Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

Giants fans leaving a game at AT&T ballpark to board a Muni train at Second and King Streets, a few blocks from the site of the proposed Warriors arena on the Embarcadero. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/toobeautiful/238826363/##Mark Pritchard/Flickr##

The current proposal for the Warriors arena and surrounding development would include a 500-space parking garage. While that number has been downsized from as many as 930, and the arena itself would replace an existing 2.3-acre parking lot, “There should be as little parking as we can get away with,” Radulovich said. “Every parking space they add is going to bring more traffic to the city, and all that traffic on the Embarcadero really cuts the city off from the waterfront.”

The Warriors development has come under fire recently from a group called the SF Waterfront Alliance, which calls for greater scrutiny of the project’s impacts and better preparation to accommodate the influx of visitors. The Alliance’s efforts have the backing of former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, who, in his tenure, led the charge to take down the Embarcadero Freeway after it was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

On a recent edition of KQED Forum, Agnos argued that the Warriors are unfairly putting the onus on the city to plan for and fund transit improvements. “Our current Muni system is one billion dollars underfunded for the rest of the city, even before we address any of the prospective ideas for new transit along the waterfront, which by the way, the Warriors say is entirely a city cost,” he said.

The Warriors are expected to pay $14 million in one-time transit impact fees, but Agnos said it’s unclear how much will actually go towards transportation rather than affordable housing.

Jennifer Matz, SF’s director of waterfront development, argued on the forum that the arena, which opens in 2017, will be better served by transit service with the opening of the Transbay Transit Center and the Central Subway, both of which are currently under construction.

The Central Subway, however, isn’t set to open until 2019, and Radulovich said it would actually take Muni service off the Embarcadero. That’s because trains on the T-Third line, which currently run along the waterfront to enter the Market Street subway, will be diverted to run down the Central Subway corridor on 4th Street to Chinatown once it opens. “I don’t believe Muni has the rail cars to expand service even if they wanted to,” he said.

The broader issue, Radulovich and the Waterfront Alliance argue, is that developments like the Warriors arena are moving ahead without a comprehensive planning effort for the waterfront.

Other than the E-Line — a long-proposed extension of the historic streetcar route on the F-Line that would run past Market along the Embarcadero to Mission Bay — there aren’t many significant transit expansions in the works for the waterfront in the coming years.

The SFMTA recently began an assessment of transportation along the waterfront, as the SF Examiner reported:

As part of that new program, which is in its development stages, the agency is examining the possibility of setting up a new transit hub on 20th Street, extending streetcar service into Mission Bay, expanding its bike-sharing program beyond the current scope of the Financial District and completing the Blue Greenway, a network of pedestrian and bike paths along the waterfront.

Radulovich said he’s “skeptical” of the SFMTA’s planning effort since similar initiatives in the past have been non-starters.

“We need a good plan, for one, to spend the money that’s already there,” said Radulovich, “and if there’s not enough money to implement the plan, then the Warriors and the other developments along the waterfront need to pony up.”

“Now is the time,” said Wiener,” to shore up the system so that people can easily get to sports and concert events, while everyone else in the city can get where they’re going. The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. By assessing a modest fee on large-venue sports and concert tickets, we can begin to address this challenge.”

“Right now Muni is at a breaking point, and it’s only going to come under more pressure. This problem isn’t going away, and we need to address it quickly and decisively.”

  • Sanfordia113

    Caltrain and BART are in greater need of Game Day capacity improvements. Commuting home on Caltrain during baseball or football season (soon to be replaced by basketball) results in the Caltrain skipping all normal stops with straight service to PacBell Park (but not announcing this ahead of time) and catering to drunk out-of-towners who never pay the Caltrain fares, anyhow.

  • mikesonn

    That isn’t true. Express post game trains are clearly marked (for day games), otherwise the trains are pretty late (around 10pm) and only difference is the added express to San Carlos train.

    But regardless, Caltrain needs to up capacity, especially at peak hours.

  • This is a great idea and tickets should be used as POP so it benefits both sides.

  • Anonymous

    Until you start riding Caltrain and know what you are talking about, why don’t you keep your opinions to yourself.

  • Matt Laroche

    Until recently, I was a daily Caltrain rider and am always watching Twitter for every tweet containing “caltrain”. I cannot recall a time where a train starts expressing unscheduled due to game capacity. I’ve seen it for special events, during breakdown situations, etc, but if it happens for Giants games, it happens extremely rarely.

  • mikesonn

    I’m on Caltrain’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

  • david vartanoff

    RIGHT ON !!! Surcharging the event w/ the tix as fare for the trip to/from is brilliant. I suggested this plan to an MTC zeck 20 years ago.

