.jpgMTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan and Director Shirley Breyer Black. The directors listened to several hours of public testimony from over 100 people today.

The measures approved today will make up $14.4 million, leaving a small surplus. But many of the funding sources could yield less than expected, said MTA spokesperson Judson True, so the surplus provides a needed buffer.

After an impressive outpouring of public testimony, the MTA Board followed through with Nolan’s suggestion to remove the discount passes from the agenda, by a 6-1 vote, with only Cameron Beach offering an unexplained dissenting vote.

On both of the two separate items to implement the largest service cuts in Muni’s history and require premium Fast Passes for express routes and cable cars, Directors Shirley Breyer Black, Malcolm Heinicke, Bruce Oka and Tom Nolan voted yes and Directors Cameron Beach, Jerry Lee and James McCray voted no.

Though the discount monthly Fast Passes were spared from a $10 increase, a special premium discount Fast Pass, costing $5 extra, will be required for express routes, cable cars and BART within the city, similar to the tiered adult Fast Pass. The directors also approved increases to various fees. The Muni service cuts are scheduled to go into effect on May 1.

During the public comment period, TWU President Lum pushed back on the idea that operators were to blame for the budget shortfall, and suggested the MTA look harder at costly work orders from other city departments. "I would just like to express our outrage that transit operators, our members, have been consistently blamed for the mess the MTA is in," said Lum. "We believe the MTA has been used as cash cow for other city departments."

Heinicke, while calling for a hearing on operator work rules if the union doesn’t approve concessions, also said union concessions alone won’t make up the budget gap. "Let’s make no mistake that this is not all about the drivers," he said. "Union concessions and fed money alone won’t solve our problems. We need to look at other sources of revenue."

Citizens’ Advisory Counsel Chair Daniel Murphy told the MTA Board the service cuts would "decimate Muni service," and that the loss of $179 million in state transit aid over the last three years doesn’t absolve the MTA Board from its duty to search for revenue.

"The service proposal before you does a lot of violence to mass transit in this city," said Murphy. The best option, he told the Board, was to increase parking meter rates and extend enforcement hours. "We know that you don’t want to go there and a lot of people don’t want to go there, but that’s what’s left."

To that end, there was a call from several of the directors to start a pilot program extending parking meter hours to Sunday, and possibly evenings. "We are clearly moving in the direction of extending parking meter hours to Sunday and will look at that more next week," said Nolan, who had previously expressed support for such a plan last year before becoming less vocal on the plan at recent meetings.

Heinicke called for MTA Executive Director Nat Ford to immediately implement extended parking meter hours on Sundays in four or five business corridors where the lack of parking turnover is hurting businesses, as well as in one corridor during weekday evenings.

Directors Beach, Lee and Oka echoed that. "We need to ask the Mayor to consider this," Oka said. "I support Sunday and nighttime enforcement: We need to do that everyday."

"I know the mayor is not going to support this," he added, "but we need to put it out there that this has to be tried at last as a pilot project."

  • For you wonks: Muni’s budget is $783.0 million/year. Cutting service by 10% will provide a cost savings of $4.8 million or just 0.6% for the rest of this fiscal year and $28.5 million or just 3.6% annually in the future. So instead of coming up with the necessary money by increasing parking revenues (they are already increasing transit fares) they are making major cuts and getting a very low return.

  • Why aren’t more people talking about the work order problem? That’s a major issue that seems to have been swept under the table. . .

  • Why did Oka vote for the 10% service cuts?

  • Alex

    BTW, the discount passes were not spared. They’re now multi-tiered like the adult passes. If you use a discount pass and want to use BART, a cable car, or an “express” bus you need to pony up for a $25 pass.

  • Josh Borroughs

    i wish more people had focused on TWU’s refusal to make concessions. Every other employee union did. Still looking forward to that charter amendment….
    And, I’m disappointed by Oka’s vote too, but he is a notorious flip flopper.

  • 2010: Transit agencies enter a race to the bottom! Who can cut the most service and increase the fares to the highest point?

    2009 was the junior competition, as smaller agencies around the country cut service. But now the big boys are in play. Will DC add another 30 cents to the highest fares in the country? How many bus routes can SF cut? Will NYC eliminate some night routes?

    Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion, coming this summer, when yet another layer of deficits are found!

  • patrick

    So here are the issues that I’m seeing:

    MTA cuts service 10% for a 3.6% annual budget savings.
    Work orders are still being charged to Muni.
    Monthly passes are further complicated & confused.
    Operators union refuses to make concessions that most other unions agreed to.
    Still no real progress on increasing meter rates where appropriate or extending hours.

    In addition, from what I understand the TEP was endorsed about a year and a half ago, but instead of implementing it they cut service across the board

    Also, some other ideas (some may be good, some may be bad):

    1) congestion charging for driving downtown.
    2) congestion charging on muni during rush hour
    3) discounting fares during non-rush hour
    4) increasing cash fares, but keeping prepaid fares lower
    3) extending transfer validity from 90 minutes to 4-6 hours
    4) requiring businesses that validate parking to also give discounts for customers taking Muni

    I think we should remember the issues that we are dealing with and talk about what the focus of the riders coalition should be. I’m sure others have some great ideas as well.

    SPUR released a document for suggestions to fix the budget issues:

    https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0ByRBwpOn4HP6YTFkYWYzOTktMzZiMS00ZDQ0LWFlYjItOWM5YjE5YjdjYTQ0&hl=en

  • MG

    Like jass said, Muni definitely isn’t alone when it comes to budget cuts. Not that it makes this situation any better, but at least we have company, I guess. The DC Metro is facing a similar crisis right now. In fact, if you read the comments section of this article from the Washington Post, you could almost substitute “Metro” with “Muni” and you would never know the difference!
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/20/AR2010022003730.html

  • Rona

    There should be focus on work orders and Downtown business paying their fair share. Nolan was wrong in his attempt to formulate tension between the riders and the Operator. This transit system is one of the toughest in the country. Chop from the top is the way to go, most speakers expressed this viewpoint. This whole squeeze the operator plot is a farce. Operators turned down the proposal because there were no guarantees that service would not be cut and fares would not be raised for the seniors, disabled and youth.

    Additionally, Elsbernd was a sponsor the the last Charter Amendment in which he and Peskin took the ceiling off the Operators wage formula (Prop A), now here he comes again. Elsbernd is a very nasty politician. When this story first broke, Elsbernd countinued to make dishonest statements regarding an Operator Christmas Bonus that never was and repetitously quoted Transit Operator’s wages in excess of 2.00 above what the rate actually is. MTA and Elsbernd continue to scapegoat the Transit Operator for the problems of MUNI. The real truth would make MTA shame. In the midst of it all, Ford hired another executive salary in excess of $200,000.00 as he presses operators to make concession. Chop from the top!

  • patrick

    “because there were no guarantees that service would not be cut and fares would not be raised for the seniors, disabled and youth”

    That is complete BS.