MUNI Service Improving?

The City believes mass transit needs improving. Does anyone see an improvement of the “on time” performance of MUNI today from yesterday? With construction going on at a record pace, and traffic often blocked with utility improvements, not to mention additional laborers, traffic is worse. One solution for better MUNI performance has been to limit or restrict service, creating hardships for the elderly, the disabled and the handicapped. Even eliminating bus stops to hospitals is considered an improvement in service. However, with an outcry from the public, the 33 bus will postpone canceling its service to San Francisco General until 2020, then review this policy again. No doubt, there will be fewer elderly activists present then to stop this idea. Usually, seniors and those with disabilities move to locations where mass transit provides services to health care. Now, these same citizens will need to move again.

The Private Taxi Congestion:

Uber, Sidecar and Lyft claim to remove congestion in San Francisco, reducing the need for individuals to travel downtown. Well, with 16,000 to 11,000 vehicles working for Uber alone on a daily basis, it is adding to traffic congestion, not solving it. In addition, Uber wishes to add an additional 120 vehicles to improve service. Uber is the largest of these private taxi services but Sidecar and Lyft also contribute to congestion. SFMTA controls the 1,812 taxis operating in San Francisco today, preventing more taxis from causing gridlock. Uber has no such control over its service providers.

Private Buses a Boom or Bust to Neighborhoods:

Assembly Bill 61, which would make permanent the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, whereby private buses use MUNI bus stops, is presently on hold. Private buses for employees of Google and Apple are prime examples of those that would benefit from this bill. At first glance this pilot program that was to last 18 months would seem to benefit the public, with less commuters on the road; however, let’s look at this further. Studies have shown that renters who live beside private bus stops are finding their rents increase, allowing well-paid tech workers to replace existing tenants. Those that own property, whether it be residential or business real estate, are finding their property values increasing by $100,000. Therefore, their property taxes are rising. If small businesses move, the diversity provided by “Mom and Pop” stores will diminish, as larger chain stores replace less profitable businesses. The elderly on fixed incomes can also be forced to move, if property taxes become too high.

A Fair Tax for Private Buses:

Considering the drastic changes that are occurring in our neighborhoods because of the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, minimal fees of $1 or $3.55, and this July of $3.67, for each visit of a private bus to a public bus stop, do not pay for the true cost of access. Should this program continue, and there are many reasons why it shouldn’t, a daily flat fee of $1,000 per stop for access could provide funds for improving MUNI’s maintenance, or the purchase of more vehicles to our existing fleet. Then too, any worthwhile City necessity, e.g., affordable or middle class housing subsidies, could benefit from this tax. The City is missing an opportunity to tax wealthy corporations fairly.

Glenn Rogers is a local landscape architect

July/August 2015

Free Muni for Seniors and People with Disabilities Began March 1

It’s not too late to apply

Free Muni for low-to-moderate income seniors and people with disabilities program begins March 1. In just over one month, the SFMTA has processed more than 38,000 applications for the Free Muni program expansion.

The program is available on Clipper® card only, and in most instances, new applicants have received their Clipper cards in the mail. While, existing Clipper cardholders were mailed letters notifying them of their application acceptance. The notice will also include instructions on how to use the Clipper card. Customers who already have a Senior or Regional Transit Connection (RTC) Card may apply immediately online, by mail or by dialing 311. A new card is not required.

“Free Muni has income, age, residency and other requirements that govern this unprecedented program,” said Tom Nolan, Chairman of the SFMTA Board.”

The SFMTA Board engaged in a careful review of the agency’s financial health before voting to expand Free Muni. Nonetheless, over the next two years it is estimated the cost of the Free Muni program will be approximately $6 million.

Applications may take up to four weeks to process.

“It is getting harder and harder for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to live in San Francisco,” said Betty Traynor, Board President for Senior & Disability Action.”

The SFMTA Board also voted to approve a 12 percent increase in Muni service last year as part of the agency’s two-year budget. Info: sfmta.com/freemuni.

March 2015

Why November’s Prop L is Not RealisticHoward Strassner

Some of our neighbors fondly dream back to a time when they could drive anywhere in San Francisco very easily, and when they got there, parking was very cheap. They hope that Proposition L will bring those times back. But we can’t go back, because in those days there were less than half as many cars as now, and the capacity of our streets has not increased. They also forget that inflation alone increases the cost of parking by eight times; 25 cents an hour then is now two dollars for neighborhood commercial parking. They resent paying $2.00 for 140 square feet to park their car, while transit riders pay $2.25 for three square feet on a lurching bus, more than eleven times the fare when driving was easier. Somehow, this is unfair to drivers.

…it is fair that your parking fees are used …so that you will suffer less congestion than you might experience if transit were worse.”

Prop L calls for more residential parking, which means fewer, more expensive apartments and even more gridlock, not easier driving.  L proposes to use Muni funds to build more garages, rather than improve pedestrian safety. The proponents of L want more subsidized parking in San Francisco, while most of us have to pay market rate for housing. To this writer it is an endless puzzlement how the privately-owned car, the symbol of the American capitalist system, requires socialist subsidized parking. Prop L even opposes the market rate parking policies that are proven, by federally-funded studies, started when Bush was President, to actually make parking easier for the driver, better for merchants, at no increase in average parking meter rates. Republicans liked that study because it was based on the market rate, what people are willing to spend for a scarce commodity.

