Standard practice for local jurisdictions seeking voter approval of bonds, parcel taxes or set-asides is to ask for only as much money as they believe could be passed.
Such measures focus on promised benefits and shunt the leftover cash shortages into very small print. That is exactly what happened with last year’s passage of Proposition A, which guaranteed $27 million for the Municipal Transportation Agency from San Francisco’s general fund.
Muni buses and light rail will still have a $66 million budget deficit by 2010. So now it is time to make the unpleasant decisions about raising ticket fares and/or cutting services. A panel of transportation experts appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom has recommended raising the price of the $45 monthly Fast Pass to as high as $60 within the next two years.
The panel’s rationale was that Muni’s Fast Pass price — at 30 times the rate of a single $1.50 ticket — is the lowest in the Bay Area. AC Transit in the East Bay charges adult riders $70 a month, and San Mateo County’s SamTrans charges $72 a month. Charging the 110,000 Fast Pass holders 35 to 40 times the single-ticket fare would result in a monthly pass price of between $53 and $60 — generating approximately $12 million to $15 million a year in increased revenue.
And in another peculiarly San Franciscan bleeding-heart justification, MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose argued that higher Fast Pass prices would somehow be fairer to Muni’s poorer commuters, who cannot accumulate the monthly $45 up-front fees and are forced to pay $1.50 each time they use public transit.
If the goal were truly to help The City’s poorest residents instead of pushing excuses for a costlier Fast Pass, this could be efficiently accomplished by making it simple for proven very-low-income riders to get deeper discounts, or by adding weekly and even three-day passes into the sales mix.
At this point in the revenue-boosting process, both Newsom and MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford are insisting that any Fast Pass price increase is merely one of the alternatives under consideration for this spring’s draft budget proposal. In 2005, Muni had also considered raising the Fast Pass price to $50, but that increase was never implemented.
The Examiner does recognize that Muni Fast Passes are considerably underpriced in comparison to SamTrans and AC Transit. And any package that keeps the buses and light rail on their routes should probably include some increase in the monthly pass price.
But an increase from $45 to $60 is just too much of a cost shock for lower-incomeSan Franciscans. The previously delayed $5 rise to $50 seems like a less offensive solution.