Friday Fight: The MTA Budget From Hell Has Arrived – Here’s What We Have To Do!

This is not really “news” in the sense that it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming, but the service cuts and jacked up fares are coming soon thanks to the budget passed by the Mayor-appointed MTA Board today. (Kudos, by the way to Streetsblog for their live coverage via Twitter today, and their article today) BeyondChron also has a good piece this morning as well.
Now, we’ve had a lot of talk over the past few months about how we got here. We’ve talked about the gutting of state funding for MUNI and BART, we’ve talked about the Mayor’s looting of MUNI, and so on. It may seem like there’s not a lot we can do but once again accept inferior service at a higher cost. However, all is not lost and we have some allies you may not be aware of.
When I spoke with Supervisor David Chiu last weekend at the California Democratic Convention, we talked quite a bit about MUNI issues. He made a good point – that MUNI was finally starting to see the light on some progress towards more reliable service, and to start once again the “death spiral” of constantly cutting service and raising fares would kill MUNI in the long run. He also made the point that he’s probably one of the few (if not the only) Supervisors who relies on MUNI to get to work on time and conduct his job as Supervisor.
Which is why what he’s proposed – getting a supermajority of Supervisors to veto the MTA Budget in its entirety, and force the MTA to figure out a better way to manage in a time of economic hardship – is worth fighting for. It’s an extreme step, but one that I think it’s time to consider to force the MTA “leadership” to do a better job identifying stabler sources of funding and thinking about the long term effects of their actions. It’s not like they’re going to get that leadership from the Mayor who appointed them – he’s busy with other things, so it’s time for the Board of Supervisors to pay attention, read the directions, and do something proactive for their constituents.
That’s why I think it’s time every one of us lobbied our Supervisor to vote down the MTA budget and force the MTA to get creative and minimize the damage. Now’s the time we start putting more things on the table – such as cutting costs in all aspects of MUNI, and to force those people who choose not to do their jobs to get the hell out of the way and stop using MUNI like an ATM machine for lazy bums. I’m far more willing to accept a $60+ Fast Pass if I know that the people at MUNI actually want to do a good job and provide the best service they can in these crummy economic times.
So take a few minutes to fire up your e-mail, or print out a letter, or whatever communication method you prefer, and send a note to your Supervisor (find out yours here at the SFGov website) and CC a copy to Board President Chiu.
It’s a longshot, to be sure, but at the same time if you do nothing, you get nothing. If you do something, you might get something better. And if the cost is just a few minutes of your time to contact your Supervisor and get them to stay focused on the real priorities of the City of San Francisco, wouldn’t you say that’s a good thing for everyone?
If you have other suggestions, or want to post a CC of your letter, please do so in the comments! Also, I started up a Facebook Group for fun – join up and let’s see what we can do in the few weeks we have here.
PS: Transportation for America has a new campaign to ask Congress for some cash to help agencies in the short term. I’m not sure this is the best idea, but it can’t hurt. Given that they blew all that cash on auto companies that are unable to build cars people want, and to banks that gave out bonuses to people who failed at their jobs, it seems like a few pennies for some buses couldnt’ hurt.

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9 Responses to Friday Fight: The MTA Budget From Hell Has Arrived – Here’s What We Have To Do!

