Muni Budget Deficit Predicted as Parking Citations Dip

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Flickr photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/cop4cbt/3738376298/##cop4cbt##

Unfortunately for San Francisco transit riders, new revenue projections for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, show a decline in parking citations and a resulting budget deficit, just as the agency has been trying to restore service that was cut in May.

In a quarterly financial presentation to the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday, acting Chief Financial Officer Terrie Williams revealed that first quarter fiscal year 2010 revenues were down by $5.8 million, due largely to a $7.5 million decrease in parking citations over what was budgeted, and despite stronger than expected transit fares.

If the current revenue numbers trend over the course of the fiscal year, the SFMTA would be facing a nearly $24 million deficit for the year, despite an effort to find extra funding to restore the service the agency promised by January, 2011.

Though SFMTA managers haven’t produced a line item analysis to explain exactly why the parking citations were down, staff offered numerous theories at the meeting to explain the trend, from temporary events to structural changes in travel patterns and labor issues..

Foremost among the temporary events that disrupted PCO citation schedules was the St. Francis Circle rail replacement project, which at times diverted up to 20 parking control officers (PCOs) daily from their normal citation routes. Numerous traffic diversions around the Transbay Terminal construction also led to the agency using PCOs for traffic management instead of citations. In both cases, the salaries for the PCOs will be reimbursed from the capital budgets associated with the construction projects, but the lost citation revenue obviously cannot be recovered.

Additionally, the SFMTA suggested events like Sunday Streets and the post-season San Francisco Giants’ run through the World Series increased demand on PCOs for duties other than their control routes.

Board Vice Chairman Jerry Lee was not satisfied with the explanation and asked if the problem had to do with the way officers were deployed.

“Three months ago we were basically given the same explanation you were just reporting, so my concern is we wanted to know are we using the resources properly,” said Lee. “When they say we couldn’t do it properly because we had ball games, well you had ball games last year, too. Are we waiting three months before we act on something that is going in the wrong direction?”

SFMTA Transit Director John Haley told the board he was overseeing a complete revision to the PCO deployment schedule, something that hasn’t been done for years.

“We’ve got to take that deployment plan and match it to what we see as the revenue trends for the type of citation,” he said.

Haley noted the SFMTA has changed its fine structure over the years and the cost of tickets could be a deterrent to parking illegally. He cautioned about jumping to that conclusion, however, absent the analysis his department was currently conducting.

“There has been a steady escalation in the various types of fines. What we’re trying to do is take a look and see if there is some type of elasticity analysis to say, ‘Gee, with certain types of fines, where are we going?'” he said. Haley told the board they would have that analysis for their December meeting

Haley offered another hypothesis for the decline in citation revenue, namely that the board’s transit first policies might be successful.

“You can say that the actions that this board and administration have taken from a transit first perspective are working,” added Haley. “In other words, getting people not to drive as much as they did and regionally with actions that occurred back in July with traffic reductions and the Bay Bridge crossings.”

Despite Haley’s assertion, regional traffic likely isn’t a sufficient explanation. According date obtained by Streetsblog from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation planning body and authority that manages tolls on the Bay Bridge, traffic has not declined significantly this year compared to last year. For instance, average weekday traffic in mid-September 2009 through the toll booths on the Bay Bridge was 127,931 vehicles. That number had only dipped to 126,532 in mid-September 2010, months after the congestion pricing changes to the toll structure were implemented.

When asked about this, SFMTA CEO Nat Ford told Streetsblog the agency had yet to determine all the factors that led to the decline in citations, but they didn’t want to rule anything out. “We’re looking at all of it,” he said.

Ford also acknowledged several of the cost-cutting options for balancing last year’s budget deficit might have had the unintended consequence of leading to attrition in the ranks of PCOs, such as once monthly furloughs early retirement options and PCO layoffs in January.

Coupled with problems of absenteeism, a policy of not hiring part-time PCOs, and the fact that many of the PCO shifts for the Giants’ playoff run would affect citations from October, Ford told his board they could expect a similar revenue shortfall in the second quarter of FY 2010.

In light of the Muni Service Restoration Task Force’s efforts to locate millions more for service, SFMTA Chairman Tom Nolan noted the revenue picture was grim.

“It’s just a very sobering picture of where we are,” he said.

  • Easy way to issue tickets, strictly enforce the disabled placard laws. Abusing placards and fakes is a ticket for over $800 a pop, and if parked at a meter, another ticket for no time on meter.

