Election outcome could determine Muni’s path

A shuttle bus to complement the N-Judah train and more enforcement on transit-only lanes to speed up vehicles on Van Ness Avenue and Mission Street are the highlights of Muni’s service restoration plans.

Only one problem: There is still no money to support these plans, although that could change drastically depending on the November election.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, needs $22 million to bring back the entirety of its 10 percent service cuts, which were enforced in May and partially restored in September.

A special task force has been assigned to track down this funding, but nothing has been identified so far. However, much of the report could hinge on the outcome of Proposition G, a ballot initiative aimed at reforming work rules and pay structures for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents 2,220 Muni operators.

If Prop. G passes, $5 million to $7 million in annual revenue that is normally funneled into an operators’ benefits fund would be withheld. An additional $9 million in automatic salary hikes set to be implemented in July would be immediately subject to contract negotiations between the union and management.

Those figures, which add up to roughly $16 million, have already been factored into the SFMTA’s current budget, and depending on how negotiations go, that money could be used for service restorations, said SFMTA executive director Nathaniel Ford.

“I’m trying to refrain from getting into ‘what ifs,’” Ford said about the service restorations. “But there is a major ‘what if’ in terms of election day, and how it relates to our financial situation.”

The Controller’s Office did not identify specific agency savings if Prop. G passes, due to the uncertainty on contract negotiations. The union, in its ballot argument against the proposition, said that workers were being unfairly targeted for problems at Muni.

In addition to potential Prop. G savings, Ford said the SFMTA can reduce the $22 million figure needed for service restorations by finding internal cost savings and efficiencies.

Those efficiencies could come from increasing speeds on lines such as the 49-Van Ness and the 14-Mission, and making the N-Judah easier to board by adding a supplementary bus shuttle, according to John Haley, the SFMTA’s transit director. By using on-bus cameras as a way to enforce transit-only lanes, the 49 and the 14 could move faster, and adding a shuttle bus on the N-Judah line to carry passengers from Carl and Cole streets to downtown would free up extra
light-rail vehicles.

By speeding up service on the entire Muni system by just 1 mph, the agency could realize $76 million annually in operator, vehicle and scheduling savings.

If Prop. G fails, the SFMTA could look at state and federal possibilities to find the $22 million, but their options are limited.

After cutting service by 10 percent in May, a move designed to save the agency $29 million annually, the SFMTA cobbled together about $15 million from one-time local and state sources to restore 61 percent of the cuts. However, said Ford that strategy is untenable.

“We would hate to add service back, and then cut it again because we didn’t have sustainable funding,” Ford said. “That would be disastrous for riders.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Service restorations highlights

 

  • Express bus shuttle to complement N-Judah service from mid-route to downtown
  • Rapid buses for the 49-Van Ness and 14-Mission lines
  • Supplement overcrowded bus lines such as the 5-Fulton, 28-19th Avenue, and 71-Haight
  • Restore late-night service (not Owl) to 20-minute headways

Funding outline

10 percent Muni service cut in May
$28.8 million Annual savings from those service cuts
61 percent Service cuts restored in September
$22 million Funding needed to permanently restore all service cuts
$16 million Operator salary and benefits potentially available if Proposition G passes

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