I see that drivers in San Francisco feel that they are the in majority and therefore should have their way. In this country, laws protect the minority, and San Francisco has to comply with State laws that tend to reduce driving as a means of reducing the production of global warming gases. Drivers resent the use of their parking fees to fund about 20% of Muni. There are many sources of funding for local transit around the world. In New York State gasoline taxes fund most of the New York subway and bus system. In Paris, buildings near transit pay an extra fee that pays for most of Paris transit. The San Francisco method says to drivers, albeit without words, if you want to be able to drive and find a parking space at a price that you are willing to pay, then it is fair that your parking fees are used to provide transit that is good enough to induce people to use it when they can, so that you will suffer less congestion than you might experience if transit were worse.

So, when you go to the polls in November, or before you fill in you ballot and put it in the mail, please vote Yes on A and B to improve and run Muni, and No on L. These votes should improve your drive, along with making some improvements to pedestrian safety.  

The writer occasionally drives his wife’s car but and more frequently he enjoys her company while she drives. Otherwise he mostly uses Muni or walks.

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Transportation Chair for the Sierra Club

September 2014

On Muni’s Optimistic Future

How Google Might Transform San Francisco

Popular culture has frequently tried to predict the future of transportation. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York showed us the General Motors dream of a freeway running to every place that one might want to go to and people in cars moving under autonomous control. This writer may have seen that as a little boy. Star Trek introduced the concept of “beam me up Scotty” to tell us we could go anywhere we wanted to, if there was a place to land, or park. More recently the advent of the “apps” to facilitate improved taxi service, combined with Google’s ongoing development of driverless cars; and the increased use of car share lead to my imagining a transportation “Nirvana” in San Francisco. This dream is also abetted by an 11/25/13 New Yorker article which suggests that driverless cars may be less than ten years away.

a cell phone will call the taxi system. Within minutes the taxi will be close and call back to have the rider come to the curb with the four digit code that will open the taxi door. This system will be safer than the current taxi system because they will know everything about you including the credit card that you want to use, just like Amazon. The taxi will proceed effortlessly, at the speed limit, carefully giving Muni and pedestrians the right of way.”

But first, we have to define Nirvana in a true San Francisco style, as different strokes for different folks. Some folks want to tap their cell-phone and have a vehicle come close to their front door to provide them with an easy, very convenient, relatively fast, twenty dollar plus taxi ride. Most of us will be happy with two dollar transit that we have to walk to for a ride that is much better than today. Almost all of us will be very happy to avoid a struggle for a parking place at one or both ends of our ride. Nirvana becomes more apparent when you consider that if the taxi is computer driven, and in use for many hours per day, that there are no financial reasons to own a car. Compared to auto ownership a driverless taxi will be a better deal because amortization costs are reduced, there is no cost for parking, and insurance costs will be reduced because computers will be better drivers than humans. This taxi will also have the convenience advantage of no struggle for residential parking or trips to the garage, and freedom to work or call while the car is moving. In addition, since the app includes provisions to select the level of luxury or size desired, very few people will want to own a car. Driverless taxis will also be less costly than regular taxis because there is no driver’s salary.

In San Francisco, the reduced demand for parking will be the major change. But each component of this reduced demand must be explained.

One: There will be fewer cars because each car will be in use more hours per day. Today each owned car is parked about 95% of the time. You are average if you drive about an hour and fifteen minutes per day. Even if you drive much more than average you will still be ahead by using a driverless taxi.

Two: The fewer number of cars will be rarely parked. They will only need a space at the curb while dropping off or picking up passengers, and for the short while they are waiting to be called to serve.

Three: Instead of roomy residential garages or curb side parking, all night, the driverless car will pull into its barn, or an unused residential garage, and be tightly parked. Most of the gassing and all of the servicing will be accomplished at night.

The reduced demand for parking can be used to release street width for wider sidewalks, planted areas with benches, or may provide space for an additional transit lane. However, parking space for delivery trucks will always be required. On short commercial streets that are Muni routes this parking can be just around the corner. When there is no parking to protect us from moving cars, a row of bollards will be required along the curb, similar to many European streets, to remind us not to test the skill of the robot driver. In addition, the autonomously driven taxis will be programmed to only stop in the transit lane if the bus is a minute or so behind so as not to interfere with transit. Most taxi stops will be on residential streets or in shopping malls. Studies have shown that people who today have to pay for every ride via a car share system actually drive about 20% less than they did when they already owned a car. They may be bunching their driving trips better, walking more, or using transit more.

Because there will be marginally less private autos moving on the streets, and there will be more dedicated lanes, Muni will move faster and come more frequently because there will also be more riders. But some trips for some people cannot be done with Muni; let me try to describe their autonomous taxi experience. First, just before he or she needs a ride a cell phone will call the taxi system. Within minutes the taxi will be close and call back to have the rider come to the curb with the four digit code that will open the taxi door. This system will be safer than the current taxi system because they will know everything about you including the credit card that you want to use, just like Amazon. The taxi will proceed effortlessly, at the speed limit, carefully giving Muni and pedestrians the right of way. The rider may work or call or sleep, and arrive faster, safer and cheaper than driving one’s own car.