  • Akit – There is no lack of violators of all sorts of parking laws, if they want to write more tickets… sidewalks, double parking, etc…

  • Alex

    F all of that. What about street cleaning?! The single most effective means of finding violators has (and will be for the foreseeable future) is to run ahead of the DPW street sweepers. Hell, the MTA could *pay* for the DPW labor and still come out ahead on ticket revenue. Alas, not a peep from Mr. Ford about pushing to bring back weekly street cleaning…

  • Mock

    Alex

    Street cleaning is weekly, at least everywhere I have lived in the city. The traffic cops generally let you temporarily park on the sidewalk while the trucks go through, so clearly a punitive level of fee collection is not their top priority as a matter of policy, nor should it be.

    Tickets should be given as a fair and reasonable response to violations. Traffic cops should not seek to maximize their take by being spiteful, vindictive or otherwise over-zealous.

    Cops have many rules to enforce, including the rules that govern cyclists. I’m sure you’d be less gleeful if Muni tried to balance it’s books on the back of tickets issued to every cyclist who ran a stop, even though I suspect we could balance the books in no time if we did.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Alex

    Street cleaning got cut to twice monthly on less traveled roads (primarily out West I guess). This saved DPW about $1 million annually, and cost the MTA about $4 mil in lost ticket revenue. While my experience has been similar to yours, PCOs were typically quite forgiving of me… the numbers don’t lie. Street cleaning has the highest rate of enforcement of any sort of parking ticket. They are the cheapest to write (as you know where all the violators will be), and most people seem to appreciate street cleaning regardless.

    If you want more specific numbers, the Chron covered this back when street cleaning was first cut.. and the MTA has a few documents on ticket revenue on its web site. And, yes, I would wholeheartedly cheer increased traffic enforcement — bicycle or otherwise.

  • Fran Taylor

    “Haley offered another hypothesis for the decline in citation revenue, namely that the board’s transit first policies might be successful.”

    Has this man ever walked down a neighborhood street? One with the customary half dozen cars parked on the sidewalks? Maybe those drivers are observing transit first by leaving their cars at home, which they think includes the public walkway. PCOs could all work around the clock ticketing sidewalk blockers and raking in the dough if the mayor or the MTA cared about pedestrians.

  • icarus12

    Deploying parking control officers to direct traffic and keep everybody orderly and safe is a terrific service to the citizenry. Yes, it reduces fine revenue, but the SFMTA is being true to roots as the former DPT — directing traffic and overseeing parking. The whole point of those two functions is not to raise revenue, but rather to make life for citizens more orderly, productive, and enjoyable by being able to get places safely and park rationally. These things, along with adequately funded public transit, help the city thrive.

    Schoup’s parking suggestions are always about keeping spaces turning over and making drivers pay a market price to ensure that happens in every block. Schoup never advocates using parking as a cash cow for transit agency goals (Transit First or other cities’ programs). Rather, he advocates whatever fine levels that create that magic number of spaces to park in each block at any time of day without circling. That, in turn, eases congestion but also ends the practice of subsidizing car parking at the expense of all other modes of transporting oneself.

    If we want to have car drivers pay a greater share of the costs of their driving, then I would suggest we turn to annual fees, congestion pricing, and gas taxes that reflect the true cost of driving and parking on city streets. Parking tickets for nearly purely revenue-generating purposes lead to arbitrary enforcement and great anger on the part of drivers who feel hunted rather than simply allowed to pay their way in a rational and steady manner. For that reason, I voted for the local vehicle license fee, because it is a small step in the right direction of rational funding of transit.

    Anecdotally (sp?), I have another data point for Nat Ford and the SFMTA to consider: I recently got a $90 ticket for parking in a taxi zone downtown. But I never parked there, and the ticket lacks a VIN, indicating that the meter maid wasn’t even present at my vehicle to issue it. (My VIN is extremely easy-to-read and on every other ticket I’ve ever gotten.) I appealed, but the appeals process is a sham, unless one goes through a 3-tiered process that requires personally showing up in court for every wrong citation issued.

    I decided after failed attempts to appeal, NOT to pay the ticket. Further, the illegality of the SFMTA and its corrupt officers has made me more determined than ever to help others avoid tickets. I use my parking card to put minutes on expired meters of others’ cars before the PCO rounds the corner. Further still, I applaud acquaintances who have described in detail how to disable parking meters. So for every overcharged ticket, they disable a meter or more to deprive the agency of funds.

    You can see where this type of citizen vs transit agency dynamic will lead. It’s not pretty, but it is kind of fair. When government no longer acts justly, citizens take matters into their own hands.

