The Muni Summit and the Challenges of Organizing Muni Riders

IMG_1624.jpgSave Muni Summit attendees sit town at the table together. Photo: Michael Rhodes

One lesson from Saturday’s Save Muni Summit and from MTA Board hearings jam-packed with Muni supporters in the past two weeks is that Muni riders are not an apathetic bunch. But if riders are willing to go to City Hall and to grassroots meetings, why isn’t there already a politically powerful transit constituency in San Francisco?

The answer may lie in the sheer diversity of Muni’s ridership, which is hardly less heterogeneous than the city itself. While everyone wants better Muni service, Muni riders disagree — often vehemently — on how to accomplish that. The Save Muni Summit sought to figure out which causes unite riders, and in the end it was a first step towards that goal.

Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, a tenants’ rights organizer who is part of the ad-hoc Transit Not Traffic (TNT) coalition that helped pass Proposition A in 2007, told the assembly at the Save Muni Summit that organizing the groups comprising TNT could be exasperating, but is the only way to develop political influence.

"We weren’t going to agree on everything, but we needed each other," she said. "We could work on things we agreed on, and work separately on things we didn’t agree on. But we agreed on funding."

Sherburn-Zimmer’s speech was one of several that kicked off the summit with lofty and conciliatory messages. When the introductory speeches gave way to a public comment period, the fissures and distrust that have made organizing so difficult came back into plain view.

Perhaps the greatest rift is over the Central Subway. The summit’s organizers sought to avoid focusing on the subway since it has strong support in Chinatown and from some transit advocacy groups, including Rescue Muni, but is bitterly opposed by many other transit advocates, including the group Save Muni, one of the summit’s organizers. (Another summit organizer, TransForm, has not taken a position, citing allies on both sides of the debate.)

While there were plenty of great ideas presented during the Muni Summit’s public comment period, there were also some harsh tirades cast at fellow groups in the room. "How can we offer solutions when we’re trying to build a community between passengers and drivers but oftentimes we’re at war with each other?" asked Nora Calderon of the group People Organized to Win Employment Rights.

As a result of this lack of unity, Muni riders often present a voice
at City Hall that is loud but not clear.

But if the public comment period was a messy extension of an MTA Board meeting, the session that followed seemed to offer a lot more hope. Summit attendees split into nine groups organized by issue, like how to find more funding for Muni, how to improve bus service, and — a last-minute addition — how to reach out to more Muni riders in the future.

The result, compared to the public comment period, was a bit like witnessing a leap from one stage in biological evolution to the next: though there was vigorous debate and disagreement at the tables, people interacted, shared ideas, and ultimately focused on the actions that had broad support. When a representative from each group stood up and spoke before the full assembly, there were even hints of nuance and collaboration.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a mark of the approach that will need to define any successful coalition of transit riders.

Dave Snyder, who’s organizing a nascent San
Francisco Transit Riders Union
, summed up the challenge at the end
of the summit. "Just one of the conflicts that came up in people’s
comments today is that it is important that everyone pay their fare and
that people don’t get on the bus through the back door because that
means Muni is losing money; but (people also said) it’s important people
don’t get harassed if they can’t afford Muni."

Some ideas, however, like an increased vehicle license fee and all-door boarding through a proof-of-payment system, showed wide support at the summit. Snyder said those were the kinds of issues the Transit Riders Union could focus on. "These are big things … and I don’t think we can win them unless there is a sense among public transit riders that we are in this together," he said.

Of course, Snyder will also need to help organize a more diverse group than attended the Muni Summit — not for the sake of political correctness, but by political necessity. Snyder said he hopes to have a balance of organizations on the steering committee, including policy organizations, such as SPUR, Livable City, and Rescue Muni, community based organizations like the Chinatown Community Development Center, the Mission SRO Collaborative, and the Senior Action Network, as well as participation by the Muni operators union.

