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.

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5 Responses to MUNI Maladies Roundup in Today’s Chronicle: Some Extended Thoughts

  1. transit troublemaker says:

    first, any dream that direct election of Muni’s board should look at AC Transit. elected yes,responsive to the riders guess again.
    second, indeed there has been a decades long dirty deal between Supes, Muni Mgmt,, and TWU to pretend that a given budget total will fund “full service” while all involved knmow ots a fraud. The overtime BS is a classic example. During any given year, as the attrition rate leaves Muni short drivers, OT soars then a hiring freeze is declared pretending that somehow straight time for the non hired will cover time and a half for the drivers who take the unfilled runs. Concurrently a spare parts freeze means an increasing line of broken buses so that even if all the drivers show==rare–there are not enough running buses to put out the advertised service. TWU whines loudly about unhired drivers, makes little effort to discourage absenteeism, and the snowball grows. Mewanwhile mid level mgmt finds some lame excuse to discontinue divulging daily operating stats to the public who pay them.
    Note none of this even touches bad route, schedule, rolling stock decisions which curse Muni with unreliable buses with expensive options which do little to get anyone where they are going in a timely manner.

  2. Greg says:

    you certainly seem to have all the answers! thanks for your comment!

  3. Muhathefrog says:

    Very well said!
    All this talk of more money for Muni makes me sick–is The Chronicle forgetting about the $700,000 T-Third opening party where guests of honor feasted on grilled salmon filet, courtesy of taxpayers? Or the T-third pens? Or the huge new signs at all the metro stations? It’s not that Muni doesn’t have enough money. It’s just that it doesn’t go where it’s supposed to, and thanks to our inability to change anything (remember, the N is only back to Caltrain because PENINSULA commmunters were complaining, not SF commuters), it will probably keep leaking into somebody else’s pockets.

  4. sf_fan says:

    Well said by the above by transit troublemaker.
    Muni is sad in how they handle business – sad, very sad. The big disconnect between management and supervisors and vice versa to employees. games with the budget “shortfall”, etc.

  5. T says:

    Hey hey hey, who wants to play the Muni lottery?
    Here’s the link to the article in todays Chronicle.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/15/BAG2JQG3CJ13.DTL
    That 44 is looking smart with their new hybrids.

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