Monthly Muni passes may get more expensive for Clipper card users as the transit agency works to close a structural budget deficit and deal with losses caused by drops in ridership. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Muni losing $1 million weekly amid coronavirus ridership drop

Agency to cut service during lockdown, considering long-term fare increases

Muni is hemorrhaging money and is preparing to cut service as ridership plunges amid coronavirus fears and a new shelter-in-place order from The City.

The agency is losing $1 million a week, and now is considering “contingency plans.”

That’s according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin, who tweeted about the dire situation this past weekend.

“We were poised for major service improvements. But now we are making contingency plans for cutting service,” Tumlin tweeted.

The City will reduce Muni service amid an order to shelter in place for the coronavirus pandemic, Tumlin also announced Monday. Service will be at Sunday levels, which means express buses headed downtown will be cancelled, but rapid bus lines, like the 38-Rapid, will still run.

At the same time, however, Tumlin said Muni will boost its service on neighborhood-focused routes, which include the 18-46th Avenue, the 36-Teresita, and other lines that don’t head downtown. Muni routes serving hospitals will also see a boost, Tumlin said.

To ensure operator safety from coronavirus infection, cable cars and the F-Market and Wharves and E-Embarcadero streetcar lines will be replaced by Muni buses, which feature plastic barriers to protect operators from possible infection.

“We will work hard to ensure public transit continues throughout this public health emergency,” Tumlin said at a City Hall press conference.

But the budget concerns loom large, and deficits were already in Muni’s future before coronavirus led to a ridership drop that is causing the agency’s farebox revenue to plummet.

While Supervisor Dean Preston and others have called for Muni to be made free to all riders in recent months, Tumlin tweeted that it may not be possible.

“Every (government) agency’s values are only expressed in its budget. Do we cut fares or service?” he wrote. “(Government) isn’t your magical wish-fulfillment machine. I have no queer magic wand. My budget must balance.”

Tumlin said Muni is better off than BART right now, which is losing as much as $600,000 daily due to low ridership, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

But an unrelated potential budget deficit, which was already on the horizon before coronavirus broke out, according to public documents, has the SFMTA considering dipping into its contingency reserve and raising the price of Clipper single-ride fares to match cash fares, which are 50 cents more expensive.

Single-use rides would potentially rise also under this budget scenario, bringing a single fare aboard Muni up to $3.25 by 2022. Right now, those fares with a Clipper card are $2.50.

SFMTA is facing a $53 million structural operating budget deficit unrelated to coronavirus concerns, according to budget documents. Operating budgets comprise money needed to run day-to-day operations.

SFMTA’s capital budget, however, is what is needed to build out new infrastructure and maintain a state of good repair on existing trackways, bus stops, and underground stations, among other structures. That unmet capital budget need is $30 billion over 20 years.

Under the new budget proposal, which will be presented to the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday but not voted on until April, monthly Muni passes would increase from $81 monthly to $94 by 2022, and monthly Muni passes with San Francisco-BART service would increase from $98 to $113 by 2022.

People will travel far less in the days to come, as on Monday, Mayor London Breed and other Bay Area county leaders announced orders for citizens to shelter-in-place, and reduce any non-essential travel outside their homes.

With fewer people on the streets, Muni is expected to make service reduction announcements Monday, though the service will still run as many vital city personnel are still working — and many rely on Muni to get where they’re going.

joe@sfexmainer.com

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