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SFMTA Board Repeals Sunday Parking Meters

Get ready for the return of Sunday traffic dysfunction and double parking. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors today caved to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee by removing Sunday parking meters, a move folded into its approval of the agency’s two-year budget.

The Sunday meter reversal was supported by all but one of the SFMTA’s board members, who are appointed by the mayor. Board member Cristina Rubke said she thought reversing Sunday metering is “a mistake.”

But the change went unopposed even by other progressive board members, like Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, who had supported Sunday parking metering when the policy was approved in 2012. Brinkman and Ramos said they agreed with Mayor Lee’s stated strategy of bringing back free Sunday parking to win support for transportation funding measures headed to the ballot in November, and that SFMTA needed to do more education about the rationale behind parking metering.

“I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in the city working with him in his office, and that they are very focused on helping to solve the city’s transportation funding issues,” said Brinkman, who is up for re-appointment at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday. “It sounds like the mayor’s office is certain that this is going to help us in November.”

Brinkman said she’s “calling upon the mayor’s office to work with the MTA Board around education and community involvement in San Francisco’s parking problems. I feel we need to step back and find a way to work with our communities to really explain the reasons behind, and the need for, progressive parking management.”

“We have failed, frankly, to convince the great majority of people” of the benefits of Sunday meters, said Ramos. “You can listen to Matier and Ross, or read the papers, and see that the general sentiment of it is a negative one.”

Mainstream news reporters who have covered the Sunday metering issue, like columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross at the SF Chronicle and CBS affiliate KPIX, typically don’t mention that the SFMTA found that meters cut cruising times for parking in half and increased turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent. Instead, parking meters have typically been framed as a way to collect revenue, even in the Chronicle report on today’s vote.

Mayor Lee issued this statement about “reinstating free Sunday parking in San Francisco”:

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SFTRU Speaks Out Against Muni Service Cuts During Summer Break

Muni shouldn’t cut service to save money while school’s out for summer, the SF Transit Riders Union said in a statement yesterday. SFTRU is speaking out against what they call the SFMTA’s double standard of reducing transit service in “the blink of an eye” while deliberating smart parking policy changes for years.

Muni reduced service on several lines from June 29 to August 19, when most schools aren’t in session, to account for the drop in student ridership. The SFMTA says it expects to save $240,000 during the summer season. The agency also reduced service on student-heavy lines during the most recent winter and spring breaks, saving about $275,000 and $78,000, respectively, and reported no significant problems.

SFTRU’s Mario Tanev said that’s no excuse, since Muni has already cut too much service in recent years. “The fact is that with numerous service cuts during the past decade, peak and off-peak service on almost all lines has been downgraded to unacceptably low levels,” he said in a statement. “When combined with Muni’s historic lack of reliability, the proposed reduction in service will frequently result in even higher waiting times than promised.”

Noting that “San Francisco is the only major city in the US which has lost riders in the last decade,” Tanev argued that the cuts will exacerbate a “death spiral” of “service cuts and fare increases that force more to drive, in turn slowing Muni and making service even worse.”

Here are the summer service cuts, as summarized by the SFMTA:

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Supervisor Wiener Calls Hearings to Assess the Cost of Muni Delays

Muni riders, apparently leaving a broken-down N-Judah train, walk out of the Sunset Tunnel. Photo: ChazWags/Flickr

Just how bad is Muni? And is it getting any better? Supervisor Scott Wiener has called for monthly reports from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and the City Controller’s Office to tally up the true cost of transit delays and track progress on Muni’s reliability.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Dennis Hearne Photography

The regular reports to the Land Use and Economic Development Committee would help inform the public and keep Muni’s chronic problems in the spotlight as a funding priority, said Wiener. ”It’s important for us as policymakers to see it and hear from our constituents so we can build political support to actually fix this system,” he said at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “We’ve had some budget debates relating to Muni in the past year, Muni has never won those debates, and we’ve seen money leave Muni or not come into Muni in the first place, and I don’t think that’s acceptable.”