This new taxi system will probably be owned by companies similar to today, because while the SFMTA will oversee the system, like today, we will not want Muni to own the system. In the next ten years we can hope the dispatching system will be universal and work much better than today. The system will probably have different mileage and time fees based on the demand for taxi service at different times of the day, just like some taxis do today. Late at night, when there are few riders, the fares will be just high enough to cover marginal costs, which will be low because there are no wage costs figured in. Muni may also find it advantageous to provide fast pass users with a nearly free ride during the middle of the night. This might increase ridership during the day, by people who only drive because they will need a ride home late at night. Since a large portion of Muni’s costs are covered by parking fees and fines, which in the future will only be paid by visitors or commuters, we will need another source of funds. Most of the money will come from the taxis, as determined by the SFMTA based on time of use or destination because taxi use only has to be slightly less costly than ownership plus parking costs.

Howard Strassner is the former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Nieghborhoods, and Transportation Chair for the SF Sierra Club

Infrastructure: Taking on the Big Picture

Our Mayor finally realized that our City's transit, streets and sidewalks are suffering from a failing infrastructure that is severely diminishing our quality of life. So he convened a Transportation Task Force of forty-five politicians, agency managers, business representatives and a few stakeholders to find a solution for these problems. They put together a list of construction projects, hopefully designed to please almost everybody, along with a series of taxes to fund the projects that they hoped would not upset too many of us too much. I suggest that they may have come close in both regards, but there are problems.

we can have some hope that improved efficiency will help Muni provide better service without fare increases that are greater than inflation, but most probably the system will need still more funding to meet operating needs.”

Vehicle License Fee The largest part of the funding, about 37% of almost three billion dollars, is supposed to come from an increase in the local Vehicle License Fee, (VLF) from 0.65% to 2.0%. This was the State fee before it was reduced by Schwarzenegger. A new State law allows counties to increase the tax back to 2.0%, locally, with a vote of the people, and use the funds for their streets, highways and transit operations, with fifty per cent vote.

Sales Tax Increase The second largest funding source is from a half percent increase in the sales tax, providing about 35% of the 3 billion. This kind of tax increase usually passes in SF because the tax is regressive and partially comes from non-residents. Our two earlier versions of this tax had 75% of the funds used for transit and passed easily. The currently proposed uses for the increase will be similar and maintains our position as a County with one of the highest sales tax rates.

The remaining 28% of the 3 billion is proposed to come from a bond issue to be paid back from a small increase to our real estate taxes. We are well under our maximum bonding amount and this will probably pass because for most of us, with low Prop 13 assessment levels, it will be barely noticed.

All of these taxes will make a noticeable dent in our transit and transportation infrastructure needs but, because our needs are so great, over ten billion dollars, and our funds so meager we have to be more precise about the priority of the projects selected and how they are implemented. Most of the items listed will be useful but, it is essential that all of the pedestrian and bicycle funding items be implemented along with necessary street repaving, for most efficient construction, and be combined with improved transit lanes for Muni buses even if this reduces auto traffic and/or parking lanes. The proposed items include funds for the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), and new vehicles which will help many of our busier routes. There are useful items for: transit efficiency; maintenance infrastructure; pedestrian and bicycle improvements and a small contribution for the SF share for Caltrain, which should greatly reduce auto congestion.

I suggest a few small changes to the uses of the new funding. Over 6% of the funding is proposed for Market Street improvements, most of which can be delayed for many years. More ideally this item should be reduced to provide design only for complete transit, pedestrian, bicycle and streetscape Market Street improvements but initially only construct the transit bus islands. This is essential because buses too often "bunch" on Market Street now, and a large increase in bus service for our expected population increase will require carefully designed loading islands and service improvements. Part of the rest of this item should be used for what might be called TEP2 to start design and environmental studies to provide bus bulbs and other improvements for more transit for our new dense areas. This will be a higher priority use because improving Market Street to encourage greater use during evenings can wait. A small portion of this item should be used to increase the operating budget for more maintenance, and more service to provide for our growing population, additional service on our over crowded routes.

Most of the funds are for capital projects, and we can have some hope that improved efficiency will help Muni provide better service without fare increases that are greater than inflation, but most probably the system will need still more funding to meet operating needs. This should come from a small portion of the VLF increase. This is essential because we have to maintain current Muni service while we gear up for increased population and transit use because our streets do not have capacity for increased auto use. Unfortunately, initially, this will reduce some funding for repaving and also delay a few the concurrent pedestrian and bicycle improvements. That must be for another day and another bond issue.

If we want to make a bigger dent in our transportation infrastructure needs we will need more funding. One source might be a small long term parcel tax which will compel this writer to pay his fair for his Muni service. Parcel taxes are easy to pass because, cynically, they don't severely burden those with means or large businesses. In the same way, we will need a local gasoline tax to fill in the rest of the pot holes and allow for concurrent pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Those who drive a lot don't like to hear these words, but improving transit is the best way to reduce congestion by getting a few cars off the road so that you can drive and park more easily.

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Transportation Chair for the SF Sierra Club.

