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Posts from the "Transportation Funding" Category

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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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SB 1183 No Longer a Bike Tax

Senate Bill 1183, the bill from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) which was originally proposed as a “bike tax,” is no longer a bike tax. This time the change is not just in the bill’s title – the bill, which originally proposed a sales tax on bicycles to create a stable source of funding to maintain bicycle facilities in regional parks, now proposes a fee on motor vehicle registrations instead.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities. Photo: Rails to Trails

If passed, S.B. 1183 would not automatically impose any fees, but allows cities, counties, and regional parks to propose them for the ballot and seek approval from two-thirds of local voters. The new vehicle registration surcharge would be capped at $5.

The original proposed tax was opposed by the California Retailers Association as well as the usual anti-tax organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. In addition, the Senate’s Governance and Finance Committee analysis pointed out serious concerns with how a bicycle tax would be administered. It would have necessitated the unfunded creation of a new set of procedures by the Board of Equalization.

A motor vehicle registration fee, on the other hand, could be administered easily by the DMV without having to set up a new system.

“We were looking for a different mechanism to raise the funds,” said Doug Houston, legislative advocate for the East Bay Regional Park District, the sponsor of the bill. “There was consternation about a sales tax on bicycles, a social good, with some advocates asking why we would want to penalize or discourage bike riding.”

The fee was conceived as a way for regional parks to create a stable, if small, source of funds to pay for the maintenance of bike facilities, including paved trails.

Robert Doyle, the East Bay Regional Park District’s general manager, said the district has grants to complete ten projects that link existing trails within the system. “But then we have to patrol and maintain them,” he said.

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Pandering to the Parking-First Contingent Won’t Win Transportation Funding

Some pretty specious rationales are being used to peddle some pretty terrible recent transportation policy decisions in San Francisco. Yesterday, the SFMTA Board of Directors repealed Sunday parking metering, caving to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee. Board members said they bought into the mayor’s thinking that bringing back free Sunday parking would help win support for transportation funding measures on the November ballot.

We’ve explained why the mayor’s claims of an anti-meter popular backlash are unfounded, as the real push appeared to come from church leaders. But at City Hall, this faulty strategy of backtracking on solid efforts to improve transit and street safety seems to be popular among among decision-makers besides the mayor. In another recent case of the city watering down a great project, the SFMTA downsized transit bulb-outs in the Inner Sunset to preserve parking for a vocal minority who complained. Supervisor London Breed basically said that tip-toeing around the parking-first contingent is necessary to ensure that voters approve new funding for transit improvements down the line.

“They’re pandering to a specific group of motorists — the loudest opponents — who are never going to support these programs,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.”

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

At a supervisors committee meeting last week on the SFMTA’s budget, which relies heavily on the ballot measures to fund planned transit and safety improvements, Breed said she’s ”trying to understand how we’re going to convince voters, especially drivers, to spend a lot of money.”

Breed said that while city officials like her might understand the connection between making walking, biking, and transit more attractive and cutting congestion and parking demand, many voters may not be so savvy. ”We’re asking drivers to basically foot the bill for all of the improvements, and we’re taking away parking spaces, making things a lot more — what drivers believe, and have expressed in my district — more difficult,” Breed told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Breed also said she was concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan B for funding the Bicycle Strategy, the WalkFirst pedestrian strategy upgrades, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The three ballot measures would fund about half of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements called for, and most of the Muni TEP. “It sounds like we’re taking it for granted that this is actually going to pass,” said Breed.

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CA Sen. Steinberg Proposes New Spending Plan for Cap-and-Trade Revenue

Senator Darrell Steinberg’s new proposed spending plan for CA cap-and-trade revenue.

Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced a proposed plan to create a permanent spending strategy for cap-and-trade revenue [PDF] that prioritizes investments in affordable transit-oriented housing, transit expansion, and CA High-Speed Rail. Unlike the Governor’s plan for this year’s budget, Senate Bill 1156 also proposes investments in “complete streets” and transit operations.

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Calling the plan a “long-term investment strategy in greenhouse gas emissions,” Steinberg said he wanted to spark a “healthy debate” about how the state should spend the revenue collected via the state’s cap-and-trade system created under A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act.

“This strategy is designed to achieve the objectives of A.B. 32 through significant reductions in greenhouse gas and the direction of public and private investment to California’s low-income and disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately burdened by air pollution and the effects of climate change,” Steinberg said in a press release.

Steinberg’s staff emphasized that the plan provides a permanent funding stream for affordable, transit-oriented housing and mass transit, which are key to reaching the goals of A.B. 32 yet lack stable sources of funding. 

The proposal replaces a bill Steinber introduced in February to replace cap-and-trade with a carbon tax. Steinberg acknowledged that the carbon tax proposal was “not that popular.”

A.B. 32 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and calls for the California Air Resources Board to create a market system for helping achieve those reductions. In response, CARB created a cap on emissions from GHG producers and an auction system to allow those who don’t meet the cap to buy emission “credits” from those who do. This cap-and-trade system currently applies to the state’s manufacturing sector, and is scheduled to include fuel producers next year.

Meanwhile, the auctions are producing revenue, which by law must be spent on further reducing GHG emissions to help California reach A.B. 32′s the goals.

Steinberg’s proposal was well-received by transit advocates.

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SFBC, Walk SF Push SFMTA to Make Room for Bike/Ped Projects in Its Budget

Bike and pedestrian advocates are pushing the SFMTA to make more room in its budget for safety projects and programs as the agency’s board of directors weighs its priorities.

Image: SFBC

Image: SFBC

Bike/ped funds currently make up less than 1 percent of the SFMTA’s operating and capital budgets; the vast majority goes towards Muni. And although the agency has professed its commitment to Vision Zero, as well as its Bicycle Strategy and the WalkFirst plan that lay out the map to safer streets, funds for street safety are competing with other funding pushes. Yesterday’s SFMTA Board meeting was packed with dozens of commenters calling for the expansion of free Muni pass programs to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and extending the youth program to 18-year olds.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that “there is not a more affordable option than” walking and biking, and urged the board to “include [those] in the equity lens.”

The SFBC and Walk SF have highlighted that the SFMTA’s operating budget devotes more money to office supplies, over $5 million, than to bike and pedestrian safety programs, which each get about $3 to $5 million.

Shahum pointed out that the proposed SFMTA budget calls for 1.9 new miles of bike lanes, and 4.5 miles of upgraded bike lanes, per year. The middle of the three scenarios laid out in the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy calls for upgrades to 10 new miles of bike lanes each year.

Bike and pedestrian funding are poised to get only a slight increase in the share of the SFMTA’s existing revenues in the next budget [PDF]. The agency is banking on three proposed funding measures headed to the ballot this November that altogether could provide about half the funds needed for WalkFirst and the “medium” Bicycle Strategy scenario.

“We did work to find ways to put more revenues in here, although we don’t have a whole lot of flexibility there,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “You could argue it’s never enough, but it’s a significant investment we’ll be making.”

SFMTA Board Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman asked Reiskin to address the comparisons between bike/ped funding and office supplies at a later meeting. “I know it’s a great rallying cry… safety is our number one goal, but I’d like to know where that number comes from. Hopefully it’s not true that we spend more on paper than we do on bicycle safety.”

“We can’t meet our bike and pedestrian mode shift goals without increasing safety, and we can’t meet our transit demand without including our bicycle and pedestrian mode shift goals,” she added.

The SFMTA will continue to drill down the details of its two-year budget next budget at a hearing on April 15.

“I’m very worried about what happens in November,” said Brinkman. “Do we have a plan B to improve the safety of our streets if we’re not successful?”