(Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner)

The SFMTA needs to reconsider its fare increase

Experience from the last recession shows increased fares reduce ridership, lead to service cuts

By Pi Ra

An open letter to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Board:

We at Senor and Disability Action (SDA) are truly appreciative of the SFMTA’s efforts to keep service running for essential workers and other San Franciscans who need transit to bring home their groceries and go to medical appointments. As seniors and people with disabilities, we often rely on these very essential caregivers ourselves and thank Muni for providing the means for them to reach us. Your thoughtful efforts are made evident with your quick response to the community feedback on the reduction of Muni services. For example, the SFMTA quickly restored some critical service routes and created the Essential Trip Card Program.

At the same time, we are quite perplexed on why the SFMTA would now decide to increase Muni fares during this time of COVID-19 health and economic crisis. This decision will have a long-term negative impact on our minority and low-income communities. And furthermore, it will not produce the desired revenues to help keep Muni running effectively.

On close review of your decision-making process, we notice that the decision was based on some unknown variables and forgotten past experiences.

Unknown Variables

SDA likes sound transportation decisions based on known facts and not unfounded guesses and questionable assumptions. In this case, the SFMTA made some questionable predictions regarding the unknowns of the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the unknowns being: when will the shelter-in-place will be lifted, when can we get back to “normalcy,” what will normalcy look like, and will there be a second COVID-19 wave? For example, many experts are now saying that there will be a more disruptive second wave of the virus occurring in the Fall. As far as we know, soothsaying is not a strong suit of the SFMTA.

Forgotten Experiences

Senior and Disability Action’s 25+ years of advocacy for equitable transportation gives us a long memory and some insight into how past decisions by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency may haunt the agency’s current vote to increase Muni fares. The last time Muni raised fares during a recession, in Fall of 2009, ridership fell significantly and services were then cut more. Now we are entering an even greater recession, and the SFMTA is again raising the fare.

We understand the financial pressure the coronavirus pandemic has placed on public transportation regarding revenue collected and service provided. But during our last recession, increased fares led to lower ridership. This led to more service cuts. This created a collective community belief that Muni was no longer affordable or reliable. And if you want to continue down this pothole-laced path, this has led to the proliferation of corporate buses and Uber and Lyft, which degraded public transportation reliability even further.

What are we asking for?

We and the disabled and senior community of San Francisco request that the SFMTA take a step-by-step, positive, analytic approach based on known facts and not on negative projected fears of the future. This is a great opportunity to look at and address old transportation issues that have plagued the SFMTA and Muni for years. With that in mind, we want the SFMTA to implement the following steps:

  • Retract your Operation Budget vote, replace your fare increase item with another revenue projection, add in a confirmation vote to be held in the fall, and approve the new penciled in operation budget.
  • Don’t Panic, you now have at least four months to perform the next steps:
  • Review the transportation data and notes of our last recession.
  • Keep current on the constantly changing COVID-19 health and economic projection models and plans. In four months, you will have a much clearer view of what the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years will look like.
  • Most important: Listen to your ridership.

Finally, with all the new data and insight gathered, then decide whether or not the fare increase fits into an equity-based transportation solution for all residents of San Francisco.

Remember, SFMTA, be patient, don’t panic, take some time to reflect on how your decisions will affect our future. At this time, we are not going anywhere, literally. Which means SDA and the seniors and people with disabilities community have that much more time to help you make the right decision. And we will.


Pi Ra, Transit Justice Director

Senior and Disability Action

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