SFMTA Leaning Toward Extended Meter Hours, Away From Fare Hikes

Photo: Myleen Hollero / ##http://www.orangephotography.com##Orange Photography##

A picture is forming of how the SFMTA might address its budget shortfalls over the next two years. The SFMTA Board of Directors and an advisory panel of community leaders seem to oppose any further fare hikes or service cuts for Muni riders while mostly favoring extending parking meter hours to nights and Sundays — a politically challenging yet long-overdue measure.

Yesterday, board members voiced their positions on a list of proposed budget measures [PDF] after Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin reported which ones were generally supported by the advisory panel. The panel has met regularly over the past two months to develop recommendations for SFMTA staff about how to address the agency’s looming budget gap — $19.6 million over the next fiscal year and $33.6 million in the following year — as well as a $120 million backlog in Muni vehicle maintenance and infrastructure improvements.

The panel is expected to submit official budget recommendations to the board later this month, but consensus is starting to form on most fronts. The group is composed of roughly a dozen representatives from the SF Chamber of Commerce, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), labor organizations, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association, the SF Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, and other advocates. SFMTA representatives include Reiskin, Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose, and Directors Cheryl Brinkman and Bruce Oka.

The panel generally favored proposals including an end to the MTA’s $9 million in annual payments to the SFPD for traffic enforcement (an arrangement which Chamber of Commerce President Jim Lazarus called “ridiculous,” according to the Chronicle), installing new car parking meters in high-demand areas, enforcing an existing regulation on downtown parking garage pricing, and a minor traffic fine increase to offset state-imposed fees.

The panel and most SFMTA directors also favor extending operating hours for car parking meters to Sundays and weeknights — a promising sign for proponents of the measure, which could reduce the number of drivers circling for parking. The board also favored it two years ago, but it was nixed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Letting the current dysfunctional schedule for metered parking continue costs the agency an estimated $11.8 million each year in lost revenue alone. In addition, excessive demand for free parking spots can lead frustrated drivers to double park — the top cause of Muni delays aside from maintenance and other internal agency issues. Given that pricing parking properly encourages turnover for businesses, Brinkman said she thinks “certain neighborhoods are going to embrace this.”

While Mayor Ed Lee and other officials have touted demand-based parking pricing under the groundbreaking SFPark program, they haven’t seemed willing to apply the same principle to price parking in busy districts during Sundays and weeknights after 6 p.m., as SFMTA staff recommended in a 2009 study.

“Last time, we got a lot of pressure from the supervisors to look at it, and when we put it to the supervisors to tell us which one of them wanted it in their district — guess what — nobody wanted it in their district,” said Director Malcom Heinicke. “I think we need to try a new approach to recognize that we don’t operate through the Board of Supervisors, we operate directly with the community… We need to identify some business corridors that would be willing to explore a pilot program.”

Though one reverend complained that paying for car parking on Sundays would be a burden for churchgoers who drive if they need to re-fill their meters, Brinkman pointed out that that’s an ease-of-payment issue, and that drivers would actually be able to find nearby parking more easily. Parking control officers have for decades looked the other way every Sunday when churchgoing drivers commandeer traffic lanes and bike lanes for double parking, despite the danger they pose to bicyclists.

Also favored by the panel was the installation of 500 to 1,000 new parking meters (estimated to bring in $1 million in revenue), with some members noting the need for outreach in implementation. The panel also supported a $5 increase for traffic citations to offset increases in state-imposed courthouse fees, as well as enforcing existing prohibitions on early-bird and monthly discounts at downtown parking garages built after 1984, which would recover an estimated $6 million per year in forfeited revenue. However, members stopped short of favoring extending that prohibition citywide because they didn’t think “it has a great chance of succeding,” said Brinkman.

The proposed revenue measures could help fund a program to provide free Muni for youth, which Reiskin said the panel also supported. That would require the agency to recoup an estimated $7.9 million in lost fare revenue, or $4 million if it is limited to low-income students. More than 100 proponents of that measure organized by POWER spoke for over four hours at yesterday’s board meeting.

Though directors roundly expressed their support for the endeavor, they differed on how to best implement it. Director Oka said he was concerned that if a pilot program started this year without a sustainable funding source, the agency may be forced to cut it in the future.

