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Posts from the "Transportation Funding" Category

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Supes Approve Wiener’s Population-Based Transit Funding Measure for Ballot

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The Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 today to put on November’s ballot a charter amendment that would increase the share of general funds devoted to transportation, based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure as a backup plan to generate transportation revenue — 75 percent of which would go to Muni, 25 percent to pedestrian and bike upgrades — after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot this year. If passed by a majority of voters in November, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year by retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Annual funding increases, commensurate with population growth, would follow.

“For too long, City Hall has been slow to prioritize transit funding,” Wiener said in a statement. “We are a growing city, and we need to take firm steps to ensure that our transportation system keeps up with that growth. Improving transit reliability and capacity, and making our streets safer, are key to that goal.”

The six supervisors who voted in support of the measure were David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim. The votes against came from Supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, and Eric Mar. Supervisor John Avalos was absent.

At a recent committee hearing, Supervisors Tang and Yee voiced their “discomfort” with the measure, because it could siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. Tang also said asking voters to pass the measure, in addition to the $500 general obligation bond for transportation, may be too much of a burden. According to reports from staff at City Hall, Mayor Lee also opposed it for those reasons.

When asked for comment on the supervisors’ approval of Wiener’s measure, mayoral spokesperson Francis Tsang only said, “Mayor Lee’s transportation priority for November is for approval of the City’s first ever $500 million general obligation bond for transportation.”

Wiener’s measure includes a provision that would allow the mayor to nix the charter amendment, if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016.

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Supes Vote Next Week on Wiener’s Backup Transportation Funding Measure

Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.

“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”

The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.

Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.

“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.

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Deal Reached on CA’s Cap-and-Trade Spending Plan

Earlier this evening, the bicameral Budget Conference Committee  approved a compromise between state legislators and Governor Brown on how to spend $850 million in revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade system for the next fiscal year.

The new plan largely stuck to the Governor’s original proposal for the first year of the expenditure plan, but it adds set-asides for transit and affordable housing, two important parts of the Senate’s proposal. The compromise also incorporates an allocation method for funding in future years.

Despite Republican opposition, California High Speed Rail will still receive one-quarter of the funds generated by the state’s Cap and Trade Program.

The compromise proposal sets aside $250 million for high-speed rail, which is what the Governor proposed, but future year allocations for the bullet train would be 25 percent rather than the 33 percent he requested. The Senate’s proposal called for 15 percent allocated to high speed rail.

The agreement would split the $50 million Brown proposed for intercity rail, giving half to transit capital and construction costs and dividing the other half between transit operations and intercity rail. Future revenue streams would give 5 percent to each of the three categories, giving transit a solid, predictable source of funding for at least the next five years.

Brown’s original proposal had no set aside for local transit, but the Senate, under the leadership of Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), had countered the governor’s plan by calling for $200 million for transit operating and capital expenses.

Steinberg’s plan called for 20 percent of cap-and-trade funds to be spent on affordable housing near transit and sustainable communities planning. This would have amounted to about $170 million the first year. The current agreement would give this category of projects — which could include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and planning — about $130 million in the first year, with future allocations at 20 percent.

“This plan is good for California,” said committee co-chair Mark Leno (D- San Francisco). “With this proposal we will continue to not only lead the state but also the nation on this important issue of greenhouse gas emission reduction, when time is running out.”

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Supes, Mayor Lee Agree to Push Vehicle License Fee in 2016

Mayor Lee with Supervisors Wiener and Chiu at the Bike to Work Day press conference on May 8. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The ballot measure to restore the vehicle license fee has been postponed until 2016, under an agreement reached between Mayor Ed Lee and supervisors.

As we wrote on Friday, Supervisor Scott Wiener had considered bringing the ballot measure before the Board of Supervisors today, so that it could be approved for this November’s ballot. But Wiener said today that the mayor, who had dropped his support for the VLF this year after a poll showed it was only supported by 44 percent of voters, has agreed to help get it passed in a campaign in 2016. Wiener says the campaign will need Lee’s political support to help ensure its success.

Supervisors Eric Mar, Jane Kim, John Avalos, and David Chiu have also expressed their support for the agreement, though they noted the urgency of passing the VLF as soon as possible so that it can raise additional funds for transportation needs.

