Muni Citizens’ Advisory Council: Marathon Budget Meeting Produces 21 Recommendations

Will Carruthers/Ingleside-Excelsior Light

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Citizens’ Advisory Council voted on 21 recommendations to advise the agency’s Board of Directors in advance of its April meeting on the $1 billion budget.

Over four hours the council members voted on a variety of measures with an eye toward balancing a projected $13.5 million dollar budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Candace Sue, director of communications and marketing, began the meeting with a presentation defining the hopes of the Muni staff. Interests included preserving improvements from the past years with the expectation that the city’s current strong economy will slow.

The motions were brought forth by the council’s Finance and Administrative Committee.

“Many of these were considered not good ideas but we wanted to discuss them as a full CAC. Some were forwarded for discussion,” council member Alex Reese said.

The Definition of Youth

The council passed a motion eight to three to recommend that the definition for youth fares be changed from 17 to 18. Currently, the fare is $1.00 for five to 17 year olds.

Muni staff supported the motion in order to align the agency’s definition of youth with other transit agencies and the free Muni for low-income youth program, which uses 18 as its upper boundary. Expanding the youth fare category would cost $2.2 million.

Reducing Cash-Paying Riders

The council considered a motion to cover the $13.5 million budget shortfall by increasing cash fares by $0.50 to incentivize the use of electronic payment.

Council Vice Chair Daniel Murphy supported the idea and mentioned that other cities including London no longer use cash fares.

A Muni staff member estimated that managing cash fares costs the agency about $9.5 million per year.

“Although it’s written as a discount [in the motion], I think it’s actually a surcharge. Clipper users would continue to pay $2.25 […] and cash users would pay $2.75 under the motion that’s before you now,” former council member David Pilpel said. “I think pulling a quarter or fifty cents out of the air is bad for transit riders. So I would strongly oppose this.”

The motion passed.

Vehicle Towing Fees

The council considered a motion against the SFMTA Board of Directors recent decision to lower the cost vehicle towing costs.

The decreased fee was seen as a loss of income for Muni by many council members.

“Do you want to pay $3.5 million on transit or giving a break to people whose cars have been towed for breaking the law?” Murphy said.

Daniel Weaver, the council’s chair, voiced concern that the high costs of towing penalizes low income drivers.

“People who get their cars towed often can’t get their cars back and the costs build up, so reforming the system seems really appropriate to me,” Weaver said.

The motion passed.

Increase Service By 2 Percent

The council considered a motion regarding an additional two percent increase in service hours on top of a ten percent increase that has occurred over the past 18 months.

The increase could be made up of increased frequency on some lines at night, peak times and new routes, according to Julie Kirshbaum.

Council members voiced concerns about needing to cut the additional hours in later years in the next economic downturn and whether increasing hours is the best way to improve service.

“Vehicle hours and service hours has only a tenuous relationship with the quality and level of service,” council member Steve Taber said. “If we’re looking at this as a metric to improve the system, it’s a very flawed metric.”

Daniel Murphy, the council’s vice chair, pointed out that there was “a strong [SFMTA] staff preference” for funding assorted projects like maintenance rather than another two percent service increase.

The motion failed eight to four.

Vision Zero

A motion for additional funding for Vision Zero, a safety program with goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths, came on the tail of an update at the March meeting.

“After last month’s presentation where Vision Zero told us that they’re now two and a quarter years into it and have not gone one step further to their goal, I think increasing their costs to try something more instead of researching what they’re doing is not a good idea,” Stephen Cornell said.

Despite the SFMTA’s support of the program, the motion failed seven to four.

Other Motions

  • T-Line Funding: The council voted to support allocating $1.25 million for “detailed planning and community outreach” for the proposed T-line subway extension through North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Discount Fare Adjustment: The council unanimously voted in favor of establishing “discount fares for youth and seniors at 50 percent of the adult fares” in order to help pay for the agency’s budget shortfall. Youth and senior fares are currently $1.00 compared with the $2.25 standard fare.
  • Vendor Commission Increase: The council passed a motion to “increase the commission paid to [Clipper card] vendors from $0.50 to $0.75” with unanimous support.
  • Express Line Fare Increase: A motion to create a premium fare for rides on express lines failed.
  • “A” Pass Adjustment: The council passed a motion to add $5 to the cost of the “A” Pass, which allows riders to use both BART and Muni. The motion was seen as an attempt to keep up with costs passed to Muni by BART.
  • Non-Profit Discount: The council unanimously passed a motion recommending that Muni provide a 50 percent fare discount to nonprofits that serve “needy populations” like homeless transit riders.
  • Line Elimination: Weaver moved to eliminate the 83x line back to a subcommittee for further consideration. The subcommittee will also consider other underutilized lines.
  • Sunday Parking: The council passed a motion to reinstate Sunday parking fees to “further support the city’s ‘Transit First’ policy.” Cornell voted against the motion citing “knee jerk opposition” from the small business community.
  • Assorted Transit Performance Budget Items: The council passed a recommendation for a group of assorted budget items including “collision reduction, compliance with storage tank regulatory requirements, establish an independent quality assurance unit; fully staff the Transit Management Center, provide maintenance engineering and technical support to the Transit Services Division; hire dedicated transit PCOs and hire additional staff to reduce overtime.”
  • Sustainable Streets: The council passed a motion to support funding for additional Sustainable Streets staff and supplies.
  • Restoring SFPark: The council passed a motion to “support and enhance existing parking related applications” and permanently relaunch Muni’s SFPark pilot program.
  • Additional Muni Hires: The council passed a motion to “provide funding to hire additional human resources analysts, safety specialists, storekeepers and outreach staff.”
  • Taxi Funding: A motion recommending that Muni should not hire additional taxi investigators failed.
  • Additional Security Personnel: The council passed a motion to support additional funding for security personnel.
  • Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board: The council passed a motion to increase Muni’s contribution to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board by an estimated $2 million over the next two years. The vote essentially approved a deal Muni’s staff reached with the other members of the board.

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