MTA chief wants ‘far outside the box’ ideas for revenue 

Although it’s far from hashing any ideas out, the Municipal Transportation Agency has generated a list of ideas to conquer its $150 million structural deficit that includes levying a 25-cent sales tax, increasing the price of residential parking and installing snack machines at rail stations.

MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said the agency’s top officials were asked to brainstorm "far outside the box" for revenue sources. None of the ideas — many of which were developed by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association — have been adopted or even thoroughly reviewed.

"There is a whole lot of work to be done both logistically and politically," he said at a meeting Tuesday of the MTA board of directors and Parking Authority Commission, where the list of 100 ideas was presented.

Last month, MTA adopted a balanced $680 million budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year. There is still, however, a $150 million structural deficit, affecting maintenance, facilities and staffing levels, that will haunt the agency each year, Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose said.

"It’s a pretty bleak picture looking at us for 2008-09," she said.

In order to balance this year’s budget, the MTA board approved an increase in garage-related rates, auto tow fees, and daily storage rates for towed vehicles, expected to generate an additional $4.5 million for the agency. A new $25 collection fee for citation scofflaws is expected to raise an additional $2 million.

Major changes are still needed, officials say.

"It is clear that the [MTA] does not have the adequate resources to provide the quality service required under Proposition E," Ford wrote in a March 27 memo to MTA board members. In 2006, San Francisco voters approved Proposition E, which generates funds and sets performance targets for the agency.

The ideas presented Tuesday were considered "low" if expected to generate less than $2 million; "medium" if they brought in $2 million to $10 million, and "high" if they generated more than $10 million.

Implementing a local gas tax, levying a 25-cent sales tax and passing a downtown parcel tax would each generate more than $10 million for the agency, according to SPUR. Both the sales and parcel taxes would require a two-thirds voter approval.

SPUR also suggested charging for transfers, increasing the cost of residential parking permits and adding 1 percent to the utility user tax.

Ideas generated by MTA staff members include installing televisions with running ads in buses and light-rail cars, increasing fares by $1 to $2 for rides to San Francisco Giants’ and 49ers’ games and raising the fee for parking violations.

"This is not to imply that everything on here will work," Leah Shahum, an MTA board member, said. "The next step is the game plan."

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