Sustainable funding is needed for Muni

A safe, reliable and efficient public-transportation system is critical to the economic vitality of our city. San Francisco is a leading urban center, and our regional economy is the 19th-largest in the world. Our city's residents, businesses and visitors need and deserve an effective transportation system that supports mobility, commerce and a high quality of life.

Unfortunately, San Francisco's transit system is drastically underfunded, and it has been for decades. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, is now facing a $2.2 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and a $70 million structural operating budget. According to a new report from the city economist, Muni breakdowns are costing The City $50 million annually in lost productivity.

These budgetary challenges will only be exacerbated as our population continues to grow. In the coming decades, San Francisco will gain an estimated 101,000 additional households and 191,000 new jobs. Across the region, the population is projected to expand from 7 million residents to 9 million by 2040. Investment in our public transportation system is needed now.

San Francisco is making progress. In 2010, voters passed Proposition G, giving Muni control of its largest costs and ending the agency's flawed wage formula. According to agency officials, these reforms have already helped save $41 million in contract negotiations. Muni has taken steps to more effectively police fare evasion. The transit agency is also moving forward with its Transit Effectiveness Project to further improve Muni's operating efficiency.

But this is only a small start in the much bigger challenge of creating a sustainable transportation system that meets our needs. The Chamber of Commerce is participating in the Mayor's 2030 Transportation Task Force with SPUR and other business, neighborhood and labor representatives to evaluate and recommend funding measures to the transit agency board of directors and the Board of Supervisors.

While it is clear that no one funding solution is going to work for everyone, all ideas are on the table. Changes to parking policies, new bond funding and raising the vehicle license fee are just some of the potential options being discussed by the task force. Transit agency officials are also looking closely at department work orders. For example, the Police Department motorcycle unit costs the agency $9 million a year, money that perhaps should come from the general fund.

When it comes to San Francisco's transportation system, there is no silver bullet. But, if we work together, we can create an informed and broad-based approach that both provides adequate mobility and is fiscally sustainable. Now is the time to act.

Bob Linscheid is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.

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