Wiener requested status reports on reducing Muni’s $420 million backlog in deferred maintenance for vehicles and infrastructure, and fixing up out-of-service Muni trains and buses. He also wants a monthly count of missed runs and “subway meltdowns,” as well as a study of the “economic productivity loss as people are stuck on Muni, late for work, miss appointments, don’t get to school, and don’t get to carry on their life because they’re waiting in a station, streaming up on to the street walking downtown.”

“Riders see this deficiency every day, with missed runs, with breakdowns, with systemic meltdowns where the entire subway fails for a significant period of time, and with all sorts of problems that seem to be occurring with more and more regularity,” said Wiener.

Ben Kaufman, spokesperson for the SF Transit Riders Union, said the organization “is encouraged by Supervisor Wiener’s proposal and appreciative of his attention to Muni’s system-wide issues that continue to plague its ridership.”

But beyond fixing up its existing infrastructure, said Kaufman, the city also needs to keep its eye on upgrading its transit routes with solutions like those proposed in the Transit Effectiveness Project, and to “implement them expeditiously.”

“It is incumbent upon our city to focus on the solutions to these problems rather than just the problems themselves,” he said. “We have a good idea of how to create an efficient and reliable transit system, as evidenced by the best practices of cities around the country and world. Transit improvements such as traffic signal prioritization and physically separated bus-only lanes will go a long way toward making bus and train performance more predictable for the agency — as we mitigate external factors such as traffic congestion and red lights — and thus more efficient and reliable for Muni passengers.”

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Muni Switchbacks Stink, But What’s the Real Root of the Problem?

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The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released a report [PDF] today blasting Muni’s regular practice of dumping riders and turning vehicles around early.

Known as a “switchback,” the practice is used by Muni management as way to alleviate delays when buses and trains are bunched together by redirecting a vehicle to another point in the system where it’s more needed. The practice was scrutinized by the Board of Supervisors last spring, and SFMTA Transit Director John Haley says the agency has made progress in reducing them and warning riders of them in advance. Members of the SF Transit Riders Union say focusing on switchbacks distracts from the root of Muni’s problems, like getting stuck in traffic and poorly-maintained vehicles, which make the measure necessary in the first place.

The Grand Jury said Muni officials’ use of the practice “shows a callous disregard for the welfare of riders,” claiming that few other major transit systems practice it regularly except in cases of breakdowns and emergencies.

At a press conference called by the SFMTA today, officials presented a document (summary [PDF], detailed [PDF]) responding to the Grand Jury’s claims, saying that the report ignores evidence and defending the use of switchbacks when necessary to alleviate problems.

“They don’t suggest an alternative,” said Haley, adding that Muni intends to propose scheduled switchbacks on some lines within the next six months, similar to regular practices on many other systems, including BART. Still, he said he doesn’t think unscheduled switchbacks “will ever be at zero.”

“If you look at the unevenness of where the demand is,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, “and people getting on and off the buses, it just doesn’t make sense to run every bus to the end of every line on every run.”

Ben Kaufman of the SF Transit Riders Union said switchbacks are just one symptom of Muni’s greater structural problems, and that a holistic approach is needed to improve the system. “The only way to minimize the amount of switchbacks is through a network of lines that don’t have to deal with external factors, like traffic congestion, getting stopped at stop signs and red lights,” he said. “That’s what we should be focusing on, not condemning the MTA for making switchbacks.”

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SFTRU Launches Campaign to Inform Riders About All-Door Boarding

SFTRU's brochure.

With Muni all-door boarding underway, other transit agencies are watching and bus riders are catching on – hopefully. To ensure a smooth transition to the new policy — which will help Muni maximize the benefits of faster boardings and higher fare compliance — the SF Transit Riders Union has created a brochure explaining the rules and etiquette of the all-door boarding system.

If you’d like to help get the word out, SFTRU is meeting up for its first “distribution party” tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Buck Tavern (1655 Market Street @ Gough). SFTRU noted that they especially need volunteers who speak Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

The party will re-convene back at Buck at 7 p.m. to celebrate.

