Mayor Lee Abandons Vehicle License Fee Ballot Measure

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.

As we wrote last week, Mayor Lee’s political support for restoring the VLF is crucial if it’s to succeed on the ballot. Yet even after Lee pushed through the repeal of Sunday parking meters, claiming it would help sway motorists to support the ballot measures, he abandoned the only measure that specifically asks drivers to pay more. The VLF increase would only ask car owners to pay the same rate they paid for over 50 years, and represents a meager step towards recouping the costs they disproportionately incur to the street network.

A poll released a month ago showed that 44 percent of respondents supported the VLF increase. Mayor Lee says that means it’s “not the time” to leverage his influence to put the measure over the top.

We know that it is far past time for SF to create a redundant network of safe, quality transportation options: a navigable network of comfortable and protected bike lanes, a web of efficient bus routes adapted to the city’s changing trip patterns, and hazard-free streets and sidewalks. Such a reliable transportation system needs to be backed by a funding source as reliable as the VLF. And behind that, SF needs reliable leadership from the mayor to champion smart proposals from his own task force. Unfortunately, SF can’t rely on Mayor Lee.

  • njudah

    Ed Lee really looks down on people who ride muni. He says that the problem is that riders have an “attitude problem.” Anyway, what does he care he gets a free stupid car to tool around in, and his tech buddies don’t use Muni either, so we can all eat it while he laughs to a safe re-elect.

  • Wow, I totally didn’t not see that one coming!

  • helloandyhihi

    We need a ballot measure to force mayors to ride Muni, including taking away that fancy black SUV. I’m certain there’d be public support for that.

  • timsmith

    Further proof that scuttling Sunday meters was more about bolstering the mayor’s “Affordability Lee” image ahead of his own re-election than it was about Muni.

  • So it’s time to replace Mayor Lee..who is the greenest candidate to support with our money and volunteer time?

  • And I think his car is a stupid hybrid or plug in at the very most, not a real EV. Why doesn’t city hall lend electric bicycles to staff?

  • He just helped me cut my face shaving and ruined my afternoon. Let’s get rid of this poor mayor!

  • mike_napolis_beard

    This is the worst.

  • Michael Smith

    It seems to simply be a matter of priorities. While the Muni sickout is causing havoc today the usually almost empty “Twitter bus” appears to be running fine. See .

  • YES! But can we also include the entire board of supervisors in the mandate to ride Muni to work?

  • Sanfordia113

    Mayor Lee is a flaccid weenie and Muni workers are overpaid spoiled children. Cutting city workers’ pay by 15% across the board would still yield an above average income for the value provided by these workers. It would not only balance the budget, but work to reduce housing displacement of the real working by these artificially high income City employee households.

  • Who should we all support for mayor now, who is greener and actually cares about transportation choices? Any other ideas for raising a billion for transit?

  • murphstahoe

    Oh but they have to go to meetings all over the city! Simple enough to allocate a car share fleet. Their commute to Civic Center being straightforward it can be done on a typical day.

  • murphstahoe

    What idiot MUNI driver assigned to the Twitter bus would use up a sick day for a sick out? Easy work, and besides, since nobody is riding it, nobody would miss it if it wasn’t running.

    If you want a sick out to work you gotta bring the N to it’s knees.

  • murphstahoe

    Actually cares, won’t back down, and carries some weight in City Hall.

  • Jame

    Ed Lee apparently thinks money grows on trees. Parking meters, license fees…how on earth does he plan to pay for try transportaion infrastructure needs? Is he secretly campaigning for a city owned dispensary?

  • vcs

    Voters have heard this BS before about “fixing Muni”, only to see the union to get a big pay-raise while service is being cut. Lee is a smart man to run like hell away from the sickout transit union..

    I think voters will support a VLF increase, if there are actual deliverables attached to the measure. When it sounds like an unaccountable slush fund, it is deservedly doomed.

  • Easy

    I surprisingly saw a full Twitter bus last week going in the reverse direction. Apparently people also use it as a way to get from Civic Center (maybe from other lines or BART?) to Caltrain in the morning.

  • Kevin J

    What happened to free parking winning over voters for the Muni measures? Did Ed Lee ever even plan to fund Muni or was this the plan from the start?

    Watch him spend all the money saved during the Muni strike on free parking to stick it to drivers and riders even more.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Thanks again to the SFMTA board for rolling over on Sunday meters at the advice of the “best political minds” in order for the VLF and GO bond to win in November. Great leadership all around.

    At least I’ll be able to afford to live in SF once Sunday meters become free, or at least until the proposed soda tax forces me to leave if it passes.

  • It’s a great deal if you live in your car.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    What’s the difference between a sick-out and typical N service?

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    I’m voting no on the Bond Measure when it comes up in November. If we’re not getting $1 billion from a VLF increase, why even bother to borrow $500 million from the future? If we defeat the bond measure they’ll have to go back to the well with some real funding, including a VLF increase that should have been on the ballot in the first place

  • coolbabybookworm

    I don’t know if they have to, they could also continue to let MUNI deteriorate like they’ve been doing for so many decades…

  • Dr_Ace

    Isn’t this what a comprehensive transportation network is supposed to provide? The ability to go to meetings all over the city?

  • Jamison Wieser

    One operator who did show up to work yesterday pitched in by running the second car empty.

  • andrelot

    Instead of cutting wages across the board (always a stupid management decision), I’d focus on reducing the number of employees, keeping wages unaltered. That way, you pick up the less productive employees, or those who are not needed under streamlined operation procedures, out of the payroll altogether.

