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Muni 1950's
WHAT RIDERSHIP LOOKED LIKE IN THE PAST San Franciscans board the MUNI in 1951Photo courtesy SF History Center / SF Public Library

City’s “Transit First” Policy is on Death Watch.

How to Make MUNI Work

••••••• November 24, 2023 •••••••

Glenn Rogers
Glenn Rogers

As workers have continued working remotely at home, transit ridership in many cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco has not returned to normal. Providing service for many people to travel downtown all at once was what used to be public transit. Then, transit returned passengers to where they came from. Today, ridership is entirely different, and this is creating a problem. Adding to this problem is the fact that the money Congress spent to get transit through the hard times of the Covid pandemic is going to dry up next year.


In the past, transit in cities that relied on passenger fares to be successful flourished. Now that ridership has declined, passenger fares have not kept transit solvent. Therefore, the draconian solution — dramatically cutting service — is contemplated, a solution that will create a death spiral, causing the whole transit system to collapse.


Lindiwe Rennert
Lindiwe Rennert

However, there are examples of other transit systems doing much better. Lindiwe Rennert, a researcher at the non-profit Urban Institute, co-authored a new report, Surmounting the Fiscal Cliff, Identifying Stable Funding Solution for Public Transportation Systems. She explores how transit agencies can overcome financial woes, suggesting another funding model. Her research found that transit systems with a reliable revenue stream, often from local sales taxes, are doing better.


The benefits of a healthy mass transit system are for everyone, not just mass transit ridership. With fewer people using automobiles to commute to work, highways are less crowded. That’s a benefit that is noticeable and appreciated by commuters. It’s likely they could be convinced that voting for a sales tax to support mass transit is a good idea.

Seattle was named No. 1 city in nation with best public transportation Photo courtesy KOMO

Rennert argues that ridership is close to pre-pandemic levels today. There has been a jump in ridership in cities like Cincinnati, Tucson, Seattle and Richmond. However, transit agencies must be flexible and keep pace with the new ridership. In these cities, transit provides service to parts of the city that were previously without service.

“We expanded the service. We’re reaching more people in more places. ‘And so, therefore, we have more riders.’ said Julie Timm, the CEO of Sound Transit. This is one of the few rail systems that has seen a jump in ridership since 2019.”


If children pay a nominal transportation fare in their youth — when they become adults, they expect to contribute their fair share to support transit. Learning how to purchase a Clipper Card early could pay handsomely when these same riders grow up.

Glenn Rogers, RLA
Landscape Architect / License 3223

November 24, 2023

Glenn Rogers
Glenn Rogers

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