Muni fares will soon go up for most passengers except those paying in cash. (Examiner file photo)

Cost of monthly Muni pass to exceed $100 as fares rise

SFMTA board approves budget designed to increase revenue, avoid service cuts

A monthly Muni pass will soon cost more than $100 as part of across the board fare increases approved Tuesday for nearly everyone except those paying in cash.

The fare increases, part of the agency’s newly approved budget, were opposed by groups including the Board of Supervisors, City College of San Francisco students, and a coalition of 24 San Francisco organizations including Jobs with Justice San Francisco, Senior and Disability Action, South of Market Community Action Network, Housing Rights Committee San Francisco, Mission Housing, the Coalition on Homelessness, and more.

“The income inequality we see every day in San Francisco has only been exacerbated by COVID-19,” the coalition of organizations wrote in a joint letter to transit officials. “The necessity of an equitable fare policy becomes even more apparent in the wake of this pandemic, and the last thing that we need right now is fare increases.”

Yet fares will go up all the same after the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved the agency’s $1.28 billion 2021 budget and $1.34 billion 2022 budget Tuesday.

“It’s never popular to increase fares,” SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin said Tuesday. “Keeping fares exactly the same would mean we would need to make substantial service cuts and lay off over a hundred transit operators.”

SFMTA oversees not only Muni, but city taxi companies, parking control officers and the creation of bike lanes, among other transportation considerations.

While Muni fares will go up, some towing fees for low-income drivers will go down. Parking meters, however, will see their hours and days extended.

Like transit agencies across the Bay Area, SFMTA had to completely retool its budget to account for plunging ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will cause the agency a $195 million revenue loss, SFMTA staff said. A federal stimulus package is expected to help plug the gap, providing $197 million in relief should that amount be approved by a regional transit body Wednesday.

“Without the support of the federal government, we would be in a much worse situation than we are now,” SFMTA staffer Jonathan Rewers told the SFMTA Board of Directors Tuesday.

The budget will also ensure a ten percent reserve is kept in place, even as other transit agencies dip into their rainy day funding.

Though the new budget will see fares rise for many, they will do so in a way that reflects the agency’s values, Tumlin said.

Higher monthly fares will mostly be borne by the service’s more financially well-off, riders who pay bus fares using Clipper cards, he said. Whereas cash fares — predominantly paid by lower-income people of color in San Francisco — will not go down, but will remain at $3 per fare through 2022.

Single rides paid for on Clipper cards will rise from $2.50 per ride to $2.80 in November after San Francisco passes its budget, and $2.90 in mid-2021. Adult monthly passes that include BART rides within San Francisco will rise from $98 to $103 later this year, and $106 in mid-2021. Adult monthly passes without BART access will go up from $81 to $86 later this year, and $88 in mid-2021.

A bevy of community activists pushed back against the rising Muni fares during the meeting.

“I’m against any of the fare increases,” one student organizer from City College of San Francisco told the SFMTA board. “We have a lot of people who lost their jobs and are facing unemployment, and the buses are for essential workers and people getting groceries and medication.”

Gwyneth Borden, vice chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, told the public that the budget reflects the best choices possible under difficult circumstances.

“We know it’s not enough, and it’s going to be a tough time for people going forward,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’re facing those funding pressures ourselves.”

The budget includes a bevy of new programs that will arrive in the next two years: efforts to shore up a Muni operator shortage, an expansion of Muni’s unarmed ambassador program, the creation of a new Race, Equity and Diversity Office at SFMTA, improvements to parking and congestion management, a boost in funding to the Safe Routes to School program which encourages walking among city students, and increases to “critical technology and network infrastructure.”

Some elements of the budget will be subject to change, depending on SFMTA’s fiscal health in the coming two years, including the Safe Routes to School program and an expansion of Free Muni for Youth to include young adults.

Besides Muni fares, other transit and transportation fees in San Francisco will change under the new SFMTA budget as well.

Towing fees will rise from $537 to $574 later this year, and to $543 in mid-2021. People experiencing homelessness who are certified by The City will pay no money for towing fees, to reduce the undue burden on an already impoverished population.

Parking boot fees will rise for most drivers from $515 to $550 by mid-2021, though low-income drivers will see that fee go down from $100 to $75 in the same period. People certified by The City as homeless will not pay boot fees.

Some neighborhoods will also have parking meters extended until 10 p.m. and to Sundays, when they were historically free, in an effort to encourage the turnover of customers on commercial corridors. SFMTA said it will “partner” with local merchant associations to determine where to extend meter hours.

SFMTA also said it would waive all taxi fees, amounting to $1.4 million annually, to help the taxi industry as it weathers a drop in ridership.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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