MUNI Maladies Roundup in Today's Chronicle: Some Extended Thoughts
If you haven't already read it, check out the Chronicle's front page story by reporter Rachel Gordon about MUNI's current state of affairs. It's definitely worth reading, if only because it's the first time in a while we've seen a paper try to take in the totality of all of MUNI's ills, all at once - no easy task.
However, I would suggest a few more things to think about as one tries to consider how they as a citizen of Our Fair City might weigh in on the Great MUNI Debate. The first is the issue of "money" - a common refrain amongst the politicians, the bureaucrats, and advocates is that MUNI has "no money" and that there's "no money" to pay for a MUNI that works (and yet they "have money" for all sorts of nonsense elsewhere.)
Missing in this analysis? No one has ever honestly come up with a budget that shows exactly how much it costs to actually provide a MUNI system that works. Years of half-baked "cuts" to "balance budgets fairly" and the like have produced a mentality that so long as the system is "balanced" and that all decisions are "balanced" one can continue to run a proper system.
That's foolish thinking. Things cost what they cost, no more, no less. Such thinking appears "balanced" when in fact it can be quite short sighted. Remember the pilot project to make the 1-California Line run more efficiently that was tested earlier this year? There was shock and awe at the fact that such a plan cost an "extra" $168,000. No, it was not an "extra" $168,000 to make the system run properly - if that is what it actually costs to make the 1-California run properly, then that is what it costs.
Cutting the amount spent means you don't have those tools to do the job right. It's like finding out building materials for a house cost X amount of dollars, then not having X amount of dollars, and wondering why it is the ceilings are full of holes. MUNI's Geniuses, in concert with the politicians, have done a great job playing musical chairs with "money" - but they have not done a very good job looking ahead to see what happens when you cut things like training, inspectors, etc.
Likewise, there's an issue of where all this "more money" is going to go if MUNI gets "more money." Now, if the money goes to making a comprehensive system that works, yay. But if it's going to go bigger salaries for workers who don't bother to show up to work, or who balk at acting like the professionals they are paid to be, then I would suggest that perhaps "more money" isn't always the solution - perhaps a workforce that wants to act like professionals instead of layabouts might be part of it as well.
I certainly don't see why I need to pay higher taxes to ensure that bus drivers can enforce workplace rules that pretty much ensure missed runs and a lack of trained N Judah drivers. That said, I'm happy to pay good people a professional wage to do good work - like many MUNI operators and staff strive for every day.
Here's another thing no one likes to talk about - the fact that You The Citizen have been determined too dumb to have any say in how MUNI is run. Right now you are asked to vote on just about everything in this town - who runs the schools, who runs the City, who runs the DA's office and even the Public Defender, and even judges in our courts. (Remember the time you were asked to vote on whether an SFPD officer should be allowed to take a wooden dummy on patrol? Sure you do.)
Yet, somehow, someone determined that you're too dumb to have any direct say as to whom or how MUNI is run - instead a pack of appointees by the Mayor run the system with no direct accountability to the citizenry. Does not anyone else find this strange? We can pick judges for our courts, but are not allowed even a little direct say with the people who make the Big Decisions about MUNI. So much for Our Fair City's sense of fairness.
Finally, there's the source of where all this "money" comes from. It makes absolutely no sense to tie MUNI's revenues to things like "sales taxes" or "parking tickets." Those kinds of revenue sources are inherently unstable, and when times are good, pay great.
Too bad the electeds used that money for fun things, instead of MUNI, as they did in the go-go 90s. When times are bad, the system suffers. (It also does not help that Gov. Schwarzenegger is stealing money from MUNI to pay for school buses either).
Instead, it's time to find more stable ways to pay for MUNI from more places, and the whole "soak downtown to pay for everything" option simply isn't viable - you can soak downtown all you like, but that will never provide all the "money" MUNI needs to pay the bills.
There's other things to consider, but to me, these are the ones that get lost in the crossfire between the elected officials, the "advocates" and the Geniuses In Charge. All the TEP's and all the stats in the world are nice, but without some common sense perspective from the 700,000+ of us who actually use the system every day, we can't expect anything but more of the same from our MUNI.