    Personally, I have too much to lose by getting caught in illegal acts, but my sympathies are with those who refuse to suffer the criminalization of driving and parking any more. I will do what I can legally both to help restructure driving and parking so that it reflects true costs AND to obstruct the enforcement of overly active parking restrictions and too-high fines for minor infractions.

  • Mock

    Icarus

    Excellent post.

    Re fighting tickets, I have gotten off three in recent years. You can do it (even if you are guilty) but it takes a lot of effort. Having witnesses, written statements and photographs all help. But most of all, just persistance. If you make it difficult and expensive for them to pursue a $100 ticket, they will write it off eventually. They want an easy life.

    But you have to enjoy being a pain in the ass, and have the time to do
    it. I think a few here might be nodding right now.

    BTW, in Berkeley they made it illegal to feed a mater if the car parked there isn’t yours. While in SF, it is illegal to wipe those yellow marks off your car, although I am sure nobody has ever been prosecuted for that. I don’t think they realize how such pettiness turns people against them and loses them revenue as well as goodwill.

  • Doug Faunt

    “In both cases, the salaries for the PCOs will be reimbursed from the capital budgets associated with the construction projects, but the lost citation revenue obviously cannot be recovered.”

    Why not?

  • Didn’t they lay off a dozen or so PCOs this past year?

  • Mike F

    The idea that Muni funding is tied to parking citations seems inherently absurd.

  • $24 mil < $60+ mil other depts are raiding from the MTA.

  • Icarus – if you are disabling meters isn’t that against Shoup’s principals as well?

    I’m down with nobody ever getting a ticket, if nobody ever violates. That’s a much better world. Frankly I’d prefer them to be “random” about applying PCO’s to street cleaning to free them up to do a targeted attack on double parking – a much more harmful problem than even sidewalk parking.

  • icarus12

    Hi John Murphy,

    Just to be clear, I am not disabling meters, but others have regaled me with their tales of monkey-wrenching.

    As to your main point, clearly, extra-legal actions are against Schoup’s principles, but then, so is the entire* SFMTA organization of rates and fines for parking in the City. Therefore, it’s logically impossible to violate Schoup’s principles, when they are not in practice in the first place.**

    *I think(?) the SFMTA is beginning to experiment with dynamic pricing in a pilot project, but so far that pricing concerns only hourly rates, does not allow a driver to pay for extended parking privileges, and does not alter fine amounts. (This week, I think Schoup had a piece in the LA Times arguing precisely for varied fines depending on the violator’s frequency in failing to follow stated rules.)

    **I find Schoup impossibly naive at times. He actually talks about dropping fines to as low as $15, giving a pass to the first offense of the year, and generally ignoring in print the fact that cities and towns are using parking as a revenue generator instead of a behavior modification tool.

  • John Murphy –

    I actually think double parking on smaller, lighter-traffic, residential streets is the lesser evil to sidewalk parking. Given that 70% of the average street is space available to motor vehicles (and often overly wide), I think it’s a better place than being on the sidewalk and could even be said to calm traffic. Of course, it’s no treat to navigate for any timid or novice bike users, and I abhor it in bike lanes.

  • Alex

    @Murph Here’s the thing: street cleaning is not typically scheduled during peak hours. For example, 10th Street’s got 4am street cleaning, 12th is midnight? The block I’m on has 8-10a street cleaning, but it’s hardly a commercial corridor. Getting PCOs to do street cleaning checks pretty much pays for itself. Sure, if everyone moved their cars at the right time, it wouldn’t be worthwhile… but how long as SF had mechanized street sweeping?

    The problem with ‘random’ deployment of PCOs is that it’s not very efficient. You’re looking at roughly a 5% enforcement rate on a good day. Having PCOs patrol street cleaning means having more money for more PCOs. Yes, I agree that double parking is more serious (and dangerous) than not moving your car for street cleaning… but street cleaning tickets are low-hanging fruit and enforcement doesn’t typically conflict with looking for double parked cars.

    OTOH, the MTA has invested some money into technology which will make it easier to deploy PCOs to trouble spots.

  • EL

    Regarding sidewalk parking during street cleaning, I think the PCO’s should issue citations if a vehicle is unattended, but not issue a citation if the vehicle is attended. If it’s attended, you know it will be moved back to the street immediately, but if it’s unattended you don’t know how long the sidewalk will be blocked. I think that would be fair since the PCO’s are never more than a couple of blocks ahead of the street sweeper anyway. In other words, they wait until the absolute last minute before issuing a citation.

