MTA board approves controversial budget

Muni buses will be less frequent and more crowded under the new budget.
Charles Russo

By Adam Lesser

City Hall needed an overflow room to accommodate all the disenchanted Muni riders who showed up to protest the two-year San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency budget plan yesterday (4/20). The budget locks in a 10 percent service cut through July 1st, 2011, at which point the MTA board is hopeful that the service cut will be lowered to 5 percent. The controversial budget was adopted on a 4-3 vote, and now goes to the Board of Supervisors, where progressive supervisors have already signaled opposition to the service cuts.

“It still seems and feels as I look at it [the budget], that it’s very tenuously put together. In light of the fact that it’s going to impact the least, the lonely, and the lost of us, I had to say, let’s keep looking at it,” said Director James McCray, who was one of three dissenting votes.

McCray, along with Director Malcolm Heincke who voted for the budget, were the two directors to openly express concern about the pay of transit operators and overtime charges. In a $750 million budget, service cuts wound up providing $29 million in savings, a relatively small number compared to the $456 million that will be spent on salaries and benefits, as well as the $59 million in work orders to other agencies like the police department and the city attorney.

Small revenue measures like adding 1,000 metered spaces, eliminating free reserved parking around areas like City Hall, and window advertising wrap on buses are part of the budget.

Heincke questioned MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford about the budget which includes $10 million in labor concessions from MTA employees while locking in a $9 million raise in 2011 and a $9.5 million raise in 2012 for transit operators from Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 250-A. Transit operators’ wages and raises are written into the city charter. 

“The bubble over my head says wow,” said Heincke. Ford’s attempts to negotiate with the union over work rules have been unsuccessful. Sup. Sean Elsbernd is pushing a charter amendment for the November ballot that would remove the TWU’s pay rates from the city charter.

Anger over Muni’s payment of work orders to other city agencies was a constant theme among community groups as diverse as the Chinese Progressive Association and the San Francisco Transit Riders Union. Those work orders have increased from $36 million in 2006 to $66 million in 2010.

“What really happened is the rest of the city had a budget crisis and the mayor went after Muni looking for funds,” said Dave Snyder, coordinator for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union. Newsom appoints the directors who sit on the MTA Board. “Muni is paying for service the public doesn’t want them to pay for at the expense of transit service.”

Members of the Latino and Chinese-American community were out in large numbers, not just to protest service cuts that they felt disproportionately impact the Mission and Chinatown, but to complain about harassment by the police. Enforcement of the Proof of Payment program has increased with Muni agents and police checking the amount of time left on riders’ transfer tickets, and issuing fines.

“You have police asking for ID and issuing $75 fines. There have been a few cases of deportation,” Beatriz Herrera, an organizer for People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). Referring to riders whose transfers expire while riding a bus, Emily Lee of the Chinese Progressive Association said, “They expect folks to get off the bus. That’s an unreasonable expectation. It’s stressful for the community. The police are intimidating.”

The service changes are slated to take effect May 8th.