Though the summit didn’t accomplish broad representation of Muni’s ridership (for the most part, the room didn’t resemble the diversity of ridership on a Muni bus), its format of educating riders on the issues and then having them sit down face-to-face to work out consensus positions might be the template that will define a politically powerful Muni constituency.

  • andrew

    The bigger problem is that without dealing with labor cost Muni will ALWAYS be facing the kind of deficits that are hammering it now. We made a big mistake to support the wage floor in 2007 Prop A – this is what is now causing the escalation in costs including $8M in automatic raises this year, with NO work rule concessions despite explicit promises made that year. The Elsbernd amendment is needed to undo that mistake.

    It’s unlikely that the union-backed Transit Not Traffic organization will join such an effort.

  • Nick

    I don’t see why MUNI riders need to be organized since we are basically the whole city. It’s just another case of government not being accountable to the citizens they represent.

    The ideas that this coaltion represents need to be coming from WITHIN the MTA. That point was noticably absent from their list of recommendations.

  • JohnB

    Snyder says that he wants a “more diverse group than attended the Summit” and he is of course correct. The only 3 people I know of who attended are a bike activist, a tenant activist (cited) and a employee rights activist.

    But then he goes on to list 7 examples of groups that he claims would make the constituency more diverse. And guess what? – all 7 group are examples of even more “progressive groups” e.g. Livable City, Senior Action network, Mission SRO Collaborative and so on.

    So here is my open challenge to Dave (if he is the self-styled leader of this effort). Why not make the working constituency really diverse? Why not include a downtown business representative, a small business person, a spokesperson for the auto industry, a Taxpayer advocacy group, a Republican, and maybe even the odd person who doesn’t have any political agenda?

    Is Mr. Snyder really willing to take the risk and be genuinely inclusive? Or would he feel altogether more comfortable if the only diversity in the working party were different factions of the progressive activist universe?

  • patrick

    JohnB, you say “Why not include a downtown business representative, a small business person, a spokesperson for the auto industry, a Taxpayer advocacy group, a Republican,”

    but my question is, do any of those groups seek the opinions of, or try to include, transit activists in their groups? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

  • JohnB

    Patrick,

    I’ll take your word for it that they don’t seek the opinions of transit activists.

    But wouldn’t a set of proposals that have the support of the establishment AND the activists carry far more weight?

    And isn’t this an opportunity to show a better way forward?

    Those who make the ultimate decisions are not stupid. If they know a set of proposals came only from “the usual activists” with little input from anyone else, won’t they be more likely to dismiss the ideas?

  • patrick

    JohnB, I’d love for a better way forward to be created, but I do not believe this group is going to change the way politics in this city happen, and I’m not going to ask that the group tries to change our society before it tries to tackle the issue that it is being created to address.

    If the group is only made up of “the usual activists” then there’s nothing to worry about, as it will have no influence. The only way anything will happen is to get a large and vocal group of people together, promoting a concrete agenda.

    Right now there are a number of small but vocal groups, that have a broad range of issues. The intent of the summit (as far as I know) is to get the groups together and find some common grounds on which to focus their attention. If republicans or the auto industry or downtown businesses want to join and honestly have something to contribute towards the improvement of Muni, I’m sure their voices would be welcome, but don’t expect the group to court opinions that have been openly opposed to public transit in general.

  • A real transit advocacy group can’t be part and parcel of one political faction or another. Small business owners need a Muni that works, Realtors routinely promote listings with good Muni access, and if you get the unnecessary cars of the road, those who really do need a car or truck can actually use them with some expectation that they’ll get around easier.

    It was rather annoying to hear once again the plaintive call of the lefty Mission activist types that Everyone On The Westside is a white republican “conservative.” The diversity on Irving street rivals that of anywhere else, and Clement St. is the same. Geary is the busiest transit corridor west of the Mississippi. I could go on, but the point is that the westside is not all Sean Elsbernd’s St Francis Woods, and to just ignore people from that part of town is at one’s peril, the same as ignoring ANY OTHER PART OF A CITY OF LESS THAN A MILLION.