    I’m really surprised that Streetsblog did not consider the following reason why parking citations are not hitting their projections: Is it possible that those citation projections assumed that there would be evening and Sunday meter enforcement?

    icarus12 – I, too, find Shoup naive. If his policies are so great, why did Redwood City revert back to a simple zoned fee structure for its meters?

  • Doesn’t “street cleaning” only clean parking lanes because of the oil and trash that pile up under the cars? As in, wouldn’t it not even really be a necessary service without the street parking? And so, why should there be any sidewalk parking leniancy (though attended vehicles do sound okay if there isn’t anybody passing through, and it’s not the same as parking).

    EL – Why would they assume evening/Sunday enforcement? It never got close to implementation.

  • it’s your world!

    DISABLING METERS IS A CHILDISH RESPONSE DEPRIVING THE CITY OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR. And for what are (for the most part) completely jcitable parking violations. If you want to monkey wrench go after a real problem like Chevron or David Koch or the entire State of Texas. SFMTA and Nat Ford are not the enemies. They’re trying to run a complicated system in troubled times with very little political support. It would be nice if the so-called transit allies on streetsblog would get off their high horses and defend the transit system warts and all. Who knew there were so many libertarian-republicans in this town?

  • Meck

    Aaron

    Street cleaning exists at least partly to encourage homeowners and residents to sweep their driveways and sidewalks. It works, at least where I live. Right now, it’s the leaves, of course. We sweep them into the gutter and then the san truck gets them.

    It’s also for all the junk food wrappers and packaging that get strwen wherever you are close to outlets. And of course it all gets blown about in the wind but often congregates in depressed driveways.

    It is not for cleaning oil, particularly, as that tends to soak into the ground anyway. And I don’t see many people emptying debris from their car into the gutter, although it might make sense on street cleaning day.

    Re the Sunday/evening meter idea – the pols took one look at the near riot they had in Oakland about that and realized it was a non-starter.

  • bs

    Why does the city allow people to double park in certain areas (the Mission for example) on Sundays during “church hours”? These cars should be ticketed. How is this even legal? Can mosques, buddhist zen centers, and hindu temples claim the same preferential treatment? If not, I wish somebody would sue the city to rectify this.

  • Meck

    bs

    It is illegal for vehicles to double park and that applies also for those attending religious services.

    However there is a long-standing tradition of religious tolerance in San Francisco and the grandfathered immunity for such parkers is well established. It is not in the statutes, but it is a treasured precendent which the police and people of the city have long supported.

    Also, bear in mind, this is on Sunday mornings, usually, where traffic is as quiet as it gets.

    As far as I know, it applies to all places of worship regardless of denomination.

    There are other classes of people who are routinely not ticketed, including the disabled, diplomats, doctors on a call, city workers on business, emergency workers, UPS delivery trucks, folks who park on the sidewalk during street cleaning, and so on.

    The law isn’t always equitable, but there is a rational pattern to the tradition of selective immunity.

  • icarus12

    To “it’s your world” at #19: I will never defend any state or corporate bureaucracy “warts and all”. The SFMTA, for example, would never improve if transit supporters kept mum about its poor practices. The City’s reliance on enormous and sometimes mercurially awarded parking fines to fund city services is both irrational and immoral.

  • Alex – you missed my point, but it wasn’t really clear.

    If SFMTA “randomly” assign PCOs to preceed a street sweeping vehicle, then car owners still have an incentive to not park on the street during street sweeping – because they might get a ticket (right now you are pretty much guaranteed a ticket). It’s like POP on Caltrain, you only get checked every so often, but you are incented to always have a ticket because the fine for not having a ticket the day you get checked is very high.

    Then send the PCOs out to ticket more pernicious offenses.

    You rebut that that’s where they SFMTA gets the money from. And my point included – subtly – that the goal should be to have people obey the parking rules that on their face are good for society – don’t double park, don’t block the street cleaners, curb your wheels, don’t park on the sidewalk. And not rely on the money that comes from tickets.

    I understand this a naive utopian vision. They rely on the money now, so they need to stick with the money generators. And as has been stated, then they should go back to weekly street cleaning (Noe Valley has gone to every other week). I’d love it if we can wean off the revenue and focus on using a big stick on the double (and sidewalk) parkers.

  • Alex

    @Murph No, I got that. Thing is that street cleaning enforcement doesn’t take all day, doesn’t happen every day on most streets. Often times it’s not even during the peak traffic hours when keeping the roads clear of double parked vehicles is most important. Enforcing street cleaning really doesn’t come at the expense of enforcing other rules.

