Transit Riders Union Plots Solution to Muni Cuts, Forms Advisory Board

Muni passengers stuggle to board an already-packed shuttle during Thursday's subway shutdown.Muni riders board an already-packed shuttle during Thursday's Metro shutdown. Photo: Matt Baume

Muni may be having trouble acquiring cash these days, but there's one thing that's never in short supply for the transit agency: advice.

Among the many organizations pressuring Muni to resist service cuts, the newly formed San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU) is drawing a good deal of interest from local transit advocates and organizers. Led by former San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) honcho Dave Snyder, SFTRU met yesterday at the SFBC's new headquarters to discuss the organization's next steps.

With a steering committee now in place, including the Chinatown Community Development Center, Senior Action Network, Transport Workers United Local 250-A, San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), Rescue Muni, Walk SF, and the SFBC, the SFTRU is turning its focus to building consensus around solutions for improving the transit operator.

At the top of the priority list are the ten-percent service cuts recently approved by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board. Just as SPUR offered a long list of options the SFMTA could be taking in lieu of cuts, the SFTRU has a fiscal analysis of money-making opportunities that Muni is currently passing up. Those include reducing work orders, closing a tax loophole for valet parking, and instituting Sunday parking meter enforcement.

Of course, each of those recommended measures comes with its own set of challenges. Mayor Gavin Newsom has stood firm on work orders, taking the position that it's reasonable and appropriate for other city departments to send Muni bills for millions of dollars. Newsom has also resisted measures that would reduce public subsidies for parking spaces.

But progressive members of the Board of Supervisors may hold the key to limiting further cuts. The Budget Committee meets May 5 to consider Muni's budget, including service cuts to begin May 8. All supervisors can expect to feel mounting pressure to reject the budget, but SFTRU plans to focus particularly on those perceived as swing voters: Dufty, Elsbernd, and Maxwell.

That pressure could come in a variety of forms, including meetings at City Hall, outreach to voters and public testimony. In advance of the May 5th Budget Committee meeting, SFTRU plans to hold a non-publicized, members-only planning session to help members plan their one to two minute testimonies before the Board.

While SFMTA chief Nat Ford has attempted to highlight the silver lining of the cuts, the SFTRU doesn't accept his assumption that cuts are unavoidable.

Ford, at the April 20 SFMTA Board meeting, said, "This two-year budget has no fare increase in the coming fiscal year" and "assumes a restoring of half of the 10 percent scheduled changes." At the same meeting, he told those present, "We did everything we could to avoid this day, but this day is here."

Snyder thinks this explanation isn't sound.

"It's one thing to respond to an economic crisis with some emergency cuts in public transit," wrote SFTRU organizer Dave Snyder in an email to transit supporters last week, "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."

As last night's SFTRU meeting wore on, outside a fleet of crush-loaded shuttle buses carried riders past subway lines that had ground to a halt after a death at the Castro Street station. And just a few minutes after the meeting ended, two L-Taravals crashed in the Outer Sunset. It was a particularly bad night for Muni, but with any luck, SFTRU's plans could provide a glimmer of hope for improving the transit agency's perpetual struggles.