  • Peter Smith

    i say ‘Bravo!’ to everyone trying to make this happen.

    i say ‘Boring!’ to everyone trying to hate on the effort because it’s not perfect in some way.

    whether folks love/hate the Central Subway, BRT, etc. is something that we can all reach consensus on — even if that consensus is just taking a ‘no position’ position. that’ll require folks to grow up and compromise — to take seriously the fact that people are suffering. that’ll be interesting to watch, but ‘Fortune favors the bold’ — so best of luck, Muni nerds! — you’ll have the support of this bike nerd.

    adding, what i’d like to see happen, possibly as soon as this summer, is a full-on ‘Fantasy Transit City’ or just ‘Fantasy City’ or ‘Fantastic San Francisco’ — some ‘get-together’ (blah) where we can talk about what our ideal City looks like (e.g. fantasy bike/transit maps, etc.). Once we gain some consensus on that, we can talk about things like how certain projects — e.g. Central Subway, BRT, etc. — will help get us there (or move us away from there). this type of conference can help us get the word out, help inspire all of us to more and better cooperation and action, and maybe most importantly — convince us that the future does not have to look anything like the present — the transit funding pie, for instance, can grow by an order of magnitude, not just shrink.

  • those dudes

    the steering committee should include reps from merchant associations, chamber of commerce, real estate, etc. otherwise the solutions put forward by a select group of self-prescribed transit experts will meet powerful resistance. this could be a great opportunity to sell such orgs on the benefits of better transit. if they cant be conviced to support specific proposals, how will voters?

  • Peter Smith

    the steering committee should include reps from merchant associations, chamber of commerce, real estate, etc.

    yes — and Google should appoint Steve Jobs to its board, the Chamber of Commerce should appoint Chris Carlsson to its board, CitiApartments (slumlords extraordinaire) should appoint someone from the SF Tenants Union to its board, etc.

    what would you actually expect such an organization to be effective? why? examples?

    participants need to be able to agree on some broad city-improving initiatives — the groups you mention have generally been against livable streets policies, so appointing them would just weaken any organization trying to do something other than maintain the status quo. if, over time, these groups prove to be open to improving the quality of life in SF, then they may be able to earn a spot on the Board.

    disagreements on policy are OK.

    otherwise the solutions put forward by a select group of self-prescribed transit experts will meet powerful resistance

    in my view, most of the people who ride Muni/transit are more expert than the people designing and running our Muni/transit systems. so, introducing some actual transit expertise into the ‘transit expertise’ realm will be a very welcome change.

    as for the ‘powerful resistance’ — i’ll believe it when i see it. right now, it’s not so much that it is ‘powerful’, but that it is more ‘the only’ support/opposition on various transit issues. that’s the whole point of forming a transit riders union — to provide organized resistance to the anti-transit stance of the groups you mention.

    i understand lots of folks want to water-down any potential advocacy organization (for various reasons), but i’d prefer a strong organization with a real vision for a better future — a much better future.

    this could be a great opportunity to sell such orgs on the benefits of better transit. if they cant be convinced to support specific proposals, how will voters?

    various interest groups and voters have and will continue to be convinced to support any number of transit/livable city initiatives — including specific proposals. it could even be a smart idea to invite them to the table — if not necessarily ‘the Board’. we’ll see.

  • I am pretty certain the meeting was open to the public, including merchant associations, the chamber of commerce, real estate, and JohnB. But they brought nothing to the table. Maybe JohnB is John Boehner – chief Party of No Honcho.

  • andrew

    @Peter – We did that nine years ago in our Service Expansion Committee (http://www.rescuemuni.org/2001archive.html, read all the way to the bottom). It gets extremely frustrating when so few of the projects come to fruition. We might, maybe, if we are lucky, get Van Ness BRT a full TEN YEARS after that workshop.