  • Anonymous

    With muni chronically and structurally underfunded it is understandable that supervisor wiener and many readers would support any and all fees and surcharges to add to muni funds. That said, event surcharges is a bad idea, one born from fiscal desperation, not fiscal planning. At 7 billion dollars total annual budget, nearly 30,000 generally well compensated city employees, and hundreds or more non-profit contract employees in social and health service delivery, San Francisco spends a great deal of money. But we don’t prioritize transit funding. We don’t evaluate how to divvy up that 7 billion a bit differently and eliminate duplication in some areas (homeless services comes to mind) and add more to muni or schools or other key investments in people and the city’s future. Instead of layering on yet another tax on beneficial activities like attending an event at a downtown arena near transit, we should be insisting a different distribution of current municipal resources. Any new taxes and fees should past a prudence test and be assessed on practices or product consumption of things of more ambiguous value – alcohol, solo driving, foods with little nutritional value, etc. In other words, let’s be more mature as citizens and demand more fiscal accountability from our city government.

  • Anonymous

    Then you should know that every other time there is a giants baseball game, the trains are filled by the time they reach Palo Alto and no further stops are permitted until SF is reached. And when (as happens every other day) there are delays, the trains that get cut are the commuter trains, not the ballgame trains. Already 3 times this season, Caltrain has simply decided halfway through the trip to skip stops and cater to Giants boozers.

  • David D.

    The ticket surcharge is a foolish idea. It is presumptuous of the City to think that most of the Warriors game attendees will be coming from within San Francisco. Besides, assessing a fee on Warriors game tickets will do little to address service needs for other special events. Only a portion of the events that will be held at the arena will be Warriors games.

    In fact, many people will be coming from Caltrain and BART. BART and especially Caltrain are more deserving of a fee assessment than Muni. Muni could easily make $3-22 million per year if the City put a stop to other departments billing Muni for everything under the sun. I would expect other City departments to begin billing Muni $3-22 million more per year for the “services” they provide if this fee is charged. What a coincidence, huh?

    P.S. I do not support a Warriors arena on the waterfront. It is a giveaway of a public amenity (waterfront views) for private benefit. I hope San Franciscans press their politicians on this point before it is too late.

  • Warren T

    This is a wise idea, try to get the events that drive traffic or congestion on public transit to help fund it. If it is done right, the transit authorities could leverage the introduction of Clipper to generate metrics to push the money to the right orgs (BART, MUNI, CalTrain). This should be a mandate not just on the new Warriors stadium, but all major events over a certain volume in the city.

    For the Olympics in London, each event ticket was issued a free travel pass on all suburban transportation to and from the event park. Whilst the motives were different, it did result in a major modal shift to and from the games compared to other major events in London (ex. Wembley Stadium). There are many reasons this doesn’t completely align itself to San Francisco (for one, availability of parking and a lack of ‘true’ suburban services), but there is a precedent for this activity.

  • Anonymous

    This kind of statement is depressing. Surcharge, tax, fees. Always wanting somebody other than the user to pay for the service.

  • I’d actually think that expressing a full train would be a good idea (presuming that there were followon trains) – but this doesn’t happen. I predict you were stuck in a break down and decided to blame it on the giants.

  • that’s the opposite of what is discussed here. The people getting the surcharge are the users stressing the system…

  • mikesonn

    That is simply not true.

  • Anonymous

    No, because on non-giants days, when there are breakdowns, they change the express and baby bullet trains to local trains and stop at every goddamned station. When this happens on Giants days (i.e., every 3rd day there is a giants game), they change from running local/baby bullet to Caltrain-Express-To-McCovey-Cove!

  • Anonymous

    If you can cite the SCHEDULED Caltrain route that goes direct from Palo Alto in the evening commute that doesnt stop anywhere else (not even San Mateo, Millbrae, or 22nd St), then I will admit you are correct. Otherwise, go check your facts and use your position to demand better service for regular BICYCLE COMMUTERS, not Giants boozers!

  • Anonymous

    you are welcome to your own opinion, but not to inventing private facts.

  • If you can cite the day/time/train number of the SCHEDULED Train that went off schedule in the absence of a mechanical breakdown somewhere in the system, I’d be happy to talk to Caltrain about it.

  • Anonymous

    Using the escape clause “in the absence of a mechanical breakdown in the system…” is a copout. There is a suicide and/or breakdown at least once a week. If it were converted to BRT, at least these issues would be averted. Anyhow, here is a link to a tweet from just one instance when Caltrain put the priority of Giantrs boozers ahead of commuters:
    https://twitter.com/caltrain/status/330500931407978497

  • Anonymous

    Agree that the problem is the police, etc, essentially stealing funds which were promised to MUNI. But you can dump money into MUNI until the spigot runs dry and as long as it needs to compete for space for its oversized buses on crowded roads with so many cars it will never be useful. The problems with MUNI are political, not financial.