Rare united front on Muni fixes

In a rare and welcome united front for San Francisco labor, management and politicians, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin’s package of much-needed reforms for work rules and financing options of the struggling Municipal Transportation Agency has gained endorsements from Mayor Gavin Newsom, MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford and the Muni union leaders.

The reform plan will now be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors, and it appears headed for the Nov. 6 ballot as a City Charter amendment. Peskin’s package is admittedly a somewhat softened revision of his original April proposal, which sparked firm labor resistance and would probably have been blocked by the supervisors.

There is also the small matter of a new provision slipped into the amendment when it was presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that was not there Monday and which could impact a separate bid backed by merchant groups to create more parking spaces in The City.

While those issues remain to be sorted out, the overall plan won over opposition by carefully balancing increased money-raising flexibility for the MTA while enabling management to tighten some long-established, costly and overly lenient personnel policies.

The measure would transfer more control of hiring, firing and work-rule changes to the MTA directors, who are appointed by the mayor. But on the other hand, the elected Board of Supervisors — where the employees presumably believe they can exert more influence — would need one less vote to reject a mayoral Muni budget it deemed inadequate.

The MTA board would gain greater latitude in placing new Muni tax measures onthe ballot and could even issue bonds backed by future revenue if the Board of Supervisors approved. But the supervisors could now decide on whether to let Muni outsource large services.

The MTA could also regulate traffic signals, stop signs and parking rules to lighten street traffic and hopefully provide better on-time bus and train service.

Perhaps the most significant provision of the proposed charter amendment is an increased flexibility to negotiate work-rules changes in exchange for fatter paychecks. Driver salaries would still be based on an average of the nation’s two highest-paying transit agencies. But the MTA could offer more money if the drivers gave up some of the work-rule rigidity that has long drained Muni coffers unnecessarily.

Supervisor Peskin’s Muni plan is a good example of constructive political negotiation among normally contentious interest groups. We’ll wait until a final version of a proposed charter amendment is hammered out before making a final determination, and the unexpected change in the legislation that was discussed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gives pause. But it is worth celebrating that clearly productive efforts are being made to fix an ailing system that has disappointed local transit users for far too long.

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