  • Peter Smith

    We did that nine years ago in our Service Expansion Committee

    that’s great! i’m thinking something similar, just bigger/broader/better. we had to start somewhere. it’s time to take it to the next level.

    It gets extremely frustrating when so few of the projects come to fruition.

    sure. that’s why we all have to take time off, recharge, etc. no biggie.

    We might, maybe, if we are lucky, get Van Ness BRT a full TEN YEARS after that workshop.

    this is total horseshit. there is plenty of “we can’t” and “we’ll never” out there — how about some “let’s do this shit”? how bout some “let’s try again”? how bout some “f*** the haters, we’re gonna build 30 years worth of transit and bike and walk infrastructure in 10 years”?

    it’s not 10 years ago anymore — it’s a different world. things have changed drastically — locally, nationally, globally. leave it to the car people to tell us that we’ll never change anything — they’re good at it. let us take care of inspiring each other.

  • Anyone know of good examples of groups in other cities that have successfully organized to improve public transport?

    I am not talking about support for specific projects (e.g. sales tax campaigns for public transport improvements) but rather groups that have been effective over the long term in improving public transport. I can think of lots of examples of the first, but not very many for the second.

    Thoughts?

  • Good question, Andy! (Andy and I were both activists in San Francisco about 20 years ago, when the battles sounded a lot like they do now.) I think it’s hard to assess the effectiveness of a transit advocacy organization in the long term distinct from its role in particular battles. The Bus Riders Union in LA was massively effective for a few years, but it won its main battle but it also drew a lot of criticism, and between those two factors it seems to be a spent force now.

    You should probably post this question on Streetsblog New York, because NYC is probably the only big city that’s way ahead of SF on this score. They have a range of more or less effective organizations, and anyone wanting to organize in SF should probably study them.

  • JohnB

    JohnM,

    Business folks, realtors etc. didn’t attend the “Summit” for the same reason that you didn’t attend this week-end’s other event, the Tea Party in Mill valley (which attracted 5 times as many people) i.e. because you perceived that as being an activists’ love-in rather than a genuine attempt at forging a credible consensus.

    And no, I’m not that other JohnB, whoever he is, but if I was I’m sure I would have been smart enough to better disguise my handle.

    Peter,

    Corporations are different entities since they need to be far more single-minded than something like Muni. With Muni, you ultimately have to be able to convince the decision makers or the voters that these emerging ideas have broad support and are not just the ideological wet dream of the usual activists.

    So, you’re right, you don’t have to invite people who think differently from you. But sooner or later you’re going to have to convince those who will probably end up paying for most of this that there is something in it for them, and that you’re not just trying to bash the rich with some 1960’s style class warfare.

    If I were made dictator of Muni for the day and could make any changes, I’d be a lot more impressed by a set of proposals that had already garnered broad support, than the usual ideas from the usual activists.

    So talk to those you oppose now. Or talk to them later. I agree its your choice.

  • Corporations are different entities since they need to be far more single-minded than something like Muni. With Muni, you ultimately have to be able to convince the decision makers or the voters that these emerging ideas have broad support and are not just the ideological wet dream of the usual activists.

    this doesn’t make sense. Google, for instance, is all about convincing decision-makers to buy their products, to not regulate or tax their products, etc. the point, of course, is that you can have a very broad-based organization which stands for nothing, or you can have a focused organization that stands for something. the key is to find the right balance so you can actually influence policy. it’s a tricky balance to get right, but appointing ideological enemies to your board is not, generally speaking, a wise approach, in my opinion.

    BART was an ideological wet dream of the usual activists. as was the end of legalized slavery. and Sunday Streets. as was/is just about anything else worth a damn in the world today.

    So, you’re right, you don’t have to invite people who think differently from you.

    inviting to the table to talk is different from appointing them to sit on your board and make decisions for your organization.

