SFMTA Board May Continue Service Cuts through 2012 with Vote Tuesday

4508543668_96755f14c4.jpgComing soon: more packed Muni vehicles. Flickr photo: adamjackson1984

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Board is set to vote Tuesday on a two-year budget plan [PDF] that would continue an imminent 10 percent reduction in Muni service through the next year, but restore half that service in the second budget year.

With budget deficits initially projected at $56.4 million for fiscal year 2011 and $45 million for fiscal year 2012, the agency that runs Muni has been scrambling to come up with a budget that closes that gap. After several months of public hearings on the budget, as well as some good news in the form of a partial-restoration of state transit aid, the SFMTA Board now finds itself in a position to vote on a two-year budget that's slightly less draconian than first expected.

But the 10 percent service cuts coming next month wouldn't be reversed in fiscal year 2011, and would only see a half-rollback in fiscal year 2012. If the SFMTA Board approves the budget in its current form on Tuesday -- and it must approve a budget one way or another by the end of the month -- it will likely find that riders and the Board of Supervisors are deeply displeased that service isn't completely restored.

"It's one thing to respond to an economic crisis with some emergency cuts in public transit. But it's quite another for the head of our transportation agency -- responsible for not just transit but really our transportation system -- to plan for a long-term reduction in transit service," wrote San Francisco Transit Riders Union organizer Dave Snyder in an email to transit supporters this morning. "Economic and environment conditions call for an increase in transit service, not a reduction! This is inexcusable."

Transit supporters from a broad range of groups are planning to attend Tuesday's meeting, but even if they fail to sway the SFMTA Board to reject the continuation of the cuts, the budget still faces an uphill battle. That's because it must then go to the Board of Supervisors for approval, a body that last year repeatedly threatened to reject a budget with far less severe service cuts.

While the proposed budget is long on potential solutions, it's short on details of just where the agency expects to end up financially once it's in place. In part, that's because the SFMTA depends on sources of revenue that fluctuate with the economy.

Some of the financial solutions in the proposed budget include:

  • adding 1,000 new metered parking spaces ($0.8 million in half of FY2011 and $1.6 in FY2012);
  • various new cost-recovery fees ($10 million annually);
  • seeking $10 million in labor concessions;
  • reducing work orders from other city departments by $6.5 million annually;
  • eliminating free reserved on-street parking spaces around places like City Hall and the Hall of Justice ($2.8 million annually);
  • automatically indexing fares to inflation and labor cost increases ($3.5 million in FY2012)

The last item -- the automatic fare indexing -- would mean about a 2.9% increase in monthly fares in FY2012, or about a $2 increase in the cost of an adult monthly Fast Pass.

Some other ideas remain on the table but not actually in the budget, like extending parking meter enforcement hours to include Sundays. SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford said recently that extending parking meter enforcement hours to weeknights is off the table, a nod to the Mayor's sensitivity on the issue.

But if the MTA Board does vote to approve a two-year budget that extends service cuts and ultimately raises some fares, the Mayor may begin hearing from constituents who wonder why parking should be free on Sundays while transit gets more expensive -- and less frequent -- on the same day.

SFMTA Board meeting with possible vote on FY11-12 budget, Tuesday, April 20, 2 p.m., in City Hall Room 400. The budget is item 11 on the agenda.