March 2014

Getting Around

Central Subway Reconsidered

The flow of misinformation from City Hall attempts to conceal the problems of the proposed Central Subway and to project its inevitability. However, contrary to this, the federal government has not completely approved its share of funding for the project.

The Central Subway is proposed to run 1.4 miles from the Fourth Street Caltrain Station to a surface stop near Brannan; on to a subway stop near Howard Street; crossing under the Powell Street BART Station to a stop near Geary, and a final stop at Clay and Stockton. This route parallels a part of Muni 45 Union/Stockton and 30 Stockton routes.

The analysis never considered that using some of the improvement methods studied in the Van Ness project including: low floor buses; bus bulbs; all door boarding; simultaneous loading of two buses to eliminate bunching; priority traffic signals for transit and pre-paid fares would reduce total time for short bus runs to be less than total subway time. Concentrating service to the core of the service routes by turning nearly empty buses back, a procedure used on other Muni routes, can increase service at no additional cost and eliminate the crush loaded buses stopped while passengers fight to get off and on the bus, not always in the ideal order. Additional bus running-time could be saved by employing transit first procedures, and minimizing the impacts of traffic on transit. ”

The problems include:

• High federal deficits and debt. The federal share will be almost a billion dollars when we are not flush with funds;

• High cost, about $1.6 billion — $175,000 a foot — for a project with only three subway stops and one surface stop;

• At least one Congressman, Tom McClintock of Roseville, is opposed and has submitted an amendment to the Transportation bill to remove Central Subway funding as a New Starts project;

• California has declined to furnish its share of funding (from part of the High Speed Rail project, which may not happen) with Governor Brown vetoing two requests for $61 million;

• Low projected ridership because riding the subway will not be faster than riding the surface bus when a rider factors in longer walks and escalators to and from stations, plus longer waits between trains;

• San Francisco’s share of the construction cost is about $500 million, mostly from our sales tax;

• The federal government is refusing to consider covering any cost overruns. This sort of project usually costs about 20% more than predicted, so our share could very well be higher;

• The Third Street line, the last major project in SF, ran about 20% over;

• Some riders on the ‘T’ will have to transfer and receive worse service to get to their destination, while most riders already on a 30 or 45 bus will choose not to transfer;

• Muni, continually in budget difficulty, will have an added operating cost of $15 million per year for a subway under two continuing bus routes;

• Additional maintenance costs will be necessary for the extra infrastructure.

These problems need not arise because the surface bus service can be greatly improved (obviously necessary) within a few years at minimum cost, using some of the same methods Muni is currently proposing for other lines. Based on all of the above a growing group of transit advocates, professionals and residents are running an electronic petition at:NO-to-CentralSubway to tell our legislators that there are a lot of people who oppose the subway.

If you are concerned about the costs and problems of this short subway you should go to the website and sign the petition. You are not alone! A delegation including former State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp, and former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, are going to Washington to speak to some legislators, urging them to vote against final approval of this project.

Here’s how a project this bad can get so close to construction.

The subway is the product of a carefully-constructed script, including major roles for:

• High rise residential development in Chinatown — a subway is thought to add value to a developer’s project;

• Commercial growth as a replacement for customers lost to the tear-down of the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 earthquake;

• Neighborhood pride which suffers from bad transit;

• Mayor Willie Brown’s promise;

• Removal of surface transit to supposedly make Stockton Street more accessible to auto traffic, even though a more complete analysis would show that most of the buses will continue to operate even if there were a subway;

• Legislative response to a growing ethnic community;

• More large contracts for large construction companies;

• High wage jobs for construction workers. These jobs will help Muni more, and happen more quickly, with the many small projects necessary to implement effectiveness improvements;

• Funding for local community groups and consultants;

• Construction of a connecting surface rail project on Third Street. This was built because a better project for Geary Boulevard was not acceptable in that neighborhood. Third Street then became part of the local matching funding that would make possible the major federal contribution.

But none of the above would have been enough without following rigid environmental analysis procedures. The analysis was based only on approved and scheduled improvements to Muni transit. But there were no approved improvements at that time, though many were being discussed. The analysis was based on predictions of future large increases of downtown congestion, even though many methods of reducing congestion were being discussed because the predicted congestion will unacceptably stall future San Francisco prosperity. The combination of these two required methods meant that the already slow surface buses would take 70% longer to cover the distance served by the proposed subway.

The analysis never considered that using some of the improvement methods studied in the Van Ness project including: low floor buses; bus bulbs; all door boarding; simultaneous loading of two buses to eliminate bunching; priority traffic signals for transit and pre-paid fares would reduce total time for short bus runs to be less than total subway time. Concentrating service to the core of the service routes by turning nearly empty buses back, a procedure used on other Muni routes, can increase service at no additional cost and eliminate the crush loaded buses stopped while passengers fight to get off and on the bus, not always in the ideal order. Additional bus running-time could be saved by employing transit first procedures, and minimizing the impacts of traffic on transit.

These improvements are not only low cost, they help all of the riders on the 45 and 30 lines, not just the few with a Chinatown destination, while leaving funding available for many other Muni routes.

Howard Strassner gets around on MUNI.

