Fixing Muni’s never-ending problems 

Another week and yet another report on Muni’s failures. Oh, sorry: This is a biennial report, mandated by voters in 1999, and it covers a period before Nathaniel Ford was named chief of the Municipal Transportation Agency in 2005. You may be forgiven if you imagine these studies of our miserable bus, trolley and cable car system come out at least fortnightly.

It is probably true that these costly reports say little that frustrated Muni riders don’t already know. The buses are chronically late, they make fewer stops than they once did, and they are sardine-packed — all conditions contributing to more congestion on the streets and to more crowded bus stops. And the crowds belie the fact that ridership continues its steady decline.

To his credit, Ford has added resources with which to goose the conveyances’ punctuality — from 60 percent to 70 percent on-time performance to a goal of 85 percent. He even exceeded the goal with 88 percent on one once-troubled line. Of course, he has done this even as Muni operates under alarming deficits. Collected fares account for only $138 million, 22 percent of Muni’s yearly cost.

So performance on the J-Church line and the 1-California line suggest some improvement, arguably cosmetic. Undeniably, The City’s transit system cries out for dramatic solutions. Mayor Gavin Newsom offered the audacious idea of abolishing fares, thereby freeing Muni personnel from time-consuming collections. But how do you introduce such radical generosity given all the financial hemorrhaging?

Some large-hearted souls, including proponents of Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s plan to give free rides to 18- to 24-year-olds, count on money from federal coffers. But that would require inequitable distribution across the country, with less affluent communities expected to supportSan Francisco’s footloose population. Another fanciful notion would tax downtown businesses. Trust us: The City’s already burdened businesses cannot support another tax, no matter how seemingly miniscule.

So there the continuing saga of Muni stands. It should be said its problems are not uncommon with municipally operated transportation systems, and indeed many will remain insoluble. But there’s a new chief, making some measure of progress. We may hope he can keep making his goals.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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