    Relying on street cleaning ticket revenue is pragmatic. Street cleaning has been highly enforced for many years, and people still park in violation in large numbers. That said, when I’ve called about sidewalk parking or parking in front of a fire hydrant DPT/MTA has sent someone out post haste.

    Use the funds collected by the street cleaning sweeps for more enforcement of other, less predictable, violations. If people start behaving themselves en masse, fine, pare back the number of PCOs.

  • Parking tickets are issued for violations of the law, period. The fines are to get people to behave. Relying on this as a stable form of revenue is foolish. Parking fines are not a free non tax tax. They are to be used to punish bad behavior. Think about it this way – if 30% of the people who were habitual abusers (i.e. double parkers, stealing disabled spaces from the disabled, blocking garages, etc) stopped doing that kind of thing for good, isn’t that GOOD THING?

  • icarus12

    Greg at #26, you make a crucial point: fines should be used to curb/eliminate bad parking behaviors, not establish or maintain a municipal revenue stream.

    On another note: One of the first things that occurred to me after reading the main story was this: maybe there are fewer violators and therefore fewer citations. In fact, I think my recent citation for a non-existent offense may have occurred because a PCO wasn’t making his/her quota. So he/she started “interpreting” from a distance and writing mistaken tickets.

    But whatever the dark machinations at the heart of the SFMTA machine, the question remains, “Why would there be fewer violators?”

    1) unemployment is high and business is down; fewer people are spending, and they are therefore not out parking as they go into movies, stores, etc. And when they do go out, there is more parking available, so the temptation to park illegally is reduced. Certainly I have found it incredibly easy to drive and park in the City since the recession took hold.

    2) the fines are so high and enforcement nearly omnipresent and mercurial, so that drivers simply won’t park illegally as often as before. The MTA responds to fewer citations by adding more meters, higher fines, and more byzantine enforcement. Keep those drivers anxious and show them who’s boss.

    3) a combination of 1 and 2.

  • More meters is to increase turn over, as is extended parking meter hours. Not to get more fines.

  • Alex

    Greg: Not taking advantage of money that’s there is foolish. If people suddenly stopped parking in violation, it would be easier to move around the city on foot, and public transit service might very well be sped up enough to offset the loss in revenue.

    According to the MTA for the 2009 fiscal year parking tickets generated nearly $93 million, of that almost 30% was street cleaning tickets. That’s $27 million and change. That $3-$4 million that the MTA is giving up in reduced street cleaning tickets is money that could be used for plenty of one-time things: temporarily offsetting fare hikes, capital improvements (bus bulbs, more shelters, additional bathrooms for drivers), refurbishing an LRV, community outreach (for stop consolidation, bathrooms, new vehicles, etc). Imagine if instead of pooh poohing the extra money as an unstable source the MTA were to check off one or two of those items a year. What about starting or adding to a rainy day fund?

    Keep in mind the MTA declared a fiscal emergency and promptly slashed service. If the MTA had pursued this ‘unstable’ source of funding, perhaps some of the cuts could have been temporarily avoided.

    icarus12: Unlikely. Consider that there were 280 PCOs for the 2008 FY, and that each PCO wrote, on average, 6900 tickets a year (or roughly 25 a day). 25 have been cut so… that’s what roughly 172,500 tickets that aren’t going to be written. At a weighted average of $63.43 per MTA issued ticket, assuming an 84% collection rate, and assuming other PCOs don’t pick up the slack, the missing PCOs could account for roughly $9 million (or $2.25 million per quarter or about one third of the drop that the MTA is reporting) in lost revenue.

    If you look at the tickets issued by category, nothing else even comes close to street cleaning tickets. Expired meters (mostly *outside* the downtown area) account for roughly 25% of all tickets. Sidewalk parking makes up about 2% of all the tickets, and double parking isn’t even a blip (it’s thrown in with ‘all other tickets’). So, no… enforcement is absolutely not omnipresent. To bring this back to what John was talking about, even a minor increase in ticketing efficiency for the ‘more odious’ violations like sidewalk parking or double parking shouldn’t take a whole lot of effort because the current enforcement rate is so absurdly low.

    I’m sure there are other factors at work, but to singlehandedly blame an increase in transit usage like Haley is doing (even in the face of declining MUNI ridership!!!) is absurd.

  • Muck

    Mike

    You don’t need meters to ensure turnover. There are plenty of non-metered parking zones where you can only park for 2 hours, 1 hours, 15 minutes.

    Meters exist to price parking where there is excess demand.

    Limited time zones exist to ensure turnover.

    Two different things.

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