This November, let’s fix Muni

Pub date April 17, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION In 2007 quality public transportation is not just a hallmark of a world-class city; it’s our best defense against global warming. In a state where half of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from mobile sources, we have to provide people the real choice to get out of their cars and onto public transit.

Nationwide, public transit use was up 3 percent last year. In San Francisco, Muni’s ridership declined 2 percent. This is a city that understands the threat of global warming, rallies against oil wars, believes in an improved quality of life with fewer cars, and long ago adopted a transit-first policy; the Muni ridership drop is totally unacceptable.

Muni should be attracting new riders, not driving the existing users off the system. A reliable Muni is also a serious social justice issue: 29 percent of San Francisco households get by without a car, mostly because they can’t afford it.

Muni’s meltdown in the 1990s was one of the biggest failures of the Willie Brown administration. The crisis caused voters to amend the City Charter in 1999 and create the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), setting explicit standards of service quality and guaranteeing predictable funding. Using new capital from the reauthorization of the sales tax for transportation, Muni was able to replace its bus fleet and restore most of its operability.

However, early in the Gavin Newsom administration, Muni service quickly began to deteriorate. Recently, Muni officials even sought to lower their on-time goals. This month’s opening of the T–Third Street line brought Muni metro service to a near standstill. Muni leadership apparently agreed that the problems were unacceptable — they spent much of their time passing out written apologies to Muni riders. However, these service interruptions are symptoms of deeper, structural problems at Muni. Apologies are not enough. It’s clear that significant additional Muni reform is necessary.

That’s why we are proposing a charter amendment for this November’s ballot to make managers and operators more accountable for their performance and to find new sources of revenue for this struggling system.

The MTA currently lacks the vision, accountability, and resources to deliver the transportation system that San Francisco needs. While Muni’s structural deficit has risen to $150 million a year, Muni officials have been slow to propose revenue options, and we know voters won’t be happy to provide more funding without structural reforms that make those public investments worthwhile. Measured in passengers carried per hour of revenue service, Muni’s current productivity has dropped to a historic low.

We need to make sure Muni’s managers and service planners have the tools to deploy their workforce efficiently, and we need to hold them accountable for delivering promised service.

We don’t know if Newsom will support substantial Muni reforms — but the system has broken down on his watch, and every San Franciscan who relies on Muni and who cares about the environment needs competent leadership from city hall now. *

Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin

Supervisors Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin represent Districts 6 and 3, respectively.