April 2012

Finally, the Bus Rapid Transit Study

In November 2011 San Francisco released its first ever Draft Environmental Impact Study, EIS, for a Transit Project for Bus Rapid Transit, BRT. The purpose of an EIS is to list all of the possible impacts of a proposed project for consideration by involved public agencies and legislators, and to allow ample time for the public to respond by suggesting additions to the list and/or support for the project. The Board of Supervisors, sitting with its Transportation Authority hat, will consider technical and political components before the Study is certified as Final. Only then, if no one sues, will it be ready for funding and construction. San Francisco is supposed to be a Transit First City, but the Van Ness BRT Study started years after BRT systems were in operation throughout the world and even in a few US cities. Better late than never, because BRT will provide most of the transit speed of subways at about a tenth of the cost. Because of these advantages our Federal Government is willing to fund up to $75 million, or about 80%, of Van Ness BRT capital costs.

The Study shows that if you do everything right, you can reduce running time by about 33%. If this could be applied to the entire system except the subways (which have different problems), Muni might reduce operating costs by over $100 million and/or greatly improve service. The study also clearly shows that about 14% of the cost of operating a bus is due only to interference from autos and trucks.

The Study includes operating information for three options (plus no project), and construction costs as well as impacts. All of the three build options reduce running time by at least 19% by including:

• Fewer bus stops, saving acceleration and deceleration time. Stops will be located about 900 feet apart to provide stops near the many crossing bus lines to allow easy transfers.

• The buses will be low floor and stops will be graded to allow easy boarding for seniors and for those who require wheel chairs.

• Riders will use all bus doors and pre-pay their fares.

• Traffic signals will include transit priority, though this time savings will have to be balanced against the needs of crossing bus routes and traffic.

• A few left turns will be eliminated to move buses faster, similar to the methods frequently used in San Francisco to move traffic.

The two best options (doing everything right) include:

Running buses in a dedicated center lane with no parking or right turning cars which prevent buses from moving. These options reduce running times by 9% more than the option with buses running in the right hand lanes adjacent to parked cars. This also means less swerving, improving the quality of the ride.

A sub-option with almost no left turns, which reduces running time by another 5%. One left turn will remain with two lanes to accommodate out bound commuter traffic to Lombard.

The Study took four years to write. Approval and option selection will take about a year. Detail design and bidding will take about two years. Construction will only take about a year and a half (to minimize construction impacts) and operation is planned to commence in 2015. The Project will also include; new over head wiring to power the electric buses; new street lighting; new stations; new roadway; some accommodation for Marin commuters on Golden Gate Transit buses; new and replacement medium plantings and improvements for pedestrian safety. The best performing option includes the capital cost to replace a major sewer line somewhat before its normal replacement time. The over 500 pages of study include about 100 pages on Transportation Impacts, which provide most of the background for this article.

In addition to transit improvement the Study shows that:

About the same number of people will move along Van Ness by bus, on one lane, as will move by private auto on two lanes.

The travel time for cars will be essentially the same as today (not good) even though there is one less traffic lane, and by 2035, the design year, there will be more cars in SF than today. This concept is hard for today's drivers to accept but;

The Study shows that: some drivers will be diverted from Van Ness to Gough and Franklin; transit ridership will increase by up to 35% and 50% of this increase will be former drivers who will ride the greatly improved transit; some drivers will find other streets and times, and some of the measures that reduce transit running time will also help to keep cars moving. These predictions are made by computer simulations which have proven to be accurate over time.

It is fortuitous that this study comes out just before Muni starts its study for the Transit Effectiveness Project, TEP. Overall, the study shows that reducing the impact that cars have on transit reduces transit travel times and improves transit reliability while not slowing down auto traffic. TEP previously showed with outreach questionnaires that these are the qualities desired most by current and future transit riders. Hopefully, low cost measures of diverting autos will become part of a more effective Muni.

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Transportation Chair for the Sierra Club

December 2011

 

Is MUNI Subsidizing Auto Drivers?Crowding onto a Muni Bus

The majority of San Franciscans are willing to extend themselves a little to help fund Muni, even if they rarely use the system. Others feel that Muni is overly subsidized.  I suggest a study of Muni expenditures and sources of revenue, and comparison with expenditures and revenue sources to facilitate driving. I believe Muni riders, who can drive but choose to endure less than ideal transit, subsidize drivers by reducing traffic so that drivers can get close to their intended destination and then not have to pay even higher parking fees. But this does not measure funding. We should uncover all of the expenses and all of the funding sources, including City fees, fares and taxes and separately list the funds that come from the State and Federal Governments for transit and to facilitate driving and see they are appropriate. Numbers are important, but transit users subsidize drivers by reducing congestion, when they endure less then ideal service. 

The study will require agreements on definitions and budget items.:

Subsidies (per dictionary) are monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or private commercial enterprise.

Taxes (per dictionary) are required contributions for support of government from persons, groups or businesses within the domain of that government. Taxes are required to be paid even if someone doesn't want or value all of the government services provided. 

Public Service (not dictionary) is a service provided by the government because it is agreed that the service should be available regardless of ability to pay or because it is difficult for the government to collect funds for the service. In San Francisco some examples of public services are streets; schools; parks; police; fire; and part of Muni.  The Park provides a portion of its public services from fees, which are voluntary and greater than the cost of the service purchased.

