MTA Budget Proposals Include Parking Meter Extension, More Service Cuts

budget.jpgClick to view full PDF. MTA staff is proposing various ballot initiatives to bring in new revenue. Image courtesy SFMTA.

Facing deficits of $56.4 million and $45 million in the next two fiscal years, the MTA will present ideas today to close yet another budget gap, including extending parking meter hours, eliminating transfers and cutting service by an additional 5 percent.

In total, the proposals [PDF] could bring in $75 million annually, enough to wipe out the projected deficits and provide a cushion. On top of that, MTA staff included five potential ballot measures that could bring in revenues ranging from $15 million and $75 million apiece.

But it’s far from certain that the MTA will actually be able to execute all of the revenue ideas it’s proposing. Nearly all of them have already proven to be politically difficult, and one – eliminating free transfers – is almost certain to be stopped in its tracks.

Eliminating free transfers would save Muni about $20 million annually, but the last time the agency tried the idea it spurred a rider revolt. The staff proposals also include a less-drastic version of the idea, which would charge $0.50 per transfer, bringing in $7.5 million annually. About 15 percent of all Muni boardings are transfers, but transferring lines is thoroughly built into the transit system’s layout, so even a smaller fee could meet a lot of resistance.

Extending parking meter hours to evenings and Sundays would also be contentious, but it has strong support from transit advocates as well as some business owners, who want to see increased turnover. Enacting the recommendations in the MTA’s parking meter study from last year could bring in $9 million annually; extending hours only to Sunday, leaving weekday evenings as is, could bring in $2.8 million.

Another proposal that’s popular with transit advocates – consolidating some bus stops that are closer together than the MTA’s own guidelines recommend – could bring in $3 million annually, according to the MTA presentation. It’s not clear from the presentation how extensive such an optimization program would be, but the $3 million figure is identical to what SPUR proposed in its "alternative budget" [PDF] presented to the MTA last week.

Several other SPUR recommendations made it into the staff presentation, including reducing work orders and wrapping vehicles in advertising. SPUR called for eliminating up to $14 million in work orders, but the MTA proposal calls for just a $6.5 million reduction, or about a tenth of the total amount the MTA pays out to other city agencies. Wrapping the vehicles in ads could bring in $1 million, according to SPUR’s projections and the MTA presentation. The MTA also included SPUR proposals to better enforce and expand existing parking garage pricing ordinances, which it hopes could bring in over $8 million annually.

Even with 10 percent service cuts on the way, the MTA presentation still contemplates the possibility of an additional 5 percent cut, saving $14.4 annually but potentially reducing Muni service to a shell of what it currently provides.

None of the ideas is set in stone, as the MTA Board won’t take a vote on the two-year budget until next month. But having lost $230 million in revenues over the past two years because of the economic downturn, the agency will have to continue making difficult choices. Perhaps the greatest hope for averting drastic service cuts would be a ballot measure to bring in new revenue. The MTA presentation includes five such ideas, including a ½ percent sales tax increase (netting $70-$75 million annually), an increase in the vehicle license fee back up to 1998 levels ($33 million), a tax on residential and commercial parcels ($20 million), an increase in the commercial off-street parking tax from 25 to 35 percent ($20 million), and a 1 percent increase in the hotel occupancy tax ($15 million).

The MTA Board will discuss the proposed solutions at its meeting today, and Executive Director Nat Ford is expected to present a pilot program to extend parking meter hours in some commercial areas. To start to make such drastic changes, the MTA will also need to hold a hearing today to extend its declaration of fiscal emergency.

  • Andy Chow

    I recommend that MTA should consider $5 or $6 day pass and eliminate the transfer (free or paid). The Muni fare structure is already too complex for its (and their bus operators) own good. VTA, LA, Sacramento, San Diego do it, and it helps speed up boarding in the afternoon.

  • JohnB

    Andy,

    Another thing with the transfers is that they seem highly variable in terms of how much time they allow. Sometimes it is 3-4 hours instead of 90 minutes, meaning people get a round-trip for the price of a one-way fare.

    So either time-stamp them properly, or do like they do in NYC and make them directional.

    I like your idea of a 5/6 buck all-day pass.

    Another idea – photo id for a Fastpass like other cities have. So that they cannot be loaned out.

  • Benjamin

    SPUR’s proposal and analysis can be read at their blog: http://twurl.nl/3dlcio

  • @JohnB, I use my wife’s pass from time to time, so not a fan of the fastpass ID. However, most of the time we are traveling together so I still end up paying a fare.

