The road to Muni reform is a long and complicated one in San Francisco, with riders clearly remaining frustrated by inadequate service while politicians and bureaucrats struggle to fix a broken system.
A new effort to address public transit woes on next month’s municipal ballot, Proposition A, contains some good ideas about how to improve Muni service. Ultimately, however, it is not clear it would do more good than harm.
The charter amendment would give the Municipal Transportation Agency more freedom to issue revenue bonds without voter approval, enter into contracts and fill vacant positions, among a host of measures that backers say would streamline MTA operations. Prop. A would also double the current 40 percent of parking tax revenues that are allocated from the city budget to the MTA, would turn the current wage cap for transit operators into a wage minimum and would require a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsby The City’s transit fleet.
Many of the ideas contained in Prop. A are on target. The system needs more funding and a better ability to fire ineffective managers, two problem areas that are addressed by the $26 million increase in annual parking-tax revenues and an increase in the number of management positions that would be exempt from civil service protections. But the measure, a piecemeal document that bears the inevitable scars of having run through the City Hall political wringer, tries in too many cases to split the difference among competing interests in ways that don’t logically lead to better transit service.
For example, turning the wage ceiling for bus drivers into a wage floor may have been necessary to gain the support of the powerful transit unions, but it’s unclear how that helps the riders. Prop. A backers say the higher pay for drivers allows Muni management to more effectively bargain with the drivers’ union: It would more easily allow the agency to get rid of bad employees and fix rules that don’t hold workers accountable, supporters say. But while the fatter paychecks for workers would be guaranteed if Prop. A passes, there are no guarantees for taxpayers and riders that those promised improvements would come to fruition.
In the late stages of Prop. A’s journey to the ballot, amendments were added to restrict the creation of parking spaces in The City in response to a separate ballot measure, Proposition H, that would have increased the amount of downtown spaces. Later, another political deal was worked out by Prop. A backers to placate opponents by promising a third ballot measure in February that would loosen some of those parking restrictions.
The deal-making surrounding parking policy and the lack of toughness on Muni’s legendary lax work rules took what looked to be a promising Muni reform effort down the rabbit hole of City Hall politics. We recommend voting no on Prop. A.