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."