    But they are really considering another 5% on top of the 10% on top of the Dec 5th cuts and the overtime cuts? Some day I will be able to tell my children that I witnessed the death of MUNI. I just don’t know where they think they are going to put all the new cars on the road.

  • Also, I think transfers are crucial. To get pretty much anywhere from North Beach, you have to transfer to another line. A lot of the city needs an east/west, then a north/south connection. So even in that respect a “one-way” wouldn’t work.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Charging for transfers would be like charging drivers every time they turn left, i.e. ridiculous on its face. There are many trips within SF which cannot be made without a transfer. Possibly even most trips.

  • Matt

    This would probably hit massive resistance, but what about cutting more lines? Many of the Muni lines run one or two blocks apart from each other. Is it that hard to ask someone to walk an extra couple blocks for another line? Perhaps in return, Muni could beef up bus frequency. I would walk a couple extra blocks if it meant I wouldn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. It would also make the map much simpler to read, which is a huge plus for tourists and newcomers to transit.

  • Troy

    Eliminating some of the close stops is a FANTASTIC idea. It would also speed up travel time and encourage more use.

  • Nothing about initiating an evening commute hours congestion charge? That’s too bad.

  • Andy Chow

    A lot of those agencies that I mentioned don’t have transfers. Like everywhere else, riders do transfer in those systems.

    Day pass is an alternative to do the 50 cents thing. The 50 cents thing makes the system more complex and causes delays/fare disputes.

  • What’s this about raising the sales tax another 1/2%? Not gonna happen when the UNDERemployment rate is ’round 20% or so in California…. besides, it encourages more driving to San Mateo County from San Francisco.

  • Andy Chow

    1/2 cents is feasible, but it is certainly an uphill battle. As long as drivers don’t give any sort of real concession, it will be seen as a sweetheart deal to the drivers, with no improvements in return.

  • I don’t really think eliminating transfers (as per PDF doc) is a good idea. Anyway, TransLink will takeover the transfers in June 2011.

    But… if no fare receipts/transfers are issued, then POP enforcement is literally dead since fare inspectors cannot check passengers for proof anymore.

  • Gregorio

    What if transfers continued to be free, but only lasted for sixty minutes? Of course, this would require Muni to make cross-town trips in sixty minutes, which probably isn’t something they want to commit to.

    I like that they’ve started taking the SPUR measures into account. I also have a strong preference for the measures that earn money and discourage driving. These could potentially prove to be a small boon for ridership over time. Really anything that avoids ill-advised service cuts is the preferred method for me.

  • One of the best things about Muni is the free transfer. It means you feel you have the freedom to navigate anywhere in the City on transit. The social cost of forcing people to pay even $0.01 is far greater than the marginal cost and would drive many more people to not bother with Muni altogether.

    Implementing a paid transfer would be amazingly expensive in terms of time and infrastructure. How would a Muni Metro platform transfer work? A mandatory exit and re-entry?

    Raising parking meter rates would be the most effective and just measure to close the budget gap by far.

  • patrick

    I believe that not only should transfers remain free, but the transfer validity time should be extended to 4 hours.

    First, as already mentioned, paper transfers are almost always 3 or more hours, as it is easier for drivers to manage.

    Second, almost every round trip under 6 hours is a non-work commute trip, which means it is likely discretionary. Given that most muni riders also own a car, and parking is often relatively inexpensive, most people taking muni for a discretionary short term trip will pay less for parking than for a round trip on muni. If 2 or more people are traveling the muni trip becomes much more expensive than driving and paying for parking. Therefore there is an untapped market of people who would take muni if the total trip were more affordable. I have often made this calculation in the past and driven rather than taken muni. So while muni would lose some revenue on lost return trips paid for, it would gain revenue on more people taking muni, which would also result in fewer cars on the road.

    Yes, I understand that there are more costs involved than parking, such as gas, but few people make the decision on such costs.

  • JohnB

    Seth,

    I oppose raising any money outside Muni. The system should be viable.

    I don’t like raising meter rates any more than I like a 1/2% sales tax increase (which would take it to 10% – easy to compute I guess) or parcel tax. I doubt the voters would go for that anyway.

    Charging for transfers is petty and labor-intensive. I’d rather abolish them and institute a day pass.

    How about an annual fastpass with photo id? Say, $600? Would bring in lots of revenue upfront.

  • You can’t do an annual fastpass, a lot of people have a hard time making the payments once a month. But if you do an annual pass, you’d be able to make the argument that residential parking is under-priced by several hundred dollars.

