Before asking for more money, transit agency needs to fulfill promise of Proposition A 

This week, The San Francisco Examiner reported how Proposition A transit funding has been used by The City. Our conclusions were alarming.

Prop. A was passed by voters in 2007 to boost the Transit Effectiveness Project, a comprehensive plan to speed up and increase service on The City’s transit network. In a February 2008 article, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association think tank touted the project as “thorough, specific and bold in its recommendations.”

While that description may have been apt, the transit agency’s use of the funding set aside for the project has been disappointing. The fault lies in many quarters.

Prop. A gave the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency more control over parking-related revenues. It had the widespread backing of San Francisco’s political elite — namely, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. Supporters touted Prop. A in ballot materials by saying, “San Francisco can have the clean, safe and reliable transit system our world-class city deserves. This Charter Amendment is the next step.”

Five years later, however, it is sadly clear that Prop. A was not that next step.

Of the $31 million in Prop. A funds appropriated this fiscal year, $23 million will be used to pay for transit agency employees including custodians, plumbers, gardeners, secretaries and general laborers, among others. More revenue will go toward a new dump truck and 50 of the small vehicles used by parking control officers. The transit agency defends such spending, saying that “various frontline positions were identified as needed for Muni’s service level.”

Yet for the average Muni rider — whose mode of transit might only be on schedule about 60 percent of the time — it’s hard to see how plumbers and dump trucks will improve the system.

Now the transit agency says it needs more money, this time in the form of taxpayer dollars. Both a general-obligation bond and a vehicle license fee increase could go before voters in 2014. The new revenue would likely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. One member of the transit agency’s board of directors already is raising concerns.

“With these new ballot measures, we need to make it very clear about what they’re going to pay for and how they’re going to improve the system,” board Chairman Tom Nolan said. “Everything needs to be ironclad this time.”

But before the SFMTA conceives of its next revenue infusion, it needs to finish the job it started with Prop. A. Peskin, who blamed Newsom for ignoring the initiative’s intent by making the transit agency direct much of the money toward other city agencies, recently vowed that if he were still on the Board of Supervisors, “I would introduce a Prop. A reform measure.” We agree.

Casting blame will not improve Muni, which should be everyone’s end goal. San Franciscans should support their transit system because it’s not going to magically improve on its own. But before city leaders ask voters for additional revenues, the transit agency needs to reallocate all the funds raised by Prop. A to actual transit measures. It is not too late for The City to fulfill the promise of Prop. A.

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