Parking fees (not dictionary) are the charge for a parking space that someone is willing to pay at a meter, or City or private parking garage; because they value convenience. They could have used transit or walked further.

Fines (per dictionary) are the sum of money imposed as a penalty for an offense.  Parking fines are imposed to induce compliance in order to: provide turnover for merchants; preserve curb space for residents; move traffic or allow for efficient street cleaning. Fines are not taxes because they can be avoided. Fines are not imposed to provide a service or subsidy.

Parking Taxes are part of the voluntary parking charge paid to a garage or lot operator. Because parking fees are market rate removing the tax would not change the cost of parking. The parking tax is a reduction in the profit of the operator. The SF planning code and the parking tax limits the supply of new parking, which increases the profitability of existing parking. 

Transit Impact Development Fees are collected in order to provide capital to provide transit service to new projects. This is a fee that may more properly be considered a tax, because it cannot be avoided.

Expenditures for Transit mostly come from the SFMTA Muni operations and capital budget. Transit should also be charged for a portion of street repair budget from Department of Public Works (DPW) based on streets used and bus weights. A portion of Prop 'K' funds (sales tax) and other bond issues will clearly be for transit, along with traffic signals.

Capital Expenditures included in a departmental budget should be separated by source, SF or State or Federal, and annualized.  

Expenditures for Drivers and Trucks should include most of DPW street repair; Prop 'K' funds and other bond issues used to facilitate driving. A portion of police, court and jail costs are due to drivers. Muni pays for some police service as part of the SFMTA budget. Most traffic control signals and officers serve driving. Parks maintains roadways and free parking areas to facilitate driving. Street cleaning is a general public service and not a driving expense. A recent study accumulated SF General Hospital costs for pedestrians injured or killed by auto collisions. Most of this is a cost of driving, along with a portion of the SF Fire Department emergency response. Part of long term care costs resulting from auto collisions is a City cost of driving. Most of these costs are paid by State, Federal or families but should be mentioned in the study.

Some Prop 'K' funds and parts of bond issues are for bicycles, pedestrians or beautification. These amounts are not transit or driving.

The Muni budget includes para-transit and ADA provisions for regular transit. I suggest that these costs be considered as essential social welfare, similar to police and fire service and not a transit or driving expense.  Discounted fares are also a social service and should be considered as fare revenue not collected and not a cost.

After we have the actual numbers we can decide if the amounts are appropriate. This study will provide a transparent overview for government and stakeholders. The determination will be partially subjective, and the breakdowns, reasoning and amounts should be available to all rather than remain in the fog as part of a $6 billion budget.

  If you want to know more about how to make Muni work better go to my blog: http://bettermuni.wordpress.com/

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Transportation Chair for the Sierra Club

November 2011

 

MUNI Deserves Credit for Its Vision of the Future

A few months ago I wrote of how to improve service on the Muni 28 line on Nineteenth Avenue. But improving Muni service is much more than something we do to make it easier for me or you to get around. A Muni that works is an important part of every level of San Francisco today, and a Muni that works well will be important for all of San Francisco, including the west side, in the near future. In the more distant future public transit, like Muni, will: save some of our limited reserves of oil for our grandchildren's children; preserve some dry land; provide food for people that we will never meet; and preserve habitat for creatures of which we never think.

Muni is part of our community and we, as a people, have uniquely voted to guarantee Muni a small portion of our City General Fund and almost all of our parking taxes, fees and fines so than Muni can provide a reasonable level of transit service, at a moderate fare. We have agreed to significantly reduce fares for: seniors, disabled and youth. Unlike many other parts of the world, or with other City services, our Muni community appreciates visitors, and you don't have to be a resident to qualify for a reduced fare. We also provide low-cost transit passes for those of limited means in our community. Muni draws us through our community and other parts of town as we walk to and from transit stops. No matter who we are; we typically share our transit vehicle with people who don't look like us and/or speak a different language. Muni riders range from those who can barely afford the daily fare to those who can afford to own one or even a fleet of buses. In San Francisco, unlike many other cities in the US, people of means ride Muni because it is often better and certainly less costly than driving.

Muni is restarting their Transit Effectiveness Program in order to improve service. But, unlike my low cost proposals, they will need serious funding which may not be available. They must also allow time for environmental study, because without a full study of all impacts, a driver or Muni rider could complain that their needs were not considered and this can delay any improvements. It is important to the economic survival of San Francisco that Muni and regional transit be improved because Bay Area growth projections, based on the usual traffic patterns, predict a level of congestion in downtown San Francisco through which no one will want to drive, which might be enough to stifle any growth. Just imagine a downtown with more people working. This will require more trucks to deliver supplies and more buses to move people. In an area which is already congested, the number of cars will have to decrease and so transit has to improve. Future growth will not impact the west side so much because, unlike downtown, we have ample street capacity. Of course, if more of us use the improved transit, the west side will not notice any congestion at all and we should support steps that will reduce even minimum traffic impacts on Muni.