  • Washington D.C.’s metro system did their transfer transition like this:

    Eliminated paper transfers.
    Transfers continued to be free, but must use their version of a TransLink card.
    Transfers were extended to two hours instead of 90 minutes.

    I like the idea of extending transfers because with all the delays plaguing Muni, especially the metro, the fare inspectors go after the little things like an expired transfer that was over five minutes (especially getting stuck in a metro tunnel).

  • @JohnB – nothing run by the Government is viable except tax collection. You can’t cherry pick.

  • I think JohnB is our old buddy John.

  • patrick

    I like the day pass idea, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for transfers, they serve different purposes. There are plenty of people that get on muni to run a short errand or two, and their trip is $2 now, a day pass but no transfer makes that go up to $4. The same is true for people who actually need to transfer to get to their destination.

  • Alex

    I think eliminating transfers is a terrible idea. As was pointed out, transferring is built into the system. Even with the newfangled subway to nowhere, North Beach is still a transfer away from many destinations.

    Golden Gate Transit used to (and may still) offer two hour transfers for a trip. The transfers could only be used in the same direction as the original trip, thus eliminating the idea of using transfers for round trip fares. While it’s not a terrible idea, it does impose an additional layer of complexity… and that will only slow down an already glacially slow system.

    GGT is, however, offering day passes now… something the MTA ought to consider doing for Muni. And, for all the talk of fees for transfers, what about bringing back the multi-part transfers that were good for a fixed number of transfers (thus preventing riding around all day one one fare)?

  • @Alex: An interesting concept with the TL/Clipper card that is being worked out is a regional day pass. The idea is that once a transit rider rakes-up a certain cash amount in one day, the rest of the rides are free (regardless of what agencies the rider takes). Perfect for those who travel long distances and ride multiple transit agencies.

    This could also work for Muni. If the rides equals the price of a day pass, or even a monthly pass, then the rest of the rides are free. But… Muni wouldn’t want to vote for that because they’d lose money, but gives the passengers the confidence to know they are saving money (more ridership?).

  • Alex

    @AKit That is how the Oyster works on the tube. You get the lowest possible fare for your trips during one day. If you only make one trip, you’d pay a single fare. If you make a few trips, you’d get charged the appropriate day pass rate for the zones you’ve traveled through.

    Unfortunately, bus trips in London are not included in this limit. Additionally, cash fares for the bus do not include transfers.

    I think that doing this on a regional basis in the Bay Area is not a bad idea, but certainly complicated and thus a far off into future idea. Doing this on MUNI for a day’s worth of fares would be great tho. Cap the daily fare at $6 maybe?

  • MG

    Anyone else think (or hope) that the elimination of transfers may be just another bogus proposal to serve as a distraction from what’s really going to be cut (ala $5 for the F-line?)

  • @MG and ala “Raise the cost of Grandma’s Pass”

  • JohnB

    Mike

    Yes, JohnB is John. I changed it because I was being confused with JohnM

    An annual fastpass is used in various other cities. People fund it as long as it gives them a decent discount. But you’d need photo id with it.

    JohnM, I might be more willing to consider cross-subsidies for muni IF the pay and benefit of muni operators was not so outrageous. But as it is, I want to see employee concessions before either fare increases or cross-subsidies. If we bail out muni once more, you and I just know that they will be back next year for even more money

  • Peter S

    Why is increasing fees for residential parking permits apparently not on the table? Obvious political concerns aside, this could easily be a real revenue driver. Permits are essentially a tax on owning a car (and parking it on the street) in permit areas.

    Did I miss this in the pdf?

  • John C.

    Why are we even discussing further service cuts when a 0.85% increase in the vehicle licence fee will bring in $33 million? Aren’t we supposed to be a “transit first” city?

    Elsewhere around the world, Copenhagen has had great success with their 100% vehicle licence fee. Yes, 100%. An additional 0.85% is easily worth it compared to further reducing service or eliminating transfers.

  • ZA

    I definitely don’t like the photoID idea. Added cost without added benefit. To MUNI, all they need to know is that the person on their system has authentically paid* for the ride.

    *With an acceptable ‘loss’ rate. All systems have loss, just ask any retailer.

    It seems to me that there are two valid approaches to fare control:

    1. Technology:

    Translink approach, with a digital timestamp for free transfers (within 30 minutes, for example), and deducting $ if the rider is late. In fairness to the reality of MUNI service, either the driver or a central system operator could electronically authorize an extension to the ‘free’ ride at the point of entry to that vehicle.