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After Delay, SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Design

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Image: SFCTA

A preferred design for Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit was approved unanimously today by the Board of Supervisors, acting as the SF County Transportation Authority Board. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who delayed approval of the proposal a month ago after complaining that he “hadn’t been briefed” on it, said he now stands behind the project after SFCTA staff brought him up to speed.

The project proposal received broad praise from the board and transit advocates as an “elegant solution” to combine the best features of two design options.

“This project is an example of what is critical to the future of transportation in the city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. “We have a growing population… and if we don’t start beefing up our transit capacity, we’re going to have a big problem.”

SFCTA Executive Director José Luis Moscovitch pointed out that the project, along with Geary BRT, will go a long way toward reducing car trips as new development arrives along the Van Ness corridor — namely, California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill project at Van Ness and Geary.

Brett Thomas of the SF Transit Riders Union emphasized the need to physically separate the bus lanes from car traffic to keep drivers from encroaching on them and delaying transit. Wiener echoed the sentiment, citing his experience on the J-Church this morning, in which “a delivery truck was parked a little too far from the curb, and literally shut down the entire J-Church inbound line.”

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Stockton Bus Riders Take a Back Seat to Central Subway Construction

Photo: Howard Wong

As if squeezing onto the 30-Stockton wasn’t already undignifying enough, Muni riders on Stockton Street soon face a four-year detour to make room for the construction of the Central Subway project.

Beginning January 21, southbound buses on the 30 and 45 Muni lines will be detoured off of Stockton Street at Sutter Street — a change likely to exacerbate delays on one of the city’s most heavily-used transit corridors already notorious for its slow, overcrowded bus service.

The Central Subway, a $1.6 billion project which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) says is necessary to serve the needs of transit demand along the Stockton/Fourth Street corridor, isn’t expected to open for at least eight more years. But while riders take a back seat during its construction, the agency has yet to indicate any interest in improving existing transit on the surface — one of the major criticisms leveled against the Central Subway over the years.

Last July, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury blasted the project in a report calling on the SFMTA to redesign it “to better serve the San Francisco population.” The major problems cited included poor connectivity to major destinations and transit stations and a lack of ”plans to address existing problems on the Stockton corridor before project completion.”

“The problems have been noticeable, predictable, and no solutions have ever been offered,” said Howard Wong of Save Muni, a “volunteer group of transit experts, public transportation supporters” which has lobbied the SFMTA to pursue surface transit improvements as a more useful and cost-effective alternative to the Central Subway to meet transit needs on the corridor.

The 30-Stockton, which runs through San Francisco’s densest areas of Chinatown and Union Square, is widely known as one of the most overcrowded and slowest-moving buses in the city. A 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article cited its average speed at 3.6 mph between Market and Sutter Streets, and while more recent official data weren’t immediately available, service doesn’t seem to have improved. In the San Francisco Examiner’s recent ”Man vs. Muni” series, it was the first — and last — bus to be raced at a walking pace by transportation reporter Will Reisman. (Reisman won the second round.)

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What Will the Next Mayor Do For Muni?

A packed Muni bus navigates around a police car while officers enjoy a meal at Hayes and Divisadero. Photo: Aaron Bialick

San Francisco’s next mayor will wield immense influence over whether the city takes the necessary steps to reform its transit system and get Muni up to speed.

Which of the top candidates will be bold enough to support a truly transit-first city? Who actually rides Muni? Will any of them support extending parking meter hours?

If you haven’t cast your early vote yet, check out two recent candidate surveys from The San Francisco Transit Riders Union. Seven of the top candidates replied with their positions on some key transit issues.

One question asks: “As mayor of San Francisco, what three things will you do during your first year to remedy your neighbors’ concerns about MUNI?”

See excerpts from the candidates’ responses after the break.

Also, don’t miss the SF Public Press’ series of candidate video interviews as they roll out.

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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.

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