  • andrelot

    You can’t mandate that people ride a specific mode of transportation.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Like @morganfitzgibbons:disqus I’m voting no on any Muni funding measure, because of what we saw with Prop A in 2009.

    Then we strengthened the Transit First policy, directed more funding towards Muni, did a lot of streamlining, made improving the bike network a high priority, and changed some of the work rules. Then most the funding went to fill the SFPD and other agency budgets (other agencies can bill SFMTA for services, but not the other way around) and since it worked well for them last time…

    Just a few month ago though, we saw the SFMTA budget millions towards subsidized Sunday parking while the one-way fare went up in anticipation of these measures passing. I don’t think there is any clearer indication that the mayor would use these measures to ransack Muni funding to give out freebies for car owners, than using just the suggestion of these measures to ransack Muni funding to give out freebies for car owners.

  • murphstahoe

    sure you can. Eliminate all public transit and build roads with no shoulders, high speed limits, and no sidewalks. Utopia.

  • murphstahoe

    fine. More cyclists.

  • Sanfordia113

    You are right. Skme SFGov employees should have their salaries cut by 50%, while others merely a 15% reduction would bring their income into line with market rates.

  • Greg

    Unfortunately, a lot of bikers in SF feel the same way. They put biking over MUNI. That is not a great long term approach for SF. Not everyone can bike. Even you someday might have to take a bus instead of biking.

  • murphstahoe

    To recap.

    The VLF increase, that applies to *motor vehicles* is apparently being given no support from the Mayor because the *drivers* of *motor vehicles* decide that they do not want to pay more money into MUNI. Similarly, the removal of revenue from Sunday meters is a defunding of MUNI from *drivers*.

    I flippantly say – in response to the astute remark that this probably means that MUNI will go into the toilet – “fine. More cyclists” and your response is that *bikers* in SF feel the same way?

    It isn’t the *cyclists* who are defunding MUNI. However, if the *drivers* want to defund MUNI, I might lose a little sleep over it but I’m not going to have a massive fit.

  • coolbabybookworm

    any increase in funding we’d get for better bike infra, meager as it would still be, would come from a combination of the VLF and the GO bond. I don’t think the status quo continuing automatically equals more cyclists, but maybe.

  • murphstahoe

    The operating theory is that MUNI takes 700,000 passengers a day, and over half the city does not have access to a car. Drive MUNI into the ground and people will seek out alternatives. Cars are expensive (even if the so called sin-taxes were zeroed out, the purchase of a car and gas and insurance are prohibitive for many in the city right now), bikes are cheap.

  • Walk SF is encouraging members to write to Sup. Kim and her aide Sunny about putting this on the ballot, which I’ve just done! Here’s the info if others want to chime in:

    To: Jane Kim
    Copy: Sunny Angulo

    Dear Supervisor:

    Thank you for all your work making our streets safer for all users. San Francisco deserves a transportation system worthy of San Franciscans. We need a city with well-paved roads, efficient Muni and safe streets for people walking and biking.

    To achieve this, last fall the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force appropriately recommended returning the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) to its historic levels. Without the VLF revenue, our city loses a needed, long term and stable source of transportation funding, increasing the stress on our city’s already stretched transportation network and forcing the San Franciscans to rely on unmaintained, unreliable, and often unsafe infrastructure.

    Having the VLF on this November’s ballot makes sense. Voters understand that our streets and intersections need investment to achieve our Vision Zero–in fact 2/3 of the City’s high injury intersections would be fixed in 5 years if the VLF is passed. Voters understand that without additional revenue earmarked for transportation, Muni will not be able to meet its service obligations.

    We urge you to continue your Vision Zero leadership, help get the VLF on the ballot this upcoming November and give voters the chance to vote on a well-funded San Francisco transportation network.


  • coolbabybookworm

    I get that, but yesterday Market saw fewer bikes than a normal weekday or Monday (the previous week was memorial day):

    I can’t find the SFMTA survey now, but last time I checked the number of cars was increasing, although I guess our population is as well. I’d be interested to see those numbers.

    My operating theory is that we won’t see significant ridership increase without significant infrastructure improvements.

  • timsmith

    Naive to think that people will switch to bicycling when Muni fails. A few will, but far more will drive or eventually leave the city altogether because it’s such a hassle to get around. Bicycling and good transit are complementary, not competitive, in creating a more livable city.

  • murphstahoe

    I understand your last sentence, but it’s naive to think that substantial numbers of people who currently take MUNI downtown will switch to driving. Driving and parking downtown 4 days is the cost equivalent to a monthly MUNI pass, and if we added 50,000 drivers to the downtown core on a daily basis, parking costs would skyrocket, along with traffic.

    If MUNI melts down, the entire city melts down. The city melts down, the Bay Area melts down – there is no housing or job capability to replace what’s in the central core. It won’t matter if you are capable of switching to cycling if your co-workers (or customers!) cannot make it downtown.

    The real benefit of a meltdown is that the peasants will storm the gate and run out the Ed Lee’s of the world, but it’s not worth the price. Lee has to step up.

  • SFnative74

    True but most people didn’t know what was going on Monday morning until it was too late. It will be interesting to see the numbers for today/Tues and tomorrow.

  • Titus Americanus

    Muni is super top heavy and that is the best place to start the savings.


Mayor-Funded BeyondChron Attacks Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

BeyondChron editor Randy Shaw, who gets funding from the Mayor Ed Lee’s office for projects like the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, penned a predictable defense of Lee’s recent attack on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s transit funding ballot measure today. Shaw backed Lee’s decision to drop support for the vehicle license fee increase, and argued that Muni’s share of the […]