  1. Joel says:

    Hi Supervisor Chu.
    I’m sure you’re getting flooded with these, but I wanted to toss in my two cents about the Muni cost increase.
    Frankly, I would be all for it if I knew that service would improve.
    A $60 fastpass next January is still gonna be far cheaper for me than the cost of gas and parking etc. in the Financial District for commuting 20+ business days a month, not to mention all other times I use Muni. (Cheaper than if I had to BART from East Bay, too) When I was transferred here from Chicago a few years back (where the CTA wasn’t necessarily a treat, either), a month pass there was $75, so Muni will still be one of the only urban living expenses that’s cheaper here than most places around the country. Ultimately, the hassle and speed of trip is generally about the same, as well–driving in the city during rush hour isn’t the calming experience it’s being made out to be by some. Biking would definitely be an option if I didn’t live out on the Avenues, but I can’t say I’m big on sweating my ass off riding in often wet weather like this morning’s and showing up to work looking like a drowned rat. I’ll keep taking public transportation while it’s still feasible and leave my bike and car at home.
    But again, it goes back to service. The N by a lot of accounts is actually one of the better lines in the city, which has my mind reeling. It’s terrible. Four times in the last month alone us passengers have been kicked off a train en masse because of technical issues (and of course, it was always by Van Ness or Church/Duboce so we had to wait while another packed train or two passed until we could literally get on another), they get easily clumped together backing up the line and slowing things to a crawl, on occasion there are rude and reckless drivers, there’s no police presence on the lines later at night (or any time) etc etc. Where is the oversight? Just what does Nat Ford do?!?
    I also have been getting pretty disillusioned by Mayor Newsom the last few months—why did he take Prop A money that SF voters allocated to Muni for other departments?
    A stand needs to be made. As such, I hope you vote to veto the MTA budget and force them back to the drawing board. I’m (obviously) pro-union, but given the economic realities, the contract needs a hard looking at. The bureaucracy surrounding Muni needs a hard looking at. The ineffectual POP system needs a hard looking at. Nat Ford (or at least his bloated salary) needs a hard looking at. Diverting the Prop A funds that Mayor Newsom shifted away from Muni back towards where the voters intended them to go needs a hard looking at.
    Again, I’ll take the extra $15 a month…I just want to feel like I’m getting some kind of improvement for my money.
    Thanks,
    Joel.

  2. Alex says:

    So what do you cut instead of MUNI? Police? Fire? Public health? Our illustrious DA’s budget? While I’m dismayed at Newsom’s grab of the Prop A funds, I abhor the mandatory minimum funding earmarks that pretty much define California budgets. These earmarks force us to make choices like this (MUNI vs public health or safety).
    Check out what the Contra Costa DA is spewing forth: he is irate over the decision to fund a county hospital over funding his office. I, for one, would rather have public hospitals than MUNI (or even a few extra ADAs).
    Rolling back Natty Tatty Ford’s salary is a purely symbolic move (but a good move none the less). Even at his current exorbitant $300k/yr, his raises are a small drop in the budget deficit barrel.
    The problems that you see in the metro are, by and large, not related to Ford. Rather, they’re related to extremely poor design choices made when the tunnel was under design, and again when we procured these awful streetcars. Short of buying a whole new fleet of streetcars, and building extra tracks in the subway… you won’t see much improvement.
    There are a lot of little things that could be cut or tweaked (salaries, work rules, etc)… but as a whole you ought to be irate with the ultra-conservative right wingers in Southern California and our president. Even the best run transit agency would be hard pressed to cope with the cuts that MUNI’s received recently.
    The right winders have created California’s budget mess. It’s their hard line ideology that has held up budget compromise time and time again. Their compromise involved gutting public transit in California. You ought to be livid with our president for bailing out the banks, and even the automakers… but not the public transit systems. The Examiner today says something like $50B is needed to fix our nation’s rail, how much more has the current US president spent on AIG? How about his infrastructure stimulus that includes a paucity of funding for public transit?
    Even at $15/mo more, MUNI is still well below the cost of nearly any other public transit agency… but what sort of improvement do you expect when the state and federal governments have cut their public transit funding to next to nothing?
    Rather than banging the MTA’s heads together, we ought to get heads rolling at a higher level. Funding needs to be secured at the state and federal level before we try to get the MTA to find a more reasonable subset of lines to cut.
    P.S. MTA changes I’d like to see:
    – For the love of god KEEP THE N GOING TO CALTRAIN — turning it back at Embarcadero will just create more congestion and chaos on the other metro lines.
    – Drop the no-strike clause, mandate attendance, auto termination after a set number of absences over a period of time
    – Roll back Ford’s salary
    – Suspend cost of living increases for everyone at the MTA
    – Reconsider the hiring freezes as an attempt at lowering overtime pay
    – Reduce/eliminate extra pay for night shifts, runs with a missing leader, etc
    – Reconsider/kill the subway to nowhere
    – POP across the whole system. All door boarding on all vehicles (or get BART or whoever to buy back those useless readers at the back of the busses).
    – Get the fare cops to actually check translink cards (most are too lazy to use the readers… ’cause they’re too slow).

