The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is facing a budget deficit of some $53 million over the next two fiscal years. Unfortunately for us, there are no obvious places for the agency to cut costs or generate new revenue – yes, they’ve tried everything, and the only option left is to cut transit service that is already at a historically thin level after a 10 percent cut just two years ago…
Wait, what? The SFMTA has known this deficit was coming for years, and instead of exploring options to cut costs or generate new revenue, the stewards of our Municipal Railway have actually been toying with the idea of defunding the system even further by allowing kids to ride for free. Some of the options they’ve been ignoring include (list non-inclusive):
- Expanding parking meter enforcement to evenings, dubious holidays, and Sundays;
- Making motorists mitigate more of their negative impact on the city by putting meters in more neighborhoods, congestion tolls, and steeper fines;
- Make service more efficient for riders and more cost-effective for the agency by reducing stops and idling time;
- Renegotiate unfair work orders; and,
- Make agency employees pay for their own transit passes.
Now, under this board’s watch, we are potentially facing what new SFMTA chief Ed Reskin calls an “honest option” – making even deeper cuts to Muni service. Board chariman Tom Nolan went on to call this “right-sizing” of Muni service a “laudable and important goal.”
The company line, of course, is that all options are back on the table, but expect angry rhetoric from free-parking freeloaders at upcoming budget town hall meetings in opposition to anything that would constitute a minor inconvenience to motorists. The SFMTA will likely respond by indefinitely tabling these proposals and will instead address the deficit the easier way – by attacking Muni service. They know that any backlash from that action will be less than the backlash regarding, say, meter expansion, in part because of the challenges to organizing Muni’s diverse ridership. After all, riding transit isn’t a lifestyle for most folks in the way that driving is (readers of this blog excluded) – it is simply a way to get to work. Most of our fellow riders aren’t passionate about transit issues, they simply want their bus or streetcar to come on time and not be too crowded.
We need to communicate to our fellow riders, to the SFMTA board and to Reskin that cutting service is not an “honest option” for this transit-first socially conscious city – passing the pain off to those who depend on Muni will not be tolerated any more. We must stand up for the silent majority of city residents who rely on Muni everyday. We need to speak up at the town hall meetings, rant at board hearings, and even occupy One South Van Ness if necessary to get our point across that Muni service will not be the MTA’s ATM any longer.
This year brings the 100th anniversary of the Municipal Railway’s founding – San Franciscans of that era had the foresight to found a system that would belong to the public and be used for the good of the public. Now, our generation is tasked with defending “The People’s Railway” for posterity. Our task is not dissimilar to that of the “freeway revolters” who protected our neighborhoods and parks from a state highway-building assault – if this city is to continue being a city of the 99 percent, then we must prioritize mobility for all above the needs of transient motorists just passing through.