Muni’s contribution to San Francisco’s mental health

Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner file photoA general obligation bond

Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner file photoA general obligation bond

Each year, the American College of Sports Medicine ranks the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas in its American Fitness Index. San Francisco ranked fourth this year, behind Minneapolis-St. Paul, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. The Greater Bay Area gets good marks for the fact that almost 15 percent of people take public transportation to work, but low marks for “percent of days when mental health was not good.”

These things may be related.

Supervisor Scott Wiener has made it his mission to find a way to improve our public-transportation system, holding hearing after hearing on the status of Muni and its budget. Those meetings can be very depressing.

For example, at Tuesday’s hearing of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Transit Director John Haley explained that the system needs 114 light-rail vehicles on weekdays to serve commuters appropriately. But owing to the system’s limited number of operational cars (read: not old and broken down), there are fewer than 114 operating a full one-third of the time.

In fact, last month, there were only two weekdays at full operation. In December, there were zero. Trolley coaches aren’t doing much better, achieving the ideal number of vehicles only 50 percent of the time. Trolley coaches and light rail represent half the system’s ridership.

Last week at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Transportation Director Ed Reiskin announced that his agency’s goal is to reduce the number of personal auto trips from the current level of 61 percent of all trips to 50 percent by the end of 2018. Sort of like the “goal” of 85 percent on-time performance mandated by voters in 1999. Instead it is 58.7 percent so far this year. “Goals” are fun!

As with many things, the answer is money. Reiskin will be coming to the Board of Supervisors this year to ask for $120 million in revenue bonds to make a small dent in the $2.2 billion needed in transportation infrastructure improvements. Additionally, the voters will be considering a vehicle license fee (likely in November 2014) expected to bring in $70 million per year to the general fund, where it will promptly be spent on things San Franciscans do not use every day.

Fearful of that obvious and likely result, Wiener is considering putting a measure on the same ballot with the fee to force the use of the new income for updating the physical transit system. Wiener also is considering a surcharge on tickets to events for the same purpose. Either proposal would need the approval of voters.

At the recent hearing, Reiskin acknowledged that, to get additional money, “We need to earn the credibility to get that support.”

No kidding.

Until then, I’m sure making the choice to walk or bike to work would be just as good for our rating on the American Fitness Index. And better for our mental health.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at

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