Is Fast Pass a quick fix for budget?

Faced with a budget deficit that could balloon to $66 million by 2010, Muni is considering raising the price of the $45 monthly Fast Pass to as high as $60 within the next two years.

The price hike is based on recommendations from a panel of transportation experts appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, which said San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency should charge Fast Pass holders 35 to 40 times the current rate of a single ticket fare — $1.50 — which would result in a new monthly pass price between $53 and $60.

Newsom told The Examiner that he wanted to explore all options before any decision is made regarding fee increases.

“I don’t think anyone wants to prematurely raise fees, or fares, or fines,” Newsom said. “At the same time, how do you balance those feelings with the alternatives? I am not enthusiastic about raising Fast Pass prices, but we have to consider all possibilities.”

Raising prices for the 110,000 monthly Fast Pass users would generate approximately $12 million to $15 million a year in increased revenue, said Sonali Bose, the MTA’s chief financial officer, who detailed the department’s budget forecasts for the next two years in yesterday’s board of directors meeting.

When and if the proposed rate increases would be implemented is still undetermined, Bose said.

Even with the voter-approved Proposition A funneling $27 million into the MTA from The City’s general fund, the department will still have a budget deficit of $66 million in 2010, according to Bose. Raising ticket fares would be an alternative to cutting new services, Bose said.

Muni’s $45 monthly Fast Pass price — currently 30 times the rate of a single ticket — is the lowest in the Bay Area, and efforts must be made to catch up to other transportation agencies such as Oakland’s AC Transit, which charges adult riders $70 a month, and San Mateo County’s

SamTrans, which charges $72 a month, Bose said.

Bose said the fare increase would also offer justification for Muni’s poorer commuters, who cannot pay the $45 monthly up-front fee and are forced to dole out $1.50 each time they use public transit — a cost that can accumulate greatly over a month of travel.

“It’s unfortunate that those who can’t pay for monthly passes are subsidizing transportation costs for those who can,” Bose said.

MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford, whose agency faces a $15 million budget deficit for the 2009 fiscal year, said all suggestions for fare increases are purely speculative at this point. The MTA’s budget for the upcoming year is due to the Mayor’s Office on May 1.

In 2005, Muni also considered raising the price of the Fast Pass to $50, but the increase was never implemented.

wreisman@examiner.com

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