  3. Greg Dewar says:

    @alex: I see what you’re saying and you raise good points. But this isn’t a “buses or cops” kind of decision (that’s not how the money works with the MTA vs. the City, etc.). But yeah, you make a good point.
    And I also agree it’s not the MTA’s fault the Governor and the legislature, who’ve been swiping money for years from ALL agencies, until finally cutting it altogether. The ridiculous “2/3rds” rule in the Legislature ensures budget time is silly antics time, and the fact voters INSIST on voting for lots of borrowing (bonds) and earmarks needs a nice hit of the ol’ reset button.
    But we knew that all of this was coming, and it was incumbent on the MTA to at least lobby for some changes to the law so that individual transit districts could have options to self-fund at the local level, and avoid the crap the State of California has put them through. It also wouldn’t hurt them to collect more of what they’re already owed.
    Heck there are companies that could drastically improve and make efficient our parking meters, and the cost would be next to nothing, and yet this isn’t explored. Just rack up the drivers until they bleed, then write tickets.
    I think you also raise a good point about the Obama administration (and the previous one ) for bailing out AIG but not funding transit. The feds are careful to fund capital projects, but NOT day to day funding costs, and that’s been consistent. That said, when you look at what it’s going to cost to keep things running so they don’t leave a trail of parts behind, and then look at all those Roads to Nowhere the DOT is building, it’s a bit depressing.
    But again, there are better ways to fix the MTA and make the necessary cuts, without starting the death spiral of “cut service/jack up fares” until one day we have one bus line that costs $100/fare to ride and “balance the budget.”

  4. Mary Stream says:

    If only we in the Sunset had a supervisor who was not hand picked by Gavin Newsom to vote 100% for all his issues and causes. Thus, writing to Carmen Chu is a waste of your time. She will only do as she’s told and thus she obtained the position of pawn to Gavin!

  5. Eric says:

    Mary, supervisor Chu isn’t that bad. If nothing else, she’s better than the criminal they had before.

  6. Alex says:

    Greg,
    With all due respect, it is a “buses vs cops” issue if the city is taking funds that “belong” to the MTA and using them for other departments. I haven’t quite kept track of where the Prop A funds have been going, but I worry a whole helluva lot more about the lack of mental health services than I do about lack of transit. Aside from Gavin’s concubines, I suspect that by returning the Prop A funds to the “general fund”, you’re looking at things like cops, libraries, and public health services as the recipients. In CoCo it’s absolutely a law enforcement vs public health issue.
    I’ve made a few suggestions, as have you, but nothing I’ve seen would magically close that MTA budget gap. I have yet to see anything other than service cuts that would cut short term costs (and this is the important thing right now, further off structural changes are obviously needed). Keep in mind that the $#!@ Culture Bus cost us more than Natty Tatty Ford’s obscene raises (tens of thousands vs millions).
    I suspect, however, that systemwide POP might even increase efficiency enough to get rid of a few buses here and there.
    P.S. Prop. 13 (and 8, no not the recent one) is exactly why I worry about forcing the legislature and the MTA to come up with a different budget.

  7. Joseph says:

    @Eric @Mary
    Yeah, Chu does respond to email and letters, and I think she actually lives in San Francisco. Ed Jew was worse than Marion Barry.
    Fiona Ma is quite responsive and certainly has a lot of pull in both the City and the State.

  8. Joel says:

    To her credit, Chu has personally responded to my queries and input and complaints (oh man, am I becoming one of those people?) pretty much every time.
    I don’t expect to change her vote or even take her out of Newsom’s pocket necessarily, but I hope it’s something she at least considers.

  9. Rachel says:

    I just sent a letter to Supervisor Mar. It was easy!
    Thanks for the push to do it, Greg!

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