“If I’m going to start the program, I want us to be able to continue it,” said Oka. Director Joél Ramos disagreed, arguing that the pilot would “set the precedent as a value” and cause staff to prioritize its funding in future budgets.

Critics of free youth passes have voiced concern about where the money for the program would come from, but Director Leona Bridges, who was appointed largely for her financial background, pointed out that when students can’t afford to ride Muni, they are more likely to be truant at school and their education ultimately suffers.

“You save on one side, but you’re spending money on another side in the criminal justice system,” said Bridges. Ramos also argued that subsidizing free car parking on Sundays and weeknights while denying free Muni rides for low-income youth is “just backwards.”

Proposals taken off the table for panel recommendation include $0.25 increases for paper transfers or cash Muni fares, which all SFMTA board members seemed opposed to except for Heinicke, who argued it would encourage more use of the Clipper card, and therefore faster boardings. The panel also won’t recommend an increase in the developer fee for lost parking meter revenue during construction, which Reiskin and Brinkman said they agreed with because the Transportation Sustainability Fee should account for those costs when it’s expected to go into effect late next year.

The SFMTA is holding town hall meetings on the budget throughout March, and the Board of Directors is expected to vote on a budget on April 3.

  • Anonymous

    Somehow, I don’t think that inability to afford Muni is the main reason for school truancy.  Seems to me that the kids who cut school are disinclined to go to school in the first place.  They would rather hang out with their friends.  Giving students free rides isn’t magically going to make the cost of the criminal justice system go down.  Plus, this policy would be for all students 24/7 regardless of ability to pay.  If the concern is helping students get to school, why not make free boarding during school hours only?  A better approach would be to give low or no cost Translink to families on the basis of need.

  • I’m all for meters extending to Sundays and evenings. It will motivate me even more to bike or take Muni. But the meters must be set for up to four hours at a time. Just charging for parking at all will get cars turning over, but one hour is far too short if you’re going to a movie/dinner/church/lecture/class etc., things someone might do on a Sunday or in the evening.

    I’m also for free Muni for low income youth, but not all youth.  As a parent, 75 cents for a Youth Muni ride is one of the best deals in the city. I’m glad, glad, glad to pay it to save me from driving. 30% of all kids in this city go to private school. These kids do not need free Muni, they just need to take Muni. It is far more important that Muni be safe, frequent, pleasant and reliable than it be free. Let me repeat this:  IT IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAT MUNI BE SAFE, FREQUENT, PLEASANT AND RELIABLE THAN IT BE FREE.

    SF Unified should offer Clipper Cards charged with a free Muni Pass August – June for any low income child living over 1/2 mile from their assigned school. SF Unified already knows which kids qualify for the the free school lunch program. They know if a kid has been assigned to a school they can walk to or not. For the rest of the children of San Francisco, 75 cents is not what is preventing them from taking Muni.

  • Andy Chow

    The monthly pass fee for youth is only $21. Even for $0.75 per ride, it is cheaper than buying a can of soda from most vending machines and retailers.

  • You are using an anecdote to show that not everyone would have reduced truancy if MUNI were free – particularly by making an assumption that truancy is solely caused by disinclination to go to school and not that a student cannot get to school.

    Truancy would not need to be eliminated for this to be a worthwhile program. If truancy were reduced by 5-10% that would be a huge movement of the needle and have cost savings for SFUSD – and in the end the City budget has a lot of fungible money in it.

    Why not make free boarding during school hours only? This makes me inclined to believe you don’t have a Clipper Card and aren’t aware of the various “situations” that have bdeviled users. A 24/7 pass is a product that already exists. The contract to get Cubic to produce a special card that is only accepted during school hours would probably cost more than just giving out free passes.

    I also think the means testing is a poor idea. This just ups the admin hassle a bit vs just issuing a bunch of cards. Just issuing the whole lot a bunch of cards has a lot of benefits. “Heinicke, who argued it would encourage more use of the Clipper card, and therefore faster boardings.” If you want to get your kid a Clipper Card now, you have to take them to the SFMTA building, fill out a form, and wait three weeks for it to come in the mail. So infrequent users blow it off. Children pay 75c to board, so this is all coins which are costly to process.

