There is a lot that we might say about the fare hikes and service cuts that the SFMTA has proposed to close its $128.9 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. The 74X Culture Bus, which rarely carries more than a couple riders and largely duplicates the 5-Fulton, ought to be cut. But seeing as the core section of the Geary route is already inundated with riders, the Ocean Beach branch of the 38-Geary should not be cut, particularly when we ought to take measures to grow ridership on this workhorse Muni corridor. Many agencies do charge for transfers, so adding a 50-cent charge for a transfer might not seem like scraping the bottom of the barrel — but that, too, would be an unjust move, considering that the entire system layout, attuned as it is to the street grid, is predicated on the availability of a free transfer. The SFMTA could redesign many routes to take on an angular shape that eliminates the transfer (and in the process, potentially further damage headway consistency on some corridors); but charging for a transfer is inconsistent with the existing route alignments. The proposed changes consist largely of service cuts that are informed by data from the Transit Effectiveness Project, but without implementing the increased service to core routes that the TEP also envisioned. There is much more that we could say about those cuts; those thoughts are indeed being voiced, and we would certainly encourage you to do so as well directly to the SFMTA, if you can — either by attending today’s hearing at City Hall (Room 400 at 2:00 pm), or by contacting the MTA through other means. At today’s hearing, the MTA will also consider declaring a fiscal emergency to exempt its proposed changes from CEQA review.
But the things that are sometimes left unsaid are perhaps the greatest cause for concern — and the way that events play out during budget crises, like the one in which we are currently submerged, make it clear that the transit conversation in San Francisco lacks an important perspective. About 30,000 people in San Francisco use the bicycle as their primary transportation mode; why is it, then that the 10,000-strong Bicycle Coalition has emerged as a force for change, while Muni’s nearly 700,000 daily riders are left almost voiceless, without effective representation and advocacy on their behalf? Why does there not exist a similarly powerful local group, which could form an alliance with other advocacy groups throughout the Bay Area, to speak out about issues that particular affect transit riders? For instance: speaking out against service cuts, and lobbying Sacramento to restore the missing State Transit Assistance funds, the operating money whose revocation lies at the core of Muni’s current deficit. We can only look from a distance to New York City, or even south to Los Angeles, for examples of enthusiastic and determined transit advocacy that is decidedly lacking in this allegedly transit-first city. Ideally, we would like to see a group like Rescue Muni reemerge as a voice that both mobilizes and speaks clearly and loudly on behalf of transit riders: but equipped with an undisputed seat the bargaining table, and strong political bite.