Adding Muni fees to large events deserves study

There is little doubt that Muni needs additional funding. The transit system has an aging fleet and crumbling infrastructure that cost The City money in lost productivity. Figuring out where to generate this revenue, though, needs careful consideration so as to not affect other revenue streams that flow into San Francisco’s coffers.

The true costs of not fixing Muni are a bit clearer following a new report from city Chief Economist Ted Egan that puts a price tag on the breakdowns that plague the system. We all know that major service disruptions are a headache for riders trying to get to and from work or around The City, but Egan’s report pinned the price at $50 million annually in lost worker productivity.

Supervisor Scott Wiener has called on The City to study what a ticket surcharge of $1 to $3 on tickets for large events would mean for the system’s funding. Early numbers suggest that such a fee on music and sporting events could bring in somewhere between the low millions and the tens of millions, depending on the price and the size of the events to which such a surcharge applied. Wiener’s proposal should start an intriguing discussion about Muni’s income, spending and service needs.

There is little doubt that large events add stress on Muni as a whole. Baseball games and large concerts add riders to the system, especially when those events coincide with the morning or evening commutes or other high-traffic scenarios.

The transit system often cites the added operational costs of such events, including the overtime needed to deploy enough drivers to handle the added traffic. But on the flipside, more riders taking Muni to events should increase the system’s farebox revenue.

Before we can say whether to support Wiener’s proposed transit fees, we need to see more information about the gap between the costs that such events impose and the increased revenue that could be generated to respond to those transit impacts.

Take, for instance, the recent Bay to Breakers race. At Ocean Beach, where tens of thousands of runners finish the event, Muni this year added a $12 return shuttle to downtown. In years past, event participants have crowded onto N-Judah light-rail trains and 5-Fulton buses, paying the regular fares to go back downtown. This year, the $12 fee for the express bus should have closed the gap between the money collected and the cost for extra drivers to staff the route.

The study about a potential ticket surcharge on large events should also take into consideration the money that such events contribute to city coffers. In addition to the taxes and fees that ticketed events produce, their patrons obviously spend money on a host of additional services, which benefits The City’s economy. Such indirect benefits of large events need to be weighed into this complex equation.

If the study of such events finds an incongruence between their transit impacts and the money that they generate for The City, a case could be made for Wiener’s ticket surcharge. Everyday riders should not suffer when others overtax The City’s aging transit system. But event patrons also shouldn’t be charged for a problem that extends well beyond their rides to concerts or sporting events.

editorialsMuniOpinionScott Wiener

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