Let's All Have a Freak Out - Why the Debate on Parking Meters and The "News" About Fare Stealing Jerks Aren't Totally Related
I'm getting caught up with blogging today because I was busy all weekend (including a detour to LitQuake where I attended the super-entertaining panel hosted by SFist and SF Appeal) and the next two weeks are going to be really busy for me. However, as I read The Twitter, the newspapers and so on, it's clear we're going to have an authentic Made-In-San Francisco crapstorm coming this week, and well, hey that's what fuels blogs, right?
In this case, we have two pieces of news that don't really have as much to do with each other as spinners and the like would have us believe. However, because the human mind likes to pick out patterns even when one might not exist, we're going to have one of those unproductive debates where shrillness and cleverness beat out the facts. (Remember David Chiu's silly-willy "accounting" about fare inspectors?)
As part of the "deal" crafted by "Mayor" Newsom and the Board of Supervisors over the MTA budget, a study on parking meter hours was preparedTuesday on parking meter hours was prepared. The point was in part to share the budget pain amongst everyone, instead of just Muni owner/riders, and to encourage 21st century parking management as well. There's plenty for people to like or dislike, and the misinformation pumped out by political types and the "Green Mayor" have helped fuel irrational speculation. The irony is of course, once again, "Green Gavin" has stabbed Muni owner/riders in the back, and talked a good game on climate change, but of course goes back on his word. (Insert blogger snark/sarcasm here)
Now, I'm not a car abolitionist, and I absolutely hate relying on fines as a permanent operating fund source. That's in part because for several years I owned a car and racked up a sh*t-ton of tickets which I very much disliked paying and cost me a lot of money! And no one likes fishing for quarters or finding out they don't have any at the wrong time, my primary cause for getting a ticket, if I recall...
However, I also dislike how people use parking spots in business districts for overnight parking when they come home, essentially getting free parking on the taxpayer dime. It's not good for business districts that operate past 6pm, and it's not fair that some people get a "fake freebie" and some pay more for less. Right outside my apartment I see the usual suspects (some of whom I found don't even live in the neighborhood) hog all the spaces all night, while those that need one are circling for an hour.
It makes a lot more sense to find ways to make it so those who actually need parking can find it, and those that do not (i.e. like a former neighbor of mine who was perfectly healthy yet had to drive 2 blocks for a pack of cigarettes in his gas guzzling SUV) pay more. Unfortunately, with the storm launched by the media , and opportunistic politicians who want to be seen as giving goodies like Santa Claus without disclosing the true cost, will probably ensure that reasonable policies will go down by the wayside, and no one wins.
Complicating matters was the release of a study, no doubt done by the No Duh Institute, which makes the earth shattering discovery that fare cheats cost the Muni system a significant amount of money, to the tune of an estimated $19 million per year.
No, really? Stealing from Muni has consequences? Who TOLD?
I've always insisted Muni do a better job collecting fares and parking meter money it is currently owed, before sticking us with more hikes. It's just a natural - one would not take a large piece of their pay each week and toss it in a garbage can and then complain they can't pay the rent, so....why would Muni do that?
Now here's the San Francisco crapstorm - people are trying to tie the fare collection issue to the parking issue, and that's just foolish. The former is a function of management and maintenance and tracking, whereas the latter is about managing a very limited resource in a compact city.
Yes, extended hours on meters would add in a bit of change to the MTA budget, but the real goal is to better manage and charge for that limited resource to keep the city moving. Put it another way - people say the MTA should be run like a business - well if it did, it'd charge market rate for all parking spaces, which would be significantly higher than they are today.
It's a lack of honesty in these discussion, and the willingness of our leaders to put political points ahead of good policy, that ensure that in the end, we, the owner riders of Muni and citizens of San Francisco end up with a dysfunctional transit system, combined with clogged streets and poor parking management. So long as we insist that's ok with us, we'll continue to get such lovely results.
PS: To illustrate that last point, on Saturday night the one-car N on a busy evening was crammed like a sardine can. While it was nice to meet a neighbor of mine I'd never met before, I could have done without the crappy service. Several people on the train indicated that if this keeps up, they'll be forced to take a car or a cab to reliably get home on a weekend night. Epic FAIL, San Francisco!
Photo Credit: Flickr User ZontikGames via a Creative Commons License