As the cost of removing oil from the ground continues to increase, other components of public transit become more important. Bay Area studies show that the typical public transit bus moves a person at about 10% of the energy required to move a person in a private car, while well-used rail requires only 2%. Over time we hope that cars will be more efficient, but well-utilized transit will also improve. Thus, if more of us use more transit, this means that we will leave more oil in the ground for our grandchildren and their children. In a country that prides itself on our great progress of extending political and economic rights to all, isn't it time to extend some economic rights to our posterity? While it is not directly within Muni's scope, thinking even more broadly, we have to consider that the U.S. burns about 25% of all of the world's fossil fuels, and half of this is consumed in cars and trucks. So as more of us use transit we will consume less oil in our cars and leave more for our posterity and the rest of the world.

Whether your concern is to save your own time or money, or you want to help save the environment or the rest of the world, Muni is the way to go.

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Transportation Chair for the Sierra Club

July-August 2011

MUNI: Reducing Costs Can Increase Service

Almost every year Muni has another financial crisis. It's usual solution has been to either: cut service; raise fares; increase parking fees or all three. However if Muni can think a little harder and smarter it might be able to reduce costs and improve service at the same time. As an example let's try to improve our West side route, the 28 on 19th Avenue.

Consider some facts: If we can reduce the average running time, on every route, by one minute on a typical forty minute route, we will save about 2% or nearly $15 million a year for the entire system. This is our incentive. But saving a little time is not enough—we have to change enough route components to reduce running time enough to eliminate a whole bus on a route. If changes do not eliminate a whole bus there can be no actual cost reductions. This means Muni has to implement a number of small and large improvements on a route in order to reduce costs without reducing service. Almost all of the possible improvements are known to Muni from its own studies and worldwide good practice.

The 28 runs from Daly City BART to Fort Mason, a mostly low-density residential and park area. Unlike many Muni routes the 28 passes by, but not through, commercial areas. The core of the route from Holloway to California is largely scholastic with service to universities and high schools. The schools require peak service levels currently provided by a 28 Limited between California Street and BART. The 28 brings tourists and residents to the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate and other Park events and attractions. The 28 is crossed by 17 other Muni transit lines (M, K, 23, L, 66, N, 29, 71, 5, 31, 38, 38L, 2, 1, 22, 43 and 30) and connects with BART and Golden Gate Transit. The 28 as it runs on Doyle Drive may have the world's best view, provided from a public transit bus.

The Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) shows that 28 buses are lightly loaded outside the core, but often crowded and occasionally crush loaded within the core. This indicates a need for more service. TEP also shows that riders most desire greater speed and reliability. On- going Muni Bus Rapid Transit studies show that when you provide these benefits on a route, ridership on that route increases noticeably and ridership on the entire system increases a little. This will provide Muni with a little more income beyond fast passes. Muni will soon acquire low floor buses and the Clipper program will hopefully enable Muni to allow all door boarding (many riders, with Clipper Cards, already help speed up their route by using the rear doors). These improvements will help speed up service when they are fully implemented.

With this as a base we can suggest some quick low-cost improvements for Muni to consider:
First, increase the spacing between stops on 19th (and at a few other locations) to every two blocks, the same as on Presidio Drive. The 28 would then have a stop at each transfer point and one stop in between, reducing time lost to acceleration and deceleration. The TEP also shows that when more people board at the same stop, boarding time per person is reduced. Doubling the distance between almost a third of the stops will impact a small minority of 28 riders because transfer stops have proportionally more ridership. Walking a little has health benefits and the US Surgeon General recommends that we each walk 30 minutes per day to reduce obesity. For a few of us walking one more block, twice each day, will be only five to seven minutes. Muni should provide benches for those few who would have difficulty completing the extra walk without a rest.

Second, provide Bus Bulbs for the stops on 19th and Lombard. Bus bulbs have moderate cost but speed up boarding by helping the elderly and disabled to board. Bulbs also allow the bus to return to flowing traffic without being impeded by auto traffic, which too frequently does not allow the bus to reenter the traffic lane. Less swerving adds quality to a bus ride. Anecdotally, some Muni drivers do not pull into the bus stop when they are behind schedule. Buses on Presidio already enjoy this benefit because the stops are in a traffic lane similar to stopping at a bulb. Initially, because Muni has only limited funds, the bus bulbs can be delineated by a small piece of concrete divider or drivers can simply be instructed not to pull into these stops. Ultimately the bulbs should be designed to match driveways and low floor bus doors and make boarding as seamless as possible. As a bonus neighbors may benefit because the combination of bulbs and fewer stops may create a few additional parking spaces.

Third, control signal lights to allow right turning cars to clear out of Muni's way and to provide Muni a few extra seconds to make the light. Transit First can be facilitated because modern signal light controls can utilize algorithms to help Muni while enhancing pedestrian safety and keeping auto traffic moving.

Fourth, all of the above will not reduce running time enough to reduce costs. Muni will need to use the above time savings to provide a faster, more reliable ride, and add a little more service (a small reduction in the wait between buses) while continuing to provide bus drivers with essential catch-up time/break.

Last, convert peak hour Limited service to turn-back service to increase core service frequency between Holloway and California. Because of fewer stops, there would be little benefit from continuing Limited service. Not running the Limited to BART would save a few more minutes, helping to provide additional service, from BART during the scholastic peak times.

