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.