    But sooner or later you’re going to have to convince those who will probably end up paying for most of this that there is something in it for them, and that you’re not just trying to bash the rich with some 1960’s style class warfare.

    we shouldn’t pretend that there is no class warfare going on. the rich are bashing the poor every day, taxing Muni riders with service cuts and fare hikes, all the while partying and exclaiming, “Class warfare? Oh, goodness, no. Of course, not. No such thing.” i’m not sure why advocates would want to buy into this concept of “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin eyes?”

    the rich are not paying their fair share — it’s time they started. i expect resistance, and they should expect the same. they’ve gotten a free ride for long enough. it needs to end.

    If I were made dictator of Muni for the day and could make any changes, I’d be a lot more impressed by a set of proposals that had already garnered broad support, than the usual ideas from the usual activists.

    which of these proposals are you talking about, and why are ‘the usual activists’ — those wretched people — to blame for not implementing them? i agree with you — i know the activists are in charge of running the city, and the mayor/board/mta are just powerless puppets.

    so, fellow-if-not-usual-activist, how should we start implementing our broad proposals?

  • JohnB

    Peter,

    You’re asking the wrong question when you ask me “How should ‘we’ start implementing ‘our’ broad proposals”?

    First they are not our proposals but the proposals of a self-selected group of transit activists. Nothing wrong with that but even you, cloaked in your sanctimonious self-styled class warrior persona, can surely see that you need to get differing factions on board before anything can happen.

    We’re not abolishing slavery here. We’re trying to keep the Number 22 bus running.

    BART happened because business could see the value in a fast way for their employees to get to work, and politicians wanted a glitzy achievement on their watch. I already said projects like high-speed rail and the Central Subway get approved because of the glitz factor.

    Sunday Streets is a minor distraction not a major achievement. Hopeless example.

    So, back to your question. How do you implement this? Take a risk, come out of your shell, and debate the other factions of the broad coalition that you will need if this isn’t going to be perceived just as the fantasy wishlist of of a bunch of well-meaning trainspotters.

    You’ll have to compromise, of course. But in the end, you’ll get some of what you want. And next time, people will take you more seriously from the start because you’ll be seen as a guy who can persuade a diverse group of people with power that you can get things done, and are not just a guy with a beard and sandals whining in the hall.

  • Sunday Streets is a minor distraction not a major achievement. Hopeless example.

    First, they ignore you…

    other than that, you keep repeating the same thing, and not saying anything of substance.

    your use of ‘self-selected…activists’ shows your disdain for people who actually attempt to do anything instead of just ‘fight the good fight’ from their laptops — keyboard commandos.

    or maybe you think activists are supposed to be selected from above? appointed by the mayor, maybe?

    that you would downplay the seriousness of transit is no longer surprising.

    that you believe activists don’t actually have any effect on the world is no longer surprising.

    and you finish with the obligatory ‘dirty effing hippie’ ref. nice.

  • JohnB

    Peter,

    If you can’t even handle a little gentle criticism from someone who is in fact broadly sympathetic to public transit in SF, then how are you going to handle a room full of hostile opponents to your ideas?

    Which is what you will face when you’ve finally decide to stop holding activist summits and actually have to persuade the power-brokers and voters to accept your ideas.

    I make no apology for repudiating your example of Sunday Streets – even folks here admit it’s a distraction. And citing that right after abolishing slavery was a tad rich.

    I admire your passion and enthusiasm for your cause. And I want Muni to be as viable as you do. But the difference between us is that I recognize that we have to deal with an imperfect world, with vying priorities for scarce resources, and that the ultimate decision-makers want to see broad support for any putative action.

    So I turn your question back onto you – what do YOU think the next steps should be, after the inevitable series of activist love-in’s, to actually get some of this to happen?

    what is your strategy for persuading those who hold the power and pull the purse strings?