    Remove means testing and give them all cards, and there is more incentive for those not currently riding to take MUNI instead of … being driven by their parents. Parents may be very able to afford the fare but I can attest to many instances pre-Clipper of not having anything smaller than a $5 in my pocket. If free passes switched the mode share from “driven by parents” to “riding MUNI” by a five percent, it would be as valuable as all the gains in cycling commuting made ove the last 10 years. Think about that next time you are on the 48 stuck behind triple parked cars at Alvarado School.

  • IT IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAT MUNI BE SAFE, FREQUENT, PLEASANT AND RELIABLE THAN IT BE FREE

    I argue that giving SFUSD students free passes would do wonders for the goals you desire.

  • Anonymous

    Seems that Leona Bridges is making an even more speculatve assumption that there is a connection between truancy and inability to pay a 75 cent fare. Does she have any facts to back that up?

    As it happens , I do have a Clipper card so I don’t see why Cubic can’t program a Youth Pass along with all the other types of passes. The City could distribute them along with other government benefits. And I think that everyone should have some skin in the game. People don’t value what they get for free. Also I don’t think it would do much to stop parents from dropping off their kids. I daresay that those parents would never entrust their children to public transit, whatever the cost.

  • MCR

    why don’t they also increase the costs of a residential parking permit, or expand the residential parking permit areas?  It’s $100/yr, or $8.50 a month to store you car for up to 72 hrs on a city street in residential areas.  This annual fee should be much, much higher.

  • Anonymous

    Supervisior Scott Wiener is also nonplussed by the proposal to give SF schoolkids a free ride:

    “I respectfully disagree with the Chronicle on this. While free Muni for youth sounds good, saddling Muni with another $8.5 million annual obligation — when Muni currently lacks the funds to maintain its system and has a structural deficit of about $150 million — doesn’t make sense. Although this is technically a 2-year trial program, there’s no way Muni will be able to take this back after 2 years. It is very likely to become permanent. In addition, if we’re going to do it, there’s no reason to provide free Muni to kids who aren’t low income.”

    As usual, Scott is the voice of reason.

  • KWillets

    I believe it’s because non-permit areas are actually free.  Permits are only a slight modification of communism, and getting areas to adopt permits means keeping the price near zero.  

  • alison

    And where will you put your car when you are biking or taking MUNI?

  • Sue

    I would love to see that the cost of residential parking permit include the cost of a year’s worth of Muni Fastpasses, plus administrative costs to run the residential parking permit  program, and charges for renting curbside space that needs to be maintained.  This would make the cost of residential parking close to $1,000 annually, which I think is fair.  It could be rolled out gradually over the course of five years, say, so that people have time to adjust to the transition.

    But there is one big problem: state law prohibits municipalities from charging anything more than the cost of administering the residential parking permit program.  California, to my mind, is not practicing ‘federalism.’  Municipalities need to be able to opt out of these insane anti-tax laws that handicap us at the local level.  At least we should be able to put things on the local ballot such that locals can vote to tax themselves — and in so many cases we can’t.

  •  Murph, I’m having a hard time seeing how taking money from other Muni budget line items to further subsidize non-low income kids will help make MUNI safe, frequent, pleasant and reliable, but I’m willing to entertain the idea. Please elucidate!

    Alison, our family of five has a two-car garage. In one half goes our car, in the other half goes our fleet of eight bicycles. (Includes two electric ones.) We used to park a minivan in the other half and got rid of it three years ago. This has saved us much money and made room for the eight bikes. Every so often it causes complications that we work through via CityCarshare, Muni, bicycling, vigorous carpooling, or a kid has to wait a little while to get picked up. If we didn’t have a garage, we would park our car on the street. There is plenty of room because my neighborhood has residential parking permits. However, parking on the street means one’s car is more likely to get broken into, vandalized, scratched, dented, dinged, etc. Our poor seven-year-old city car has already taken enough abuse that I’m glad that we long ago chose a house with a garage.