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With or Without Mayor Lee, Wiener and Advocates Push to Keep VLF Alive

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Just because Mayor Ed Lee withdrew his support for restoring the vehicle license fee doesn’t mean it’s dead. Sustainable transportation advocates are building a campaign to get the measure approved at the ballot this November with the help of Supervisor Scott Wiener, who may introduce the measure at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which is the legislative deadline to do so.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener said he’s not officially throwing his support behind a VLF measure on the November ballot just yet, but that he wants to keep the dialogue open with Mayor Lee on a timeline for a campaign that he’s willing to back.

“It will allow us to continue the conversation with the mayor about how we’re going to move forward with this critical revenue,” he said. “If the mayor’s position is that November 2014 is not the right time, and that it should be a different election, then we can have that conversation. But it’s not adequate to not have the VLF move forward in November and not have any indication of when it might move forward.”

Given Tuesday’s legislative deadline, Wiener and advocates say the discussion is quickly evolving. Wiener said he may decide not to introduce the measure if “we can come up with some sort of consensus about a different timetable in 2015 or 2016, when people think we can move forward with unity and get it passed.”

“I would prefer to do it in November 2014 and get it passed, and get funding for our roads and transit quickly, but the problem is we’ve not even had that conversation,” said Wiener. “The message we’ve gotten is that the mayor does not want to move forward and is not committing to any particular timetable after that.”

The mayor’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet. If introduced Tuesday, Wiener’s proposal would have to be approved by eight supervisors to be put on the ballot.

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Muni’s Absymal Breakdown Rate: One Reason SF Needs a Vehicle License Fee

Revenue Miles Between Total Vehicle Failures. Compared with nine other transit agencies, Muni’s light-rail breakdown rate was an abysmal outlier. Image: City Controller’s Office

Muni vehicles break down far more frequently than in other cities, after years of the system being starved of the necessary funding to adequately maintain its fleet of trains and buses.

Muni’s heavily-used light rail vehicles, which serve 50 million riders every year, have a failure rate that’s off the charts. According to a City Controller audit [PDF] of Muni’s performance compared to that of nine similar transit agencies, Muni metro LRVs broke down every 617 miles on average. At the other end of the spectrum, light rail vehicles in San Jose go 47,630 miles between breakdowns, which means that Muni vehicles break down 77 times as often. The second worst-ranked city after SF was Pittsburgh, at 3,923 miles.

Crowds seen at West Portal Station during this week’s Muni “sickout.” Photo: SFMTA

“Our light-rail seems eggshell-fragile compared to everyone else’s,” said Malcolm Henicke, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, who seemed surprised by the data and asked Muni management for answers at a board meeting on Tuesday.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that many of the LRV component systems haven’t undergone overdue mid-life overhauls, which “we would be able to do with the vehicle license fee revenues.” The VLF increase is one ballot measure proposed by the Mayor’s 2030 Transportation Task Force, along with a $500 million general obligation bond. These measures would fund upgrades for the transportation network, including Muni rehabs and vehicle replacements.

But Mayor Ed Lee announced this week that he would abandon his support for the measure to restore the VLF to historic levels on this November’s ballot — even though the measure would raise $1 billion over 15 years. The SF Transit Riders Union called the mayor’s announcement yet another “refusal to prioritize Muni at every turn” and a “complete failure of leadership.”

In a separate audit presented by the City Controller a year ago, Muni delays were estimated to cost the economy at least $50 million a year.

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Mayor Lee Abandons Vehicle License Fee Ballot Measure

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Today’s Muni “sick-out” reminds us once again that San Franciscans need better ways to get around. The consequences of a transit strike — people stranded and unable to get to their jobs, queues of drivers clogging streets, and dangerous conflicts between impatient drivers and people who are walking and biking alongside — are just a more extreme example of the everyday reality caused by the city’s lack of investment in real transport alternatives.

Mayor Lee at the Bike to Work Day press conference on May 8. Photo: Aaron Bialick

None of that seems to concern Mayor Ed Lee, though, who withdrew his support for the November ballot initiative to restore the vehicle license fee, the SF Chronicle reported yesterday. The measure would provide crucial funding for safer streets and a more reliable Muni. The Chronicle reports:

Increasing the fee, which had been cut when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, from 0.65 percent to 2 percent of a car’s value, was projected to raise about $1 billion as the city tries to address $10.1 billion in transportation infrastructure needs through 2030. That includes repairing streets, improving the bike network and upgrading Muni’s fleet of streetcars and buses.