  • Emma C

    I agree with Nick, if San Francisco has 800K residents, and MUNI serves nearly that many riders EVERYDAY, I think we can agree that the MTA has failed to serve it’s constituents appropriately.

    So now we have to create a Transit Riders Union, which I was optimistic about–being a member of the SFBC and seeing all the good they’ve done for bicyclist’ in SF. However, reading about this whole experience has been a little sobering. I am ideologically progressive, wouldn’t consider myself an activist, but was one of the young people missing at the meeting on Saturday. (Which a later start time would have solved. 🙂 However maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t go as I ultimately would have been frustrated. Why are they even talking about BRT and the central subway? Those are not the immediate problems at hand. I understand creating talking points a large group of people can rally around, but they already have a HUGE crisis to talk about–how in the world is MUNI going to balance it’s budget?

    Dave Snyder: I signed up for Transit Riders Union a couple weeks ago and have not heard a peep. SPUR’s Metcalf already drew up a great proposal on how to balance MUNI’s budget this year and year after, and the year after, which most people seem to like and agree upon. Please adopt the top five most popular proposals, let me know where I can send my $20 bucks to, and camp out in the MTA office until they are adopted. Once MUNI is solvent, then we can worry about EVERYTHING ELSE. Thank you.

  • If you can’t even handle a little gentle criticism from someone who is in fact broadly sympathetic to public transit in SF

    not sure what makes you think i can’t handle criticism, but in any case, you’ve offered very little of it. you’ve said any new organization should include ideological opponents — presumably on its board, b/c most activist organizations are not affiliated with a political party. i’ve already addressed this. your other ‘criticisms’ are just name-calling. immature and boring.

    Which is what you will face when you’ve finally decide to stop holding activist summits and actually have to persuade the power-brokers and voters to accept your ideas.

    activist summits/love-ins are often crucial to building a powerful movement. if you were ever an effective activist, you would know this. i guess you think the 2010 National Bike Summit that starts tomorrow in DC is a waste of time, too?

    I make no apology for repudiating your example of Sunday Streets – even folks here admit it’s a distraction. And citing that right after abolishing slavery was a tad rich.

    no apology requested. not everyone agrees that ciclovias are the best thing since sliced bread, but nascent movements are rarely recognized as being world-changers when they are still in their nascent stages. did Peñalosa/Bogota/Streetfilms know they would have such a profound influence on the rest of the world? did Critical Mass?

    on slavery, what? were you looking for a neatly-packaged list of examples, ordered by their relative importance and then datetime? or maybe datetime, first, and then relative importance?

    And I want Muni to be as viable as you do.

    consider me a skeptic.

    . But the difference between us is that I recognize that we have to deal with an imperfect world, with vying priorities for scarce resources, and that the ultimate decision-makers want to see broad support for any putative action.

    yes, i live in a world of make-believe. and i had to look up the meaning of ‘putative’.

    So I turn your question back onto you – what do YOU think the next steps should be, after the inevitable series of activist love-in’s, to actually get some of this to happen?

    glad you asked!

    i’ll say, tho, that what i think is not particularly important — that’s why i’d like to get together with everyone else and think big. we can’t even know what we think if we don’t have people ready to offer constructive criticism and challenge our ideas. but since you asked…

    my ongoing project is a PR campaign for streetsblog. it may talk a bit about this new potential transit advocacy org. the idea is to reach the 99% of SF folks who have not yet heard of Streetsblog. in actuality, we may reach another 1%, but that’ll be a great result.

    a separate block-by-block, small-business, neighborhood-level education campaign could be next.

    with that, the ongoing development of the new organization seems to be going just as i hoped it would — slow, steady, measured, consulting, growing, formalizing, etc.

    most people already agree with us — we just have to reach out to them so we can all organize and pressure the powers that be — pretty straightforward.

    I agree with Nick, if San Francisco has 800K residents, and MUNI serves nearly that many riders EVERYDAY, I think we can agree that the MTA has failed to serve it’s constituents appropriately.

