A controversial plan to eliminate Sunday parking meter enforcement in The City was unanimously approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board Tuesday, as members remain hopeful that anticipated revenue losses could be recovered with the approval of November bond measures.
The transit agency’s approved two-year budget also calls for a Muni single-trip fare increase of a quarter to $2.25, a 10 percent boost in service systemwide and expanding the free Muni for low- and moderate-income youth into a permanent program that includes 18-year-olds. These and a bevy of other changes will go into effect July 1, pending approval by the Board of Supervisors. The budget is set to increase to $943.2 million next fiscal year and $962.6 million the following year.
Discontinuation of Sunday parking meter enforcement, arguably the spending plan’s most controversial item, originated as a request from Mayor Ed Lee. Paid meters were implemented last year due to record budget deficits facing Muni. Considering the budget for fiscal years 2014-15 and 2015-16, however, Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said SFMTA is “obviously in a better position.”
Despite requests from the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, Livable City, bicycle and pedestrian advocates and other groups for Sunday meters to continue, SFMTA board members sided with the mayor and populations like elderly churchgoers.
The decision was “quite difficult,” noted Reiskin, adding that the board wanted to “respect the mayor’s call.”
Addressing concerns of lost fee revenue, board members argue the costs can easily be made up through two bond measures –- a $500 million general obligation transportation bond and a vehicle license fee that would generate $1 billion over 15 years. The approximately $11 million parking meters and citations generate per year pales in comparison, they note.
“Instead of nickel and diming our residents at the meter on Sunday, let’s work together to support comprehensive transportation funding measures this year and in the future,” Lee said in a statement.
Reiskin told The San Francisco Examiner: “We can give up a few million dollars if it helps us secure $1.5 billion.”
But Cynthia Crews of the League of Pissed-Off Voters said the transit agency’s job is to manage the streets, not do the mayor’s bidding, and called it “a giveaway no one is asking for except Mayor Ed Lee.”
“This sucks,” she said. “Everyone in San Francisco who owns a car is getting a free ride thanks to all of us on a bus.”
Unlike divided public comment over Sunday parking meters, most voices on expanding the free Muni for youth were in favor. The board voted to make the pilot a permanent program, thanks largely to a $6.8 million gift from Google. In addition, 18-year-olds have been included, but they won’t be able to receive free rides until November due to administrative changes needed on the Clipper card system, said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose.
Free Muni for low- and moderate-income seniors and disabled people garnered the most support from public comment and SFMTA chairman Tom Nolan announced the service expansion was his priority, “a moral imperative”. Still, the board postponed a decision, citing the need for financial evaluation in January 2015. Instead, it approved a freeze on fare increases for senior and disabled riders for the coming fiscal year. “It’s not an issue of ‘if.’ It’s really a question of ‘when,’” Nolan said of the extension to seniors and disabled people.
The single-ride fair increase and raising the monthly Muni pass by $2 to $68 received little discussion.
Reiskin said he was surprised little public comment surrounded the 3 percent service increase in the first fiscal year and possible 7 percent increase the following year.
“No one mentioned it today,” Reiskin said. “But we’re excited about it. It’s a big deal.”