Lee upped the amount of tax money going to roadwork and other capital needs by about $40 million in the next fiscal year and is supporting a separate recommendation from his task force: a November ballot measure for a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation. But he is backing off the vehicle license fee for now after it appeared deeply unpopular, said Falvey.

“He heard that loud and clear,” Falvey said. “He’s committed to the recommendation, but now is not the time.”

What’s also loud and clear is that the mayor isn’t willing to take any risks when it comes to even the least imposing measures to fund safer streets and better transit.

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For Better Muni and Safer Streets, Mayor Lee Must Back Vehicle License Fee

Mayor Ed Lee has an opportunity to champion one of the smartest proposals to come out under his administration: A ballot measure to restore SF’s vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. The measure would raise crucially needed revenue that would boost transit and make San Francisco’s streets safer.

Mayor Ed Lee speaking with Supervisor Scott Wiener behind at the Bike to Work Day press conference. Photo: Aaron Bialick

But the mayor has recently appeared reticent about supporting the measure, especially since a poll showed early this month that only 44 percent of respondents said they would vote for it — even after hearing that it would raise roughly $1 billion over the next 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements, and road re-paving.

The VLF increase was proposed by the Mayor’s T2030 Transportation Task Force, along with two $500 million general obligation bonds and a half-cent sales tax increase that would go to voters in 2016. Restoring the VLF to 2 percent, from the 0.65 percent level in place since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed it in 2004, is the only measure in the set that specifically asks drivers to pay more towards maintaining and upgrading the entire transportation system.

Yet despite the mayor’s successful campaign to repeal Sunday parking metering, which he claimed would garner motorist support for the ballot measures, Mayor Lee might abandon the VLF measure anyway. That scenario worries Supervisor Scott Wiener enough that he introduced a backup plan last week, in the form of a charter amendment tying general fund spending for Muni to population growth.

But rather than taking precious funds from other crucial city services to subsidize the costs of driving, restoring the VLF instead would help recoup the devastating loss of transportation revenue caused by Schwarzenegger’s move, without actually increasing the fee beyond its historic levels.

“It’s what everybody paid for 50 years. 1948 is when it started, at 2 percent,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told Streetsblog.

The lion’s share of local street and transportation spending comes from taxes levied on the general public, both now and assuming all of the proposed measures pass. A 2 percent VLF represents a meager step towards ensuring that drivers pay for the disproportionate costs they incur to the street network, through wear and tear on roads, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, and crashes.

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Steinberg: CA Cap-and-Trade Must Fund Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing

Negotiations over the California state budget are producing dueling proposals on how best to spend revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Senator Steinberg proposes affordable housing as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. Photo courtesy TransForm.

While Governor Jerry Brown continues to call for a third of the cap-and-trade funds to go to CA high-speed rail, Senate President ProTem Darrell Steinberg last week expanded upon his alternative proposal to spend a larger share of the revenue on affordable housing and transit at the local and regional level.

State cap-and-trade funds are collected under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, A.B. 32. The law provides a way for companies to meet a state-mandated cap on greenhouse gas emissions by buying “pollution credits” produced when others exceed emissions reductions. Estimates vary on how much revenue the program will generate, but it could produce billions each year between now and 2020.

Standing in front of an active construction site for new housing units near Oakland’s MacArthur BART station last Thursday, Steinberg called for permanent sources of funding for affordable housing, mass transit, and sustainable communities development. The Senator argued that  California is facing a “catastrophic funding crisis” as affordable housing bonds run out, and noted that the transportation sector is the state’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Californians are logging more vehicle miles annually than ever before,” Steinberg said.

Behind him, a forklift raised a load of lumber high up in the air, with an attached sign reading, “At least 972 lbs of CO2 emissions reduced every day.” That’s the amount by which  the housing project, which will provide 624 housing units next to the BART station, is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other housing developments. Of those apartments, 108 will be leased at below-market rates.

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reportedthese funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5billion for housing.

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