    Nick/Emma — so the government/MTA/etc. has failed. so what? we have a choice — either do nothing, thereby guaranteeing the worst, or try to do something, and possibly change things for the better, or keep them from getting worse. it’s up to us. we’ll never live in a perfect democracy, or any other perfect way of governing/life — does that mean we’re supposed to say “‘X’ failed us!”, or do we roll up our sleeves and get to work?

    However, reading about this whole experience has been a little sobering.

    don’t get ‘unhyped’ b/c of all the negativity — it just comes with the territory. if someone said they had a solution to all of transit problems, there’d be plenty of people around to castigate that someone for some perceived impropriety. some people are paid to be negative, and for others, it just comes naturally. brush it off and roll with us dreamers and doers.

    wouldn’t consider myself an activist

    there’s always time.

    However maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t go as I ultimately would have been frustrated

    same as earlier — brush it off. the aim of the haters is to demoralize you/us. don’t let them do it.

    Why are they even talking about BRT and the central subway? Those are not the immediate problems at hand.

    to find common ground, we have to talk about…stuff. and that includes stuff that may not prove to be…common ground. i actually think CS and BRT are ‘immediate problems’, but that’s for another day.

    I signed up for Transit Riders Union a couple weeks ago and have not heard a peep

    the TRU doesn’t actually exist yet — that’s something to keep in mind. there are already folks complaining about too much email/list traffic — another thing to keep in mind.

  • Emma C

    Peter, I’m sure you’re intentions are good but in picking apart my comment you’ve lost the point entirely. I’m saying MTA is failed, so lets create a TRU, great idea right? Yes, if it actually ever gets off the ground.

    Maybe I’m reading more urgency in this crisis that what there really is, or maybe I’m just impatient. But as I see it, by the time somebody actually focuses the hordes of people arguing with either other, singing cum-by-ya or picking their nose, MUNI will already have driven itself off a cliff and there will be nothing to save.

  • JohnB

    Emma,

    Damn, you’re good. My sense is that this is a group bubbling over with passion and direly lacking a leader with a realistic vision.

    Right now, Muni is staring at the best part of a $100 million hole over the next 12/18 months. And there is no fairy godmother.

    I’m almost tempted to advise Muni to declare bankruptcy and build from scratch a viable system out of the ashes. You certainly wouldn’t build anything like what we have now.

    But no, I’ll propose a pragmatic, balanced alternative, based on the idea that everyone must feel some pain and this isn’t a “bash the rich” problem.

    So:

    1) Raise fares selectively
    2) Cut services on the thinly-used lines.
    3) Slap the Unions down and get them to make meaningful concessions
    4) Raise parking fees by a modest amount, maybe inflation-linked plus a little
    5) Allow private competition along thinly-used routes where Muni is un-competitive
    6) Move Muni finances onto a business footing, outsource and privatize assets where possible
    7) Try a voter initiative that actually stands a chance of passing

    There is no grand solution but there might just be a fix based on a lot of little things.

    It’s either that or bankruptcy.

  • Maybe I’m reading more urgency in this crisis that what there really is, or maybe I’m just impatient. But as I see it, by the time somebody actually focuses the hordes of people arguing with either other, singing cum-by-ya or picking their nose, MUNI will already have driven itself off a cliff and there will be nothing to save.

    i don’t think it’s desirable to try to emergency-jump start a new advocacy organization in response to some crisis — those orgs have a tendency to fade away after the immediate crisis is over.

    it would suck bad for lots of people if Muni disappeared, but realistically, it won’t. it’ll just be slashed hard again. many will suffer, but that’s a lot different from ‘nothing to save’.

    if we care about a better future, we have to start doing some long-term planning — and if that long-term planning just happens to start during a time of crisis, then so be it.

    and transit advocacy orgs are not the only thing that can affect change — americans have an almost unparalleled amount of political freedom — we just have to use it. there is plenty a Muni supporter can do to preserve what’s left of Muni until a more organized force enters the game.