    As for the equity issue for poorer riders, either set up a parallel Translink card that is visually and electronically distinctive for students, mobility-challenged, fixed income, etc. OR do away with a parallel reduced fare schedule completely and reconcile the fare difference and send monthly reimbursements to the registered Translink rider (their riding data could be collected by the systems).

    2. Keeping What Works, Scrap the Rest:

    MUNI is an open system, and the digital approach needs an effective way to mark riders exiting the system without a lot of leak or error. Instead, keep a high single-ride fare for all trips, and a fixed set of discount-rate passes for time (1 day, 3 day, 1 week, 1 month) & rider type (student, fixed income, etc.). Scrap free transfers for single-ride fares, and build the incentive towards buying the day(s) passes instead. Increase their availability with registered merchants.

  • Nick

    I think the San Francisco version of the “Oakland Parking Meter Revolt” is going to be a transit revolt. It only takes 10 times as many people to be 10 times as vocal, and parking meters don’t look like such a bad option.

    How about a $100 fast pass and get it over with? That seems to be the direction they are going in. Who cares about the ridership.

  • ZA

    Also, as someone who owns a car in SF, and rides both MUNI and his bike, I’d rather have a slightly higher car fee and know MUNI will be there when I need it, than to cut MUNI.

    Aside from weather, let’s consider the threat of drunk driving in party-prone SF. If you ever needed more than 1 taxi ride in a year, that’s the $ premium worth paying on your resident car to keep MUNI there (and the drunks out of their cars) after midnight. Hey, those drunks might even be you and I!

  • JohnB

    JohnC, What is a 100% vehicle license fee?

    Although, whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.

    Peter S, residents parking fees have increased massively in the last few years. Muni already gets more money from parking than it does from operations. At some point, it needs to be able to fund itself and not gorge on the backs of those residents who don’t use it.

    The one thing not on the agenda that should be is a rollback of operator pay and benefits. For as long as that is out of control, we will have this problem every year.

  • @Peter S, This is a state issue. The state only allows municipalities to charge enough to cover the cost of issuing the permit. This of course works well in Menlo Park where parking is abundant, but not enough to let “non-citizens” park overnight. However, it doesn’t work for a place like San Francisco where real estate is at a prime and parking is not a RIGHT, though many would argue that.

    You can not continue to attack the TWU without looking at the police and fire unions. This getting to be a really bad joke. The MTA is subsidizing the police budget at the cost of providing the service they are charged with. The police and fire unions are much much more ruthless then the TWU. Yes, work rule changes need to occur, but you are beating a dead horse. Let’s talk about revenue sources.

    Speaking of, I don’t like another increase to the sales tax because it fluctuates way too much. One reason our state is in dire financial straights is because we rely on sales and pay roll tax to fund our gov’t. Both are extremely volatile during times of recession.

  • JohnB

    Mike

    All forms of taxation fluctuate and fall in times of recession. That is why CA is suffering so much right now. There is no way around that. I agree a 1/2 percent sales tax would be horrendous but I also think there is zero chance of the voters approving that. Ditto for a parcel tax.

    I think you are right that transit funding issues are just one example of the more general public sector deficits we have at the Federal, State and Local levels. We are in a general funding crisis. And “taxing the rich” isn’t going to solve that, no matter how well it plays with certain sF activists.

  • Joseph

    So this is probably counterproductive, but:

    Any law-oriented people out there want to speculate whether there are grounds to sue the City regarding its deviance from the Transit First Policy in the City Charter? Is there a precedent for lawsuits with respect to deviance from policies?

    The SFMTA has struggled with “difficult choices” in the recent budget processes. These choices should not be so “difficult” when you have a Transit First Policy since the 70s.

    Our elected leaders seem more interested in playing the political game than following City policy and I think in this case, if possible, they should be shown that there are consequences. Clearly no lawyer here, but I’m getting frustrated.

  • I guess I should of continued on with my point, sales tax fluctuate radically while property values tend to fluctuate a little more smoothly. Prop 13 killed any hope of local funding through property taxation, that is why the state usually has to make up for it in sales/pay-roll taxes and then “give” the cities/counties money to run their programs.

    We have a problem because the state has raided transit funds for the last 3 years. They have been charge by the courts to return those funds, but it’ll never happen because it probably went to building a prison somewhere. Hopefully, the gov doesn’t get his way and the legislature stops his attempt to swap out the gas tax.

    And a parcel tax would pass because, let’s face it, most people in SF rent so don’t kid yourself JohnB. And if we really wanted it to pass, we could just say that it’ll also help continue the funneling of money to the police and fire. Everyone loves to fund those guys.