    Incidentally, I think it would be entirely fair if San Francisco charged all residences and street-parkers by the foot for their share of city real estate they are utilizing, either for the length of curb-cut leading to one’s garage or the length of vehicle parked on the street. Maybe $20 per foot per year? Winners in this scenario would be people with no vehicle and no curb cut, or people in living in multi-family buildings with a small curb-cut leading to a communal garage. (I think we might see many unneeded curb cuts magically disappear.)

  • icarus12

    pchazz, I think the more variegated system you propose — so that only low income students coming and going from school would ride for free — would truly be the fairest. But it would also be the most costly and time-consuming to administer (as murph points out).  So for me it comes down to a pragmatic choice — do we raise the money to support this program in its most economical form or do we leave things as they are now?

    Conservative thinkers often scoff at these free give-aways and concentrate on citizens developing a sense of responsibility for themselves and their children.  I tend to agree on that score — responsibility matters and people cease to value what they get for free. But a pragmatic approach to public policy is also important, so that we deliver services efficiently and at lowest cost to taxpayers.  Maybe we should give in on this issue — free MUNI for youth — and concentrate on building a sense of responsibility in other areas of city delivery of services.

  • I don’t see why Cubic can’t program a Youth Pass along with all the other types of passes.

    I don’t see why Cubic can’t program a MUNI transfer to stay valid for 90 minutes if you take a BART trip as part of your itinerary, but they can’t.

    I don’t see why Cubic can’t program Clipper to automatically tag you off of Caltrain at Millbrae when you transfer to BART, but they can’t.

    I don’t see why Cubic can’t program Caltrain passes to automatically calculate a zone upgrade to your monthly pass rather than forcing you to buy a paper upgrade, but they can’t.

    And you expect them to program a pass that only works on School Days from 6 AM to 4 PM? That takes into account the various school holidays that might not be the same at various grade levels?

  • I guess the stat we really need, Karen – is this. “How many non-low income kids are taking MUNI to school”. If the answer is “near zero” then giving those kids passes costs MUNI “near nothing”. And if you ask pchazzz, the answer is in fact “near zero” – “I don’t think it would do much to stop parents from dropping off their
    kids. I daresay that those parents would never entrust their children to
    public transit, whatever the cost.”

    BUT – if giving those kids a pass and making taking MUNI a known alternative for getting to school actually moves the needle, and some of those kids DO take MUNI… MUNI is only out the marginal cost of servicing customers they never had in the first place which is small. But the value of removing the cars that formerly ferried those kids to school from blockading the 48 and 35 and 33 and so on and so on “will help make MUNI safe, frequent, pleasant and reliable”.

  • alison

    Karen, imagine if you lived on Potrero Hill or in Dogpatch and you didn’t have the good fortune to live in a home with a garage. Some of those 500-1000 meters could be installed on your block. How would you feel about being charged to park at a meter while you and your family used your bikes or public transit? Now that could be complicated…

  • Anonymous

    So if it’s too difficult to program Clipper cards, stick with the $21 youth passes, only distribute free passes to children from households living at or near the poverty level along with food stamps and other government benefits.  I just don’t see how you can justify depriving Muni from $8.5 million for some social good, and I don’t think that you will realize $8.5 million in saving from a reduction in truancy or traffic congestion caused by parents dropping off their kids.

  • Anonymous

     IT IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAT MUNI BE SAFE, FREQUENT, PLEASANT AND RELIABLE THAN IT BE FREE. To that, I would add SOLVENT

  • peternatural

    I guess if you’re a resident of Potrero Hill or Dogpatch, your best bet is to stay in your car as much as possible in order to avoid paying to park. Check out the scenery as it flows past, but… NEVER PARK (in the famous words of Barbara Manning 😉

  • Anonymous

    I think that City should be able to deed the parking space in front of a home to the homeowner, in the same way that a condominium comes with a parking space that is deeded to the unit. Essentially it would be a residential parking permit zone of one.  Deeded spaces would not be cheap, and they would add to the resale value of a home, so the funds they raised for city coffers could add needed revenue for transportation programs.

  •  pchazzz – that’s already happened in a large part of the city – it’s called a curb cut. People park their cars in front of their curb cuts already. If we were going to sell spaces that don’t have a curb cut, we would be remiss not to charge that same going rate for the already existing curb cut spaces.

