If you live in, work in or visit San Francisco, chances are you’ve ridden Muni. As a regular rider and resident, I understand why the system is valued for its comprehensive coverage of our city and also why it is criticized for sometimes being crowded, dirty or late.
I also understand that there is much work to do to achieve our charter-mandated performance goals. We are working hard to address the system’s critical issues: increasing efficiencies, replacing antiquated equipment, and ensuring buses and trains are on time. These issues result, in part, from underfunding Muni for decades.
More recently, like so many other city agencies, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was severely impacted by the economic downturn of 2008. Critical funding channels dried up and revenues simply could not cover agency expenses. As a result, our structural deficits grew. These circumstances underscore why Proposition A was so vital. Through that ballot measure, voters directed more revenue to the transit agency, which stemmed some of the Muni service cuts that would have otherwise cut deeper and impacted more riders during the nation’s economic downturn.
Last year, recognizing both the infrastructure and operational needs of the system, we crafted a two-year budget that invests an additional $50 million in Muni maintenance. We are also replacing and rehabilitating our buses. By the end of this year, we will have 80 rehabilitated buses and 62 new buses on our streets, and in five years, we will have replaced the remaining fleet. In addition, we took steps to be more efficient with the resources we have by reducing management positions, overtime and other administrative expenses. Still, more resources are needed to repair our overburdened transportation system.
Just how much investment is needed? For Muni and other aspects of our current transportation system, we need $510 million per year for the next 20 years. However, our budget only covers half of these needs. If we continue underfunding the transportation network like this, it will not only fall further into disrepair, it will also make it harder for us to responsibly accommodate The City’s future growth. In the coming decades, San Francisco expects to embrace at least 101,000 additional households and 191,000 new jobs. As a city, we haven’t adequately funded the system for today’s San Franciscans, let alone tomorrow’s.
But finding the levels of funding needed to support the nation’s seventh-largest transit system, which carries more than 200 million riders a year in the most densely populated city in the Western U.S., will be neither simple nor quick. Thankfully, a dialogue on the future of our transportation system is already underway with Mayor Ed Lee’s 2030 Transportation Task Force. In the meantime, we at the transit agency will continue to use the resources we have today as strategically as we can.
As we look to the future, I believe a strong transportation network is fundamental to The City’s economic vitality and quality of life. I also believe most San Franciscans care deeply about the transportation system and want it to thrive.
For those who believe as I do, now is the time to demonstrate a commitment to good transportation and to prioritize making it better today and for years to come.
Edward D. Reiskin is the director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is responsible for all modes of ground transportation: Muni, traffic engineering and management, parking, bicycles, pedestrians, and taxis.