Streetscast: An Interview with BOS Prez David Chiu on the MTA Budget

IMG_2798.jpgDavid Chiu testifying before the MTA Board two weeks ago.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has introduced a motion (PDF) that would allow his colleagues to reject the MTA’s budget, which is due to be finalized and voted on by the MTA Board next week.

As we’ve reported, Chiu testified before the MTA Board earlier this month that he is concerned about work orders from other departments that are draining Muni’s budget. He is also "deeply concerned" about fare hikes and service cuts.

Chiu called Streetsblog San Francisco this afternoon for a brief interview:

  • Not to disagree with anything Board President Chiu, because I think he’s pretty dead on in the interview, but he touched on some subjects that have a lot of background to them.

    I think of the MTA as sort of a buggy alpha version, with periodic releases that add as many new bugs as it fixes. As Chiu explained, with Prop A we voted to give the MTA more money and more independence. We fixed the bug where supervisors could meddle in the budget by limiting them to just an up or down vote on the budget, but it introduced an exploit where other city agencies can exploit this to get money out of the MTA and the Board can’t do anything to stop it except to reject the entire MTA budget. Still, Chiu isn’t saying we need to repeal Prop A, we’ve just got more bugs to file.

    Even with everyone up in arms about the work orders and the cost of 311, I don’t know that anyone is proposing we limit the ability to put new demands on the MTA without giving them new funding to go with it.

    311 is a good example. The Mayor issued a mandate to fix shitty customer service by creating a single non-emergency phone number for everything. Awesome, right? You can call a live operator any time, 24/7, to ask where your bus is… and it’s totally not going to cost anything right?

  • I think 311 is a great idea in general—anything that makes people less likely to ring 911 in non-emergency situations is a win, and I like not having to stuff around looking for telephone numbers for City agencies. But surely an easy fix to the $1.96 problem (gasp!) is a message at the beginning of the call that says ‘for public transport info, please hang up and ring 511’.

    Jamison: I like your bugbase analogy. But a good way to reduce the bug count in software is scope reduction, and since that means service cuts in this case, I’m dead against it.

  • I asked MTA CFO Sonali Bose that question, why not redirect arrival time requests to 511? Turns out there’s several reasons, some of it had to do with load on the phone lines that I didn’t understand, service quality (there is that mayoral mandate and would you really want to go back to 511 now that you’ve experienced 311?) and to top it off: they negotiated down to $1.96 per call instead of per-minute.

    And since the MTA never had this level of service before 311 (just a contact number during business hours and no bus arrival times) we don’t know what doing it in house would cost, but there’s economies of scale from centralizing so it would almost certainly cost more and you would definitely loose the convenience of a single non-emergency number.

    We could work on things which reduce the load on 311, such as putting routes on predictable schedules (the 35 is on a clock facing schedule which works well: every 30 minuted, LA used to have a “12 minute map” of lines that had waits no longer than 12 minutes) and that’s part of the Transit Effectiveness project (TEP) which already underway as newly hired schedulers are starting to adjust route schedules to run on time. Or put up more NextMuni signs, which comes back to money they don’t have (signs are a capitol expense and 311 is operational, which means different funding sources) but is planning ahead with the new shelters (which aren’t costing us a penny: a private company has the contract and pays for it from the revenues off the advertising) all designed to house a sign even if there isn’t one to install yet.

    We can also stop calling 311 for info unless we really need to.

  • Prop E was a mistake, Prop A just added more crap to the mix.

    Who thought it was a good idea to add the intractable morass of the Taxi Commission to an MTA that cannot run its railroad?

    Who thought it was a good idea to imprison the power to make streets livable in an agency that is wholly unaccountable?

    Who thought it was a good idea to give TWU employees a wage floor without exacting work rule concessions to give line managers more flexibility?

    A tight reading of Section 8A.105 of the Charter, the Municipal Transportation Fund is needed now:

    (a) There is hereby established a fund to provide a predictable, stable, and adequate level of funding for the Agency, which shall be called the Municipal Transportation Fund. The fund shall be maintained separate and apart from all other City and County funds. Monies therein shall be appropriated, expended, or used by the Agency solely and exclusively for the operation including, without limitation, capital improvements, management, supervision, maintenance, extension, and day-to-day operation of the Agency, including any division subsequently created or incorporated into the Agency and performing transportation-related functions. Monies in the Fund may not be used for any other purposes than those identified in this Section.

    Note that “predictable, stable and adequate” are the first words of the paragraph.

    This fund has been raided, and the Mayor proposes “unpredictable, unstable and inadequate” levels of funding for the Muni. Is this legal?

    Cosmetic changes to governance will not solve the structural problems of the Prop E+A MTA.



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