    Maybe I’m reading more urgency in this crisis that what there really is, or maybe I’m just impatient.

    maybe both, maybe neither — i’m interested in building mass popular movements that can challenge centralized money/power/authority on a long-term basis — this is how real change happens. it takes time and sustained energy and commitment to create these movements. i think a strong sense of urgency is warranted right now. every service cut is a tax against the poor and working classes, and every fare hike is a tax against the poor and working classes — this is straight up class warfare — we should resist as best we can.

  • david vartanoff

    JohnB, re #5 If Muni is “uncompetitive”, exactly what subsidy bank are you going to tap to pay some mark to service these routes?

    #6 History and economics lesson. NO public transit service in the US is economically self-sustaining from the farebox. Most, including about half of Muni’s routes were once private industry which FAILED. Transit is NOT a profit making business–neither are police or fire service; all three, however, ARE aspects of modern urban civilisation.

    #2 Muni already did that. Clearly, you are not a regular rider. Unfortunately the promised redeployment of assets/workers to improve the trunk lines was not done.

    #4 wrong. parking needs to accurately track the fully allocated costs of wasting the land. Maybe, for the CBD, you have a %hit list of office towers to remove in order to increase available parking? And a list of homes/stores to tear down for widening streets? Even if you and many others INSIST on driving, you need to have me and many others on Muni to avert gridlock.

    #3 yes some serious changes are needed, however “Slap down” is a bit harsh. May I slap down the SOV drivers spewing pollution?

    #1 only after auto users pay their share, the TWU MOU is rewritten, and service improves.

  • those dudes

    interesting debate! if a new transit advoacy organization does emerge, i still think it should embrace a broader coalition than outlined by dave snyder thus far, and must especially include business orgs – otherwise this new org will just be an umbrella for several existing orgs(SPUR, Livable City, SFBC, etc. – of which snyder is either a past direcotor or staffer of) that have failed to accomplish the stated goal of saving muni.

  • JohnB

    Those dudes,

    Yes, that was exactly my point. Snyder seems afraid to come out of his comfort zone here with the resultant risk that he is preaching to the choir while failing to garner the wider support necessary to be effective.

    Some people just prefer to be a big frog in a small, friendly pond. San Francisco’s Peter Pan lifestyle can do that to you.

  • jerry cauthen

    The Save Muni Summit:

    A small group of your “usual activist suspects” sets out to accelerate the level of the dialogue about how best to improve Muni. So we organize and plan a Save Muni Summit. Our assumption going in is that saving Muni is a subject of concern to most of Muni’s 700,000 daily riders. Our objective is to reach people who agree that significant change is necessary and who are willing to pitch in and work toward that objective. Failing to reach everyone we’d like to reach, we alert the press and media about the event in hopes they will regard it as newsworthy. Some do, and as a result a fair number of people show up at the Summit, but not enough to influence municipal policy.

    So we keep at it. Mostly we continue to look for people with good ideas who are willing to work. There is at this point no firm program. In fact we’re currently in the process of compiling the many excellent new ideas that were expressed at the Summit. The next step will be to send a summary of these ideas to everyone who registered at the Summit and then look for additional feedback, not only from the attendees but from everyone else as well.

    Sooner or later we’ll publish a program that we think has enough support from enough of San Francisco’s diverse community to bring about the needed Muni improvements.

    We’d like to involve everyone but that’s not possible. We’re not a legislative body or a commission or even a non-profit group with funds and staff. We’re merely a collection of volunteers with about $300 in the bank account trying to identify and advance proposals designed to bring Muni up to standard. We’ve made some progress but there’s more to do. In the process we fully intend to work with each and every group interested in making Muni better. We’re encouraged by a number of recent developments and fully intend to keep the movement moving…and growing.

    Jerry Cauthen,

    for the Save Muni Summit committee

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