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MTA Directors Balk at F-Line Fare Hike, Want Meter Plan Back on Table

3453322873_f0aef6957e.jpgFlickr photo: Jeremy Brooks

Three members of the MTA Board of Directors today voiced their unwillingness to vote for measures that would drastically cut Muni service and raise various fares to close a $16.9 million budget gap, and they insisted on taking a further look at extending parking meter enforcement hours, a proposal the Mayor has strongly counseled the MTA to kill.

Outside the Board meeting, MTA Executive Director Nat Ford said he would
respect the directors wishes on the parking proposal. "I'll have to bring
it back before them. That's what they want and we'll see how it goes
from there," Ford told Streetsblog. "Clearly, there's a lot of tension
around that issue, and the Board feels that's one of the solutions to
help close our budget. So, I'll have to bring it back."

The directors discussed a plan presented by MTA staff that would close the gap in part by cutting service on every Muni line and raising fares on several monthly passes, as well as raising the F-line fare to $5. In spite of tremendous political pressure to remain quiet about extending parking meter enforcement hours - something MTA staff initially recommended as a measure to improve parking availability and generate revenue - the three directors apparently could not stomach voting to gut Muni while ignoring the parking proposal.

Director Cameron Beach was the first to broach the topic, after dozens of members of the public voiced their opposition to the cuts, many citing their support for extended parking meter hours as one alternative solution. "I would like to see the parking meter situation revisited," said Beach. "I realize it is politically very unpopular."

Director Jerry Lee echoed Beach's sentiments. "We do need to take a look the meter enforcement in terms of [whether there is] a possibility of either extending hours or not extending hours but going until Sunday," said Lee.

"I think we're neglecting the parking meter enforcement. We have to extend the parking meter hours." -Bruce Oka

The most impassioned support for revisiting the proposal came from Director Bruce Oka, who spoke with determination as he framed the issue as a choice between further increases to disabled and senior monthly pass rates or extended meter hours. "Normally, I'm pretty flexible. I can hold my nose and vote on anything, but I refuse to vote on something when I believe we have not looked under every rock for every source of funding," said Oka. He continued:

"Everything right now has to be on the table. Everything. I mean, we're raising fares. I think we're neglecting the parking meter enforcement. We have to extend the parking meter hours. We have to find dollars. If Room 200 doesn't want that to happen, well then he's [i.e. the Mayor] got to come up with money. He's got to come up with a way to do what we need to do. If he's not going to let us raise parking meters or extend parking meter times then he's got to come up with some money. I'm not going to vote for any more increases in senior/disabled fares. I will not do that. I will not vote for another pass increase until we can be sure that we're getting what we're paying for now, and I don't think we are. I frankly don't think we're getting $2 worth of bus rides. I frankly am tired of hearing, 'well we can't do this.' I want people to tell me why we can't do this. Show me why we can't do it. I want to see that before I'll vote to raise any fares."

Oka's frustration with the Mayor's position was palpable and not surprising, given that the MTA Board is being asked to vote on service cuts and fare increases that will be very unpopular, and which the Board will get credit for, while the Mayor remains relatively protected from the political fallout.

Director Malcolm Heinicke didn't mention the parking meter plan, but did voice concerns about the F-line fare increase and premium passes for express buses, which he called bad ideas. Beach concurred on the F-line. "I am certainly going to oppose any increase in the F-line fares," he told the Board.

Heinicke also called for a more rigorous approach to cutting service, informed by Transit Effectiveness Project data and focused on the least-used lines. Board Chairman Tom Nolan, on the other hand, said he felt the across-the-board reductions were a fairer way of approaching the cuts.

Nolan, who previously told Streetsblog he supports extending parking meter enforcement hours if necessary, was conspicuously silent on the matter today.

Several directors also asked Ford whether residential parking permit fees could be a further source of revenue. Currently, MTA staff is proposing raising the fee by $20 to $96, which would allow the agency to fully recover the cost of administering the program. MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose explained that the state vehicle code prohibits local agencies from charging more than the price of cost recovery for residential parking permits. A plan to charge more than the cost recovery price is not likely to bring in revenue in time for this budget cycle, Bose added, but the MTA is working on state legislation to give the agency more flexibility in what they can charge for the permits.

The MTA Board will continue its deliberations at its February 16 meeting, when MTA staff will present a more detailed plan to close the budget gap.

Not surprisingly, the public comment period drew plenty of suggestions from riders for how to fill the budget gap. Henry Pan, a student at Galileo Academy high school, directed the Board to remember the city's Transit First policy. "Why target us, the common people," asked Pan. "Why not target the drivers?"

He added: "Make it ridiculous to drive in San Francisco. Charge the drivers. Just leave our public transportation alone."

Also at the MTA Board meeting today, Nolan was re-elected as Board Chairman, and Vice Chairman James McCray was re-elected Vice Chairman. The Board also voted to extend Ford's contract as Executive Director through January 16, 2014. At Ford's request, the Board also elected to reduce his salary by two percent, from a planned base salary of $315,140 to $308,837 this fiscal year. Ford remains the second highest paid city employee.

Bryan Goebel contributed reporting.

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