This example of the 28 line shows how difficult it will be for Muni service planners to reduce costs, but Muni can improve service.

If you would like a noticeably faster, smoother 28 ride, along with a slightly more frequent service and less crowding, tell Muni that you want fewer stops and other improvements. You can contact the Muni Board at MTABoard@sfmta.com.

Feedback to editor@westsideobserver.com

April 2011

Parking in the Parkparking meter

A great City is more than a place with big buildings, wealthy people, perfect weather and fantastic views. A great City provides good services for all its residents and visitors. However, it does need the first in order to generate the revenues to provide the second. Because a great City has to provide so many services for so many different people it gathers revenues from many different sources. For years San Francisco has done a good job and the revenues were adequate for the services and we all took pleasure in paying our share and enjoying the services. More recently, essential services are beginning to disappear. We can probably suggest a lot of things that might be done better at lower cost but we also have to show a willingness to help cover the costs.

In November the Westside Observer published a heartfelt article about how our Recreation and Park Department has eliminated almost all of their local park recreational staff to reduce costs and is now privatizing public park buildings and leasing them to private businesses to scrape together some spare change. The RPD has to close our buildings to our children and older people because there is no staff. We paid to build these local facilities but they are closed to us. This is not the way to cover the costs of our parks.

I suggest that part of the better way to cover park costs will be to collect parking fees from within our parks and we should start this discussion now. First some history and examples of San Francisco and the ways in which our parks and other parks already charge for parking:

In 1940 the Union Square garage became the first public/private parking facility built in the country when RPD allowed the construction of a garage for downtown commuters and shoppers under Union Square. RPD was pleased when the construction bonds were paid off early, and the garage provided a revenue stream for our parks. When World War II ended and people purchased more cars, three more downtown parks were used to provide underground parking. Last year these parking fees provided RPD with over $8 million. RPD even has a history of meters in Golden Gate Park where they installed multiple place meters for the choice parking spaces around the Concourse. This provided about $100,000 a year but the metered parking was removed to allow construction of a garage under the Concourse for the museums in Golden Gate Park. RPD has some hope of future revenue from this garage when the bonds are paid off. This, however, will take over thirty years because the garage was so expensive to construct and must compete against free parking nearby. RPD also owns Kezar, a 300-place surface parking lot at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park which provides some revenue.

The SF Zoo charges for parking, and regularly increases the fee, while less convenient free parking is a few blocks away. Fort Mason charges for parking. The State Park on Mt. Tamalpais, and most State Parks, charge for parking. All of this shows that people are willing to pay for parking, even in parks, when they get some desirable convenience for their few dollars.

Suppose RPD implemented parking fees in the eastern half of Golden Gate Park for about 2,500 spaces, and in the Marina for about a 1,000 spaces. The average SF meter generates about $1,600 each per year for Muni, and park meters should each produce about same amount, or $5.5 million dollars a year, for our parks. These parks will use the same multiple spot unobtrusive meters and signs being installed on Van Ness. Each separate area would have a different fee schedule based on demand. The meters will conveniently accept payment in many forms. Drivers will pay a little for the part of the park they need for their car, our children and seniors will get their recreation services, and our parks will be maintained.

Some of the reasons that parking fees in Golden Gate Park are appropriate are: many park employees now have free parking while many other City employees and even Muni drivers have lost that privilege; many nearby hospital employees have free parking by moving their car once a day; there is ample nearby transit so people don't have to drive every day; many spots are near commercial areas and our local businesses need turnover more than they need free parking; those who feel that they cannot afford to pay for their parking can drop off their passengers near all attractions and enjoy a walk in the park. Many regular park users will be able to car pool to reduce their share of parking fees and their generation of global-warming gases. Studies show that appropriate parking fees reduce the cruising that drivers need to find a convenient parking space, and this further reduces driving and makes our park more park-like.

Some of the reasons that parking fees are appropriate in the Marina are: people with business in Fort Mason park there to avoid Fort Mason parking fees; commuters park there and get picked up by private buses and driven to their work site. RPD is actively studying implementing parking fees in the Marina but there is a problem: RPD is planning to use the fees to fund part of the cost of renovating the boat berths in the Marina. Yachting is an ideal use of our Bay and boats need access via berths in the Marina, but berthing fees should cover all of the costs of renovation. This would be an egregious example of privatizing public facilities by collecting fees from the public for the use of a public space and then using the fees to subsidize a private use. However, collecting fees from the public for the public use of a public space is an appropriate measure in lieu of taxes. Note the writer of this article has a boat in the Marina and he is willing to pay all of the costs of parking his boat.

If you want to help keep your parks available for public use and are and are willing to pay a few dollars for your parking, or if you can suggest a better way then this is the time to contact the RPD at recpark.commission@sfgov.org and say you are willing to pay for parking in the park if RPD will guarantee that all parking fees will be used for public recreational services and park maintenance, not Harbor renovation. Or, send them your better funding suggestion. When you demonstrate your support for your parks by your willingness to use some of your "green" to keep your park green, you obligate a contribution from many who use our parks for non-park purposes on a regular basis and are less willing to contribute.

Howard Strassner is former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, and Sierra Club , Transportation Chair.

March 2011