    I was going to say earlier and forgot, John Murphy, want to make a guess at the next ploy they’ll use to pass through more cuts? First, F-line. Second, SYD fare increase. Third, Transfer charge. Fourth? A surcharge for an aisle seat?

  • Nick

    This may be leading up to another lightning-rod issue. Does anyone know if the funding for the Bike Plan could get stripped ($14-16 million) if the MTA gets desperate enough?

    Does that funding even currently exist? Funny if the injunction were to end, but there was no money to build it out.

  • JohnB

    Mike, many parcel tax proposals have failed in SF. They tend to pass easier in places like Oakland and Berkeley.

    And, one way or another, the costs of them gets passed onto renters, either directly via a pass-thru in the proposal itself. Or indirectly, through higher rents. Any renter who thinks he is getting “something for nothing” is deluded. There’s no free lunch.

    And if you have been following the last couple of years, property values have been very volatile, in a downward direction. So homeowners are asking for downward assessments. Or being forced to sell at lower prices. Either way, the property tax take declines – in Oakland it has become critical.

    Jospeph, “Transit First” does not mean “Transit Only”. It means that, when other things being equal, you favor transit. It doesn’t mean you can endlessly fleece private individuals to bail out those who use muni. We need to support ALL modes of transportation including private vehicle use. The pro-muni crowd get the least sympathy from me when they are blatantly anti-car. The bike crowd have already gone down that sad route and lost my support.

  • JohnB, sales drop much faster then home prices. This current situation is a special one because prices rose much faster then they should have because credit was so freely available.

    I’m not anti-car, I’m just anti-destroy everything to make way for the car. Cars need to pay more to park. Simple as that. Plus it will help with turn over for local businesses increasing sales.

  • Abe

    @JohnB: I’m very sorry the “bike crowd” lost your support. Does that mean you want every bicyclist to drive an automobile? Good luck finding parking if that happens.

    It strikes me as ridiculous to say that the city is “endlessly fleec[ing] private individuals” right after you say that there is “no free lunch” for renters. You cannot own street parking–only rent it. It really looks to me like those rents should go up. Autos are heavily subsidized already (how much do you think a gallon of gas really costs). We should all pay our FAIR share.

  • patrick

    @JohnB: I’m fine with Muni being responsible for it’s own budget if driving paid for it’s own expenses.

    Here are just some of the ways cars are subsidized:

    The gas tax does not completely pay for the Interstate Highway System (only about 70%), so funds are transfered from the general fund. The IHS is not being properly maintened, so even though it is mostly funded with the gas tax, it would be massively underfunded if fully maintained.
    The IHS is only about a quarter of the National Highway System (although IHS roads have more lanes than NHS), which is, as far as I can tell, from general funds.
    Local roads are generally funded by property taxes (i.e. even if you don’t own a car, you pay for roads)
    We pay police to enforce the rules for drivers.
    We pay Caltrans to clear accidents.
    We pay emergency response to help people in accidents.
    We pay to have the mess left behind by accidents cleaned up.
    Cars kill about 40,000 people a year and injur millions a year, some of whom have no insurance or are under insured, so we pay for their medical care.
    Cars pollute the air, water & soil, so we pay for the cleanup of such pollution.

    Those are just some of the subsidies that drivers receive.

    Now I don’t think cars are evil, or that nobody should drive. Cars are very useful for some tasks, but they also have a downside that most people either ignore, or are completely unaware of. I think drivers should pay their fair share of the costs involved in using these vehicles. I also don’t think we should orient our entire society around the car.

  • Kelvin

    As visitors to your city, my wife and I were greatly offended by the willful greed exhibited in your area, and won’t be returning to vacation there in the future.

    We intended to enjoy the day at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was Sunday, and we parked in front of a meter. The meter had no instructions on it. No indication of the fee, no information about a card, No mention of weekends or holidays. NO INFORMATION PERIOD. WTF?!?! Every other meter on the block was flashing expired. We had no idea whether or not to put money in, and if we did, how much? So, we assumed that like other states, weekends might be exempt.

    We were treated to a $55 ticket, which is absolutely criminal on your part. But wait! That’s not all. We just received a little note from you a-holes that you already sent it to collections and for some reason, you feel you are entitled to another $30 for your trouble. Really, collections? In 30 days? Good God… I weep for your miserable souls. Such dutiful effort on your part… Such devotion to duty…
    (lord, I’m about to tear up on your behalf).

    What a bunch of crooks! You are worse then NYC. (or maybe as bad as…)

    For a city that whines about being green so much, you sure waste a lot of paper.

  • Given the 10 factual errors – I call “Rangers Fan” on Kelvin.