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Muni fare hikes, service increases touted in 2017 budget

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Muni revealed on Tuesday details about its proposed $1 billion budget, including fare hikes and expansion of service. (Michael Ares/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is now floating ideas for its $1 billion budget.

The agency must decide the fate of Muni lines, street engineering, bike lanes and more for 2017–18, all hinging on the budget priorities from the SFMTA Board of Directors.

On Tuesday afternoon, the board heard the first presentation from SFMTA staff on the budget. Proposals ranged from boosting bus and train service, to increasing fares and fees.

“We have very modest shortfalls on a billion-dollar budget,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said to the board.

Reiskin cited rising pension costs and a higher-than-usual contribution to Caltrain’s budget as reasons for an anticipated $13.6 million budget shortfall in 2017.

Much was on the table to correct that shortfall.

Some proposals, like raising the cost of monthly Muni passes — from $70 to $75, in one case — are set in stone, and tied to inflation. Other proposals await final approval.

Reiskin touted the agency’s “proposed revenue sources.” One money-making idea was to raise bus fees on seniors and those with disabilities, which would boost revenue by $1.5 million. Reiskin said it’s important to note that Muni is now free for low- and moderate-income seniors.

“Now, those low- and moderate-income [seniors] pay nothing,” he said, “It’s reasonable to consider asking the rest to pay a less-discounted rate.”

SFMTA staff also proposed charging more for use of “express” lines, like the 38BX or 30X, which ferry workers downtown with fewer bus stops. Charging $1 more for express lines could garner $5 million annually for the agency.

Another idea that raised eyebrows on the board was to increase cash fares by 25 cents, instead encouraging Muni riders to use Clipper cards. The more people use Clipper cards, as opposed to cash, the faster the buses go, the agency said.

Board director Cheryl Brinkman worried this would create a two-tiered Muni system.

Because so many Muni riders live in poverty, she said, “it feels a little scary to me. I don’t want to penalize our lower-income riders like that.”

Peter Straus of the San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group had a bone to pick with the revenue measures.

“There aren’t any revenue sources identified that hit drivers,” Straus said. “We find that entirely inappropriate.”

Board members Brinkman and Joel Ramos agreed with the critique and discussed possibly reintroducing the proposal to make drivers pay for Sunday parking meters.

The proposal was politically opposed by Mayor Ed Lee, who appoints the SFMTA board directors. However, the directors said meters could be targeted in specific zones as a compromise.

“People taking transit are doing the right thing, and it feels like it’s not right to punish them by raising fares on them and not raising fares on people that are driving cars,” Ramos said.

Not all of the proposals were aimed at raising revenue. The SFMTA proposed increasing the age of youth who receive free Muni service from 17 to 18, which may cost the agency $2.2 million. The agency also proposed a 50 percent discount on Muni tokens for nonprofit agencies that provide Muni passes to “low-income populations.”

Other expenditures include increasing transit service hours by 2 percent more than the 10 percent already proposed at a cost of $5 million, increasing the number of taxi investigators and parking control officers, among other proposals.

No action was taken on the budget, and the SFMTA is seeking public comment on its proposals. The board is expected to vote on budget priorities in April.