Budget, Muni / SFMTA, Transit Funding

Where is the Transit Voice?

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.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Where is the Transit Voice?

  1. Word! I’ve been puzzling over this since the doomsday news came down.

    Rescue Muni would have a long way to go to become a voice of the average Muni rider. I, for one, often find myself disagreeing with them, and I’ve been car-free for life.

    Posted by Josh | 7 April 2009, 1:08 pm
  2. Could the group Livable City take on this role? After all, their motto is “less car, more life.”

    Posted by heather | 7 April 2009, 7:59 pm
  3. Livable City is an excellent organization (one of my favorites), and it certainly takes the right approach on many key issues, under Radulovich’s leadership. I think, though, that consistency of message is only one part of the story. What’s needed is a group that’s wholly dedicated to preserving and expanding service for riders, and a group that executes the multiple levels of advocacy needed to pull that off. It’s at least as much about time, resources, and political strings as it is about the message. I don’t know whether such a group should be drawn from existing organizations, or if it should be a new group altogether. But it strikes me as a notable lack.

    Posted by Eric | 7 April 2009, 8:10 pm
  4. First as a Rescue Muni member for over a decade,NO I don’t always agree w/ other members. That said, the proposals are a DISASTER. Charging for transfers really means a much steeper fare increase becausae Muni, like most transit agencies, often requires two buses/trolleys to get many places. Apart from redlining neighborhoods, charging for transfers completely torpedoes POP. So who is going to reimburse riders for the rear door TL readers which will then be even more useless than now?

    Posted by david vartanoff | 8 April 2009, 1:20 pm
  5. David: As I wrote in this subsequent post, the MTA directors are also opposed to charging for transfers, which is encouraging.

    Posted by Eric | 8 April 2009, 1:30 pm
  6. Muni hates you.

    Why would anybody waste their time going to bat for an organization whose top priority is the Central Subway and whose public face is the welfare program/political enforcement brigade of TWU Local 250-A?

    Anybody who has lived in San Francisco for more than a year and anybody who cares about the urban environment learns that there is simply no way to improve the organization: if is perfectly designed to perpetuate itself.

    Muni hates you. Why should you try to love it or even lift a finger for it?

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 8 April 2009, 9:08 pm
  7. @richard

    I don’t think the point of a Muni organized grassroot organization would be to go to bat for Muni and associated unions, but rather to put a voice to the riders and work for the types of changes that are needed to improve Muni for the riders.

    Posted by lyqwyd | 9 April 2009, 6:04 pm
  8. I agree that transit advocacy is almost non-existent in SF, and that’s almost as true in the rest of the Bay Area. I found it striking that every single person speaking against the MTC’s allocations of funds to the Oakland Airport Connector instead of agency operations urged the MTC to give the money to AC Transit – ie, they were all from the East Bay. Chris Daly voted to keep the money for the OAC and not give any to MUNI – where are his constituents on this? Newsom’s representative, who I believe was from MUNI, also voted not give money to her agency. The only person to vote against the OAC’s allocation was the representative from East Bay cities, Tom Bates.

    Posted by dto510 | 10 April 2009, 12:08 pm

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