    This of course can’t happen – whomever put the curb cut in had to pay *something* to the City, and if they sold the property they’ve been compensated by the current owner.

    And under your plan – who sweeps the deeded spot? Who fixes the potholes? What happens if said deeded spot is on Fell Street, and the City wants to remove the parking for a bike lane? Or remove a lane completely? Or remove parking to add a travel lane? And who gets the single spot in front of a four unit building?

    Interesting concept, just kibbitzing.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus There actually is a small opportunity for the city to charge something to park in front of curb cuts.  The state law (CVC 22507.2) allows cities to charge “a nonrefundable fee to defray the costs of issuing and administering the permits” for this but San Francisco (traffic code section 1004) chooses not to charge and to treat vehicle registration for the address as the permit.

    The city could also formally close the street or part of it as a public right of way and sell off the land, but that seems unlikely.

  • Anonymous

    And under your plan – who sweeps the deeded spot?  Who fixes the potholes?

    The City would because it would be still be City land.

    What happens if said deeded spot is on Fell Street, and the City wants to remove the parking for a bike lane? Or remove a lane completely? Or remove parking to add a travel lane? And who gets the single spot in front of a four unit building?

  • Anonymous

    I’m intrigued by pchazzz’s idea. I would add, however, that there should be a mechanism by which the owner of the space could make it available to the public– otherwise you’ll have a lot of empty spaces and a severe shortage at the same time.

    My thinking is that the owner should be able to turn the space over to the city to manage as metered parking (preferably using some advanced multispace meters where rates are set by demand and there are no time limits). The proceeds of the space would then be split between the owner and the city.

  • Andy Chow

    re: murphstahoe

    Yes. Reduced truancy is a financial benefit for SFUSD, but SFUSD wouldn’t be paying into the program. So essentially Muni would buy every kid a monthly pass (even those who had no problem paying) hoping that some kids (which none of us  can really guess how many) would attend schools. Yes, not every kid cut classes because they want to spend time with friends, but not every kid cut class because they can’t afford Muni.

    The other downside is that it would encourage abuse. Could the free pass facilitate kids cutting classes? Could kids who don’t need to ride Muni sell the card for money? (Go to Craigslist to see Eco pass on sale, which is illegal) Could it encourage more riders to board through the back door and not taping (you look young and assumed to have a free card, why bother to tap?) All this can make Muni more unsafe and unpleasant by bring more of the bad elements (Look at the vandalism for example).

    I don’t think the fare is the biggest barrier for more transit use to schools (unless it is already within walking distance). Parents drive their kids to schools also based on other factors: lack of direct transit routing, unsafe vehicle (real and perceived), unsafe stops (real and perceived). I don’t think making Muni free would help address those issues.

  • VN

    The continuous raising of fares, meter rates, and other “fees” simply doesn’t address the fundamental issues that affect Muni/MTA. Separating it from the DPT would be a fundamental step in stopping them from treating the city as piggy band and DEALING WITH THOSE issues. Then we can look at the overall needs of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, AND drivers to best meet the needs of the city. Until then they’re shills and crooks who pay bonuses for failure and fail ro rein in costs and cut wastage.

  • Murph, According to SF Unified, a whopping 61% of their kids qualify for reduced/free lunch. SF Unified serves about 70% of the kids in SF. So about 43% of kids in SF would get the free Muni passes if they were given only to low income SF Unified kids. (Fewer if only given to low income kids assigned to a school more than a half mile from their home.)  But if the MTA created a universal “all kids ride Muni for free” policy, then the other 57% (whose parents make more than $41,000 for a family of four) would be getting a subsidy that they don’t really need.

    I do buy the argument that if kids took Muni to school (or walked or biked) instead of their parents driving them, we would have significantly less congestion in this city, especially between 7:30 and 8:30 am, and that this would result in increased Muni speed and throughput. But I don’t think the cost of Muni is what is inducing parents to drive. Already 75 cents is cheaper than driving. Making Muni free would not move the needle much at all. 

