MTA board ponders bad options

The MTA board which will start making decisions next month.
Adam Lesser

By Adam Lesser

If Friday’s San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency decision to cut Muni service by 10 percent was met with a backlash, it didn’t get much better this afternoon as MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose laid out further options for closing next fiscal year’s $56.4 million projected budget deficit.

One option that was very unpopular but potentially lucrative is the possibility of eliminating transfers. That’s right. Going from the Sunset to North Beach, and need to transfer from the N to the 8X? You’ll be paying twice if the MTA Board of directors goes with this option. It would generate $20.4 million to help close the budget gap.

Other proposed changes included a consolidation of transit stops in the system, charging for metered street parking on Sundays, extending meter hours into the evenings, a reduction in work orders requiring payments to other city departments, window wrapping advertising on MTA buses, and dedicated tax measures that would raise additional funding for Muni.

A further 5 percent service reduction was also not ruled out, though CEO Nathaniel Ford suggested that Bose remove it as part of the list of solutions to the budget crunch. For every 5 percent reduction in service, the MTA saves $7.2 million.

Ford tried to strike a conciliatory tone. “Last Friday was a very difficult day. People were understandably upset,” he said. “We must recognize we can only deliver the services we can afford. Going forward our choices are going to get that much more difficult.”

The criticism of the MTA Board was diverse. Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, questioned the future of the board. “I think there’s a very good chance the MTA in it current form won’t see its 11th anniversary because it isn’t doing what voters want it to do.” Radulovich said the MTA had failed to live up to its charter mandate by not seeking new funding for the agency.

Many pro-transit groups argued that the Board should extend meter hours and eliminate free parking on Sunday. They felt the best way to promote public transportation and deal with the budget is to increase costs on drivers in San Francisco.

“There is some easily implementable low hanging fruit,” said Marc Caswell, program manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “By increasing parking meters, you will help make transit affordable. You must extend meter hours.” Caswell suggested the board was receiving “political pressure” from the mayor’s office not to extend meter hours or eliminate free Sunday parking.

Two issues from Friday’s meeting were continued this afternoon. One was the proposal to exclude the 8X bus lines from the premium pass. Eric Williams from Transport Workers Union Local 250-A was vocal. “You’re putting these raises on the less fortunate. The 8X are coming from the Sunnydale neighborhood. They’re going to get on the local 9 and pack buses. These people are coming off housing projects to get to work.”

The second continued item surrounded the proposed elimination of free parking for employees who work at city garages, effectively charging them to park in the garage where they work. The irony of the proposal was not lost on Mission and Fifth Garage Supervisor Jorge Carrillo who showed up at the hearing to explain to the MTA board that one of his security guards will have to work 30 hours just to pay the monthly 300 dollar parking fee. “It’s outrageous. I live 50 miles away from the garage. That’s two to three hours to get home on public transportation.”

In line with projected budge deficits was a request to extend the current state of fiscal emergency through 2012. Declaring a fiscal emergency allows the MTA to avoid the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) requirements should it decide to cut service or increase fares over the next two years.

Bose concluded her presentation with a reminder that there will be a town hall meeting on the proposals next Wednesday, March 10th at 6:00pm at 1 South Van Ness on the second floor. The SFMTA Board meets again March 30th.