O Hai! Chatter, Chatter, and More Chatter About Fares, Fines, and Fun on MUNI!

The long, slow march towards some increases in MUNI Fast Passes and parking fines continues, unabated, as we approach tomorrow’s SFMTA meeting to discuss said changes.
The Mayor’s been playfully hinting at said increases, and earlier talk that said Fast Pass increases would happen only as a “last resort” seems to have been just that – talk – since after just 10 days, the MTA folks seemed to have reversed course.
The proposed parking ticket increases seem to be creating the most discussion on local blogs around town. But as always, in these “discussions” some points tend to get missed because we narrow the topic to the point where we exclude a few basic points.
One thing we’ve done pretty good here in Our Fair City is give MUNI lots of unstable sources of revenue. When times are good, there’s “money” and when the inevitable recession hits, suddenly there’s “no money.” I’m sure to someone looking at a balance sheet, jacking up parking ticket prices is an easy way to show “hey look ma! more money!” but don’t seem to realize that relying on parking ticket money to cover the costs of running the MTA/MUNI is inherently unstable.
Put it another way: If you raise the parking ticket fines into the going-medieval-on-your-wallet zone, people are more likely to either a) not drive their cars, or b) make sure the darn meter is fed. Ironically, if more people pump money into the meters, the number of tickets starts to go down because, um, well, people are doing what they’re supposed to when they park at a meter.
More importantly, it seems more than a bit strange that we’d take parking tickets, which were once used primarily to cite people for unsafe parking or for meter violations, and turn them into a “revenue source” backed by the criminal justice system.
It also leads one to cynically wonder if the city has so much to gain from issuing lots of tickets if perhaps those meters aren’t broken on purpose, just so they can jam another ticket under your windshield. (Given that they’ve been proven to do a poor job simply collecting the parking meter money in the first place, one wonders if they’ll just give up and make everyone pay $60 to park, period!)
All of this comes as we just read the other day about all the City employees who make huge salaries (and will get huge pensions for life too!). The Mayor blew out the budget last year with big pay raises and big increases in the city payroll, but we haven’t seen a correlating drop in crime or improvement in city services one might expect.
San Franciscans need to start making smart choices. We can continue to bloat the city payroll, year after year, by “moderates” and “progressives” alike, but we have to be aware that continuing to do so, without some sort of accountability or performance that merits such a bloated payroll has consequences.
The next time you see your car being booted for a handful of EXPENSIVE tickets, think about this: not only are you paying for the people to tow your car away, you’re also going to be paying their salary, pension and health care for the rest of their life, too!
UPDATE: I just remembered something. Back in the 1990s, when the State of California was coming up with all sorts of goofball ways to “balance budgets,” Gov. Wilson and his allies in the Legislature actually passed a law that mandated local governments had to pay a few bucks to the State of California for every parking ticket they wrote. Locals had the option of just coughing up the cash, or tacking on the surcharge to existing fines.
If that’s not racketeering or extortion, I don’t know what is!

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7 Responses to O Hai! Chatter, Chatter, and More Chatter About Fares, Fines, and Fun on MUNI!

  1. Joseph says:

    Are $50 street sweeping tickets *really* the best way for the city to rake in $30,000,000 annually? Isn’t leaving your car parked *at home* during the week a good thing?
    If I were cynical I would think it’s all part of a grand plan to feed the budget by: 1) providing mass transit that’s neither a lot of fun nor efficient, 2) semi criminalizing parking, and 3) waiting for the money to roll in. But … who’s that cynical?

  2. Greg Dewar says:

    @Joseph: I hear ya. I have never been a fan of parking tickets as “revenue” (instead of what they’re supposed to be for).
    Now, here’s a fun piece of legal trivia for y’all: In Seattle, a student entering a science fair did a study of parking meters and found that the vast majority of meters sampled were CHEATING people (i.e. they’d pay for an hour and get 45 minutes). Later on, someone sued the city over a parking ticket based on said info, arguing that the city was illegally ticketing people.
    In a stunning move, the judge ruled in the city’s favor, saying that the city was not “selling” parking spaces, that in fact it was simply issuing tickets for expired meters, and as such had no obligation to ensure the meters were running – but instead issue tickets for “expired meters.”
    It’s this kind of junkie “what’s yours is mine and damn the rules” logic that makes people really dislike local government.

  3. Jamison says:

    Greg,
    You pointed out that if raising fines successfully leads to drivers either driving less or paying, then revenue from parking tickets will go down. That’s only bad when you consider parking tickets only as a revenue source.
    There’s a congestion management issue to this which cuts costs. If fewer people drive, then there’s less traffic slowing down Muni busses and streetcars. Greater turnover of parking spaces makes it easier to find a parking space and again cuts congestion (and pollution) caused by drivers circling around (very slowly much of the time) looking for a space. That’s better for drivers who are parking legally and for Muni riders.
    If parking ticket revenues go down, it should be a sign that congestion is improving and the effect on Muni is not small. If you haven’t seen the TEP presentation yet, there’s a good explanation in there. If a line has a running time of 30 minutes end to end, but is slowed by congestion and traffic by just 5 minutes then running the same level of service as when it ran 30 minutes requires 7 busses and drivers instead of 6 and increases cost by 17%.

  4. haighterade says:

    This is one of those situations where Muni wins either way: if people respond to the stimulus and drive downtown less often, congestion drops and Muni service improves. If people keep driving, then revenue will increase.
    I had written an entire post about the virtues of private automobile attrition, but on preview: what Jamison said.

  5. Greg Dewar says:

    @jamison: I hear ya, and see your point, which makes sense – my only concern is that typically in these sorts of situations, the bean counters simply look at a line item, exclude policy issues such as the ones you talk about (i.e. if less unecessary cars are on the road, MUNI and the cars that are left run faster), and just focus on a short term “balanced budget” that falls apart in the future.
    I’ve often said that if you make MUNI more efficient and get the lazy people (you know , the kind that drive 4 blocks and circle for parking to buy a pack of cigs or something equally silly) the people who really do need a car or truck (i.e. a plumber, construction worker, delivery person) can get around much easier, and the rest of us won’t have to have the N slog through traffic.

  6. Greg Dewar says:

    @haighterade (awesome handle, btw): True. I used to be a car owner/user in SF for several years, mostly because at the time I was commuting to a job where there was no really viable way for me to take transit (BART hadn’t been extended to South City at the time) and racked up many a ticket. At the same time, I was amazed at how little I paid for actual parking – unless I was downtown, I NEVER paid market rate for street parking in the Inner Sunset (if at all), and eventually moved into a place with its own garage, making it even easier to park at home.
    However upon my return, sans car, and taking on jobs that were accessible by BART and MUNI, I didnt want to go through the expense (insurance, gas, oil, maintenance, tickets) of having a car again – and used the saved money for other things.

  7. Jamison says:

    @greg Maybe we can see it as a promising sign that it was SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose (the “head bean counter” I guess ) who linked parking tickets with reducing the cost of operating Muni when she presented the budget to the Citizens Advisory Committee.
    There was a lot in the budget we weren’t happy with, but I was glad to see parking and traffic linked so closely with Muni operations. I think it’s worth pointing out that while Matier and Ross suggest shoppers are going to Wallnut Creek because of the price of parking tickets, there’s always plenty of parking in the 5th and Mission Garage, right there next to the new mall waiting for any driver who is willing to stop circling around looking for surface parking and drive an extra block. The neighborhoods are a different case, but it really gets me when people complain about street parking around Union Square when there’s a garage right there.

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