Muni ’07 budget avoids fare hikes 

Muni officials submitted a budget for next year that avoids fare increases for the vast majority of passengers, but public transportation watchdogs said the city has not done enough to ensure that increases or service cuts won’t return in future years.

The proposed $682 million budget for the Municipal Transportation Agency has an expenditure budget nearly $100,000 higher than last year’s, a 16.5 percent increase, but will be balanced with the help of additional revenues anticipated from various agencies and increases to parking rates and fares, according to MTA CEO Nathaniel Ford. Cracking down on fare evaders through the hiring of 27 new inspectors and 13 additional station agents will generate an additional $14.8 million, he said.

The proposed budget includes $20 million for preventative maintenance, $10 million to create a "rainy day" operating reserve and $1.9 million for enhanced safety and security measures. Ford said he hopes to reduce the number of Muni accidents that have resulted in serious injury or death, as well as costly legal settlements.

"We’ve had an alarming growth in the number of claims this agency has paid out," said Ford, who said he was unprepared to give a total dollar amount on the cost of legal settlements at the board’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Wednesday.

Supervisor Chris Daly said that, although the proposed budget appears to offer the transit agency a fiscal "reprieve" in 2006-07, he was concerned about deficits already projected for future years. Before the meeting, he joined a coalition of transit advocates in a press conference calling on the MTA to begin looking for additional revenue sources now to stave off fare hikes and service cuts in the future.

Ford confirmed that, due to expected increases in labor and fuel costs, the agency is projected to face a $43.7 million deficit in fiscal year 2009-2010, which could grow to an estimated $61.4 million in FY 2020.

Sarah Karlinsky, a policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, noted that the advocacy group had recently released a report onMuni’s budget problems that included numerous recommendations for generating new revenue, including improving enforcement of current downtown parking pricing rules, improved enforcement of parking violations, increasing on-street parking prices and expanding residential permit parking fees for more areas in The City.

beslinger@examiner.com

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