Transit troubles - Page 2

Fixing Muni is going about as smoothly as boarding a crowded bus with a bundle of groceries

Muni buses and trains have been particularly crowded since service reductions were implemented this spring

Yet his proposal is opposed by the city's transit operators union, TWU Local 250-A, whose members feel they've been unfairly blamed for the MTA's fiscal problems. Speaking at the June 29 rally, Ron Heintzman, the new international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, summed up the attitude of drivers who feel they are being asked to give up hard-fought gains in the face of an economic downturn.

"I've been told that here in San Francisco, the mayor for some reason clearly has his head up his ass," Heintzman said. "It's time to tell him to stop trying to balance the damn budget on the backs of the workers."

Speakers at the rally voiced support for federal legislation that would bolster municipal transit budgets nationwide with a $2 billion emergency infusion. A second federal bill would allow local governments greater flexibility with federal transit funding that currently can only be spent on capital projects, not day-to-day operations.

"We're asking them not to make us buy a bus when we can't hire a bus operator to drive it," explained Harry Lombardo, international president of the Transit Workers Union. "There's no point in spending hundreds of thousands on a bus and letting it sit in mothballs. And believe me, it's happening all over the country."

Sup. David Campos, a cosponsor of a competing ballot measure that aims for more comprehensive Muni reform, joined the rally and criticized the notion that drivers should be blamed a dysfunctional, underfunded transit system.

"Those of you who live in San Francisco know that right now there is a climate at City Hall that is pointing the finger at drivers, blaming drivers and blaming the workers for the problems that this system has," Campos said at the rally. "Muni is broken. But Muni is not broken because of labor. And we have to say no to that push to somehow create a division between riders and drivers.... We can't ignore the fact that we have a system that is getting money that is not being used well."

Campos has joined with Sups. Ross Mirkarimi, Eric Mar, and Board President David Chiu to propose a reform package that would remove the pay guarantee for Muni driver, but also create split appointments to the MTA Board of Directors, allocate a share of property tax revenue to the city's Transportation Fund, and establish an Office of the MTA Inspector General to help reduce waste and ramp up efficiency. The proposal would be subject to voter approval in November.

The proposal to give the supervisors some appointments to an MTA board that is now solely accountable to the Mayor's Office became an issue at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations between the supervisors and Newsom on June 30. The mayor strongly opposed that and two similar charter amendments that would establish split appointments for the Recreation and Park Commission and the San Francisco Rent Board, as well as a ballot measure that would require the police department to engage in foot beat patrols.

Many saw his stance as a quid pro quo that inappropriately tied mayoral support for the budget — which included funding restorations to community programs that progressive board members wanted to preserve — to these unrelated ballot proposals.

Dave Snyder, who directs the SF Transit Riders Union, viewed the move as an affront on Muni riders. "This particular mayor has managed to screw up Muni service through his complete control over the agency," Snyder said. "And whatever it takes, Muni riders want to see that fixed."

While he said he thought a split appointment for the MTA Board was important, "the most important thing is more money. That's the key issue," he added, noting the reform package would create more funding for Muni.