    What would move the needle? Providing good neighborhood K-8 schools parents have faith in and that kids can walk or bike to. (For high school, it makes more sense to have magnet type schools that are easily accessible by Muni.) As an example of how crazy things are now, there is not one middle school in all of the Mission. (There are a few K-8 schools that take small numbers of local kids.) This means almost all middle school kids who live there must be transported by some means to some other neighborhood. Many go to Everett Middle School in the Castro. Though the school is in a predominantly white upper-middle class neighborhood, its location does not prevent it from being one of the absolutely worst performing schools in the state. If we’re going to make these kids attend a dreadful school, it could at least be a dreadful school they could walk to, one that could serve as a point of networking and cohesion for their neighborhood, one where parents might actually come to a parent teacher conference because it is conveniently close.

    The issue of truancy is a smokescreen. Truancy has little to do with whether a family can pay $20 a month for a youth Muni pass. It has everything to do with attitude–the attitude of the kid, the parents and the school. If a kid wants to go to school, $20 for a Muni pass is not going to stop them. (Again, I’m all for giving low income kids free Muni passes during school months to make it even easier.) If a kid *doesn’t* want to go to school, then it comes down to the parents, their values, their relationship to their kid, and the relationship they have with the school. There are a handful of exceptional kids who can manage to get a very good education without parental support. The vast majority of kids, however, in order to have any kind of educational success, need a parent who sees to it that they get up in the morning, eat something, have the appropriate supplies for the day, and get out the door on time. In the evening they need a parent who is interested in their experiences of the day and reinforces that what they are learning and doing at school is valuable. And they need someone to make sure homework is done in the evening. A good school, when it sees a child falter, contacts the parent to see what is going on. A good school will try to work with parents who aren’t supporting their kid. A good school will certainly call a parent before 10 am on any day their child does not show up if the parent hasn’t already called in. A responsible school will not let weeks pass by before letting parents know the kid isn’t showing up to school. (I know of two SF Unified cases where horrified parents didn’t find out their child had been skipping school until the child had been truant for months.) We can throw free Muni passes all we want at the children of San Francisco. Chronic truancy is the result of a poor relationship between parent and school, a kid completely out of control, or a parent who can’t be bothered to care.

  • Anonymous

    If truant kids will not start going to school because of a free pass, they aren’t riding the bus now, and giving them a pass costs the city nothing.

  • Guest

    First, it’s great to see Muni is actually looking inside their own budget to find some savings.    What else in that budget can be found?  
    I do not want to see “free youth passes for all” implemented!    Figure out a way to provide for the lowest income, and for the rest, they continue to purchase as the bargain rate of $21.    How many of the people pushing this concept actually take Muni on a daily basis?  
    Last – as a car owner (Muni & the horrible cab situation just don’t cut it for all the places I want to go in any sort of timely manner) – don’t think that I have thousands to spend!  When Muni can’t even get me to work on time (no 1ax at 7:35 this morning as scheduled) I have trouble believing that they are actually managing the system in a way that provides consistent transportation options.     For all the “Cars are evil, tax people on them till they all give them up” – you don’t live in a reality zone for a majority of our city.   It’s great that you ride your bike and feel so mighty, but you are not in the majority.    I’m sure you will all jump all over me now! 

  • guest

    Sue – I do pay the yearly permit cost, and a monthly fast pass for my commute.  I also pay city taxes (as does my landlord) to maintain the streets (which are maintained pretty poorly!)   If the public tranist options were workable to actually get to places in the city that you want to go (and if when you wanted a cab you could get one) then I’d understand your bitterness towards peoel who have cars.

  • Anonymous

    Not going to jump all over you as you expect (you can reread a million different articles and accompanying comments on the issue) and give in to your trolling … but I will respond to this:

    “It’s great that you ride your bike and feel so mighty, but you are not in the majority.”

    What does being in the majority have to do with it? One of the principles of our government is that there shall be no “tyranny of the majority”. For example, handicapped people are a minority yet we go out of our way to provide them with prime parking spaces, special bathroom facilities, ramps in buildings, etc. It’s certainly a cost to society that we all bear that is disproportional to the amount of people that are handicapped. Similarly, just because bicyclists are a minority doesn’t mean their safety (let alone dignity) should be trampled upon by the majority.

    Further, we don’t decide the merits of an argument based on what is most popular. If that was the case, nothing would ever change (since all new ideas, by their very definition, have to start out as only being held by a small group of people).

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