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Commentary: Why This Working Family is Supporting Muni Reform


Editor's note: On Friday, we presented an op-ed opposing Prop G. Today, Gillian Gillett, a transit advocate who is the chair of SPUR's Transportation Committee, explains why she's voting for Prop G.

Living in San Francisco provides families with many unique opportunities for learning, entertainment, and other benefits of a diverse, urban environment. However, families also face some unique challenges, as San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any American city, and parents like me with children in San Francisco's public school system face additional challenges day to day. That's why a well run Muni is absolutely critical for both working families, and for San Francisco as a whole - without it, San Francisco doesn't function. That's why my working family is supporting Muni reform.

Let's look at some of the challenges kids in public school face right now.

The San Francisco Unified School District is considering cutting 57 percent of its transportation budget. That means 900 more kids won't have a way to get to school, and at least 950 won't be able to attend after school programs, which we know are vital for working families. 
This is especially troubling considering the fact that in many neighborhoods, kids outnumber [pdf] the available desks at school facilities. For example, in my neighborhood, the Mission, there are 2000 elementary school students, but only 1100 spaces in the elementary schools, and 40 percent of households do not own a car. 
Thus, when people suggest that parents of public school kids don't send their kids to local schools because they "don't like them," they do not understand how the public school system sometimes works. This is also why a functioning Muni is absolutely critical for these families to succeed at work and at school.

In a time of economic crisis, we have to spend every dollar as effectively as possible to get the most benefit, and Muni is no exception. For the last several years, Muni has been making significant cuts to service. Even with the minor restoration of service, many families, particularly those who depend on Muni, are having a harder time juggling school, after school activities and work, when they have to wait longer and longer for a bus that may never arrive, or find themselves stranded when a connecting bus is late, or cannot get on a bus because it is overcrowded. If the current Muni trend of cutting service and charging more for it continues, people will choose cars over a slow, expensive transit system or decide to move out of San Francisco. I'd love to think everyone would switch to bicycles, but that's not an option everyone can enjoy.

That's why my family is firmly behind Proposition G, the "Fix Muni Now" charter amendment. As SPUR's Transportation Committee chair, I'm well aware of how complex the MTA and Muni are, and that this is only one of many things we need to fix to make Muni run properly. It is, however, a critical step towards improving the Muni system. 
At a time when we are cutting service, we can no longer afford to be paying out uncontrolled overtime and various types of premium pay. We can no longer afford work rules that drive up the cost of running Muni and make it less efficient - we need to modernize them so that we can get the most for our money and put the savings back into running Muni as efficiently as we can. 
I'm more than happy to advocate that our Muni operators are paid professionally and get benefits that ensure their safety - I just want to see Muni spend its dollars wisely and not waste it on anything, including excessive overtime.  I want Muni to be as flexible as possible in providing service, fleet usage, staffing needs, schedules and operations; and with the current language in the charter and the MOU this flexibility is not possible.

That's not "class warfare" - that's common sense that helps us all.  Let’s not lose sight of who really depends on Muni - SF's working families. Let's not forget about them when we vote next week. Vote Yes on Proposition G to reform Muni now.

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