Muni balances its budget in face of future deficits 

By shrinking the budget by $9 million, Muni has balanced the books for the next fiscal year, but officials say it is a volatile situation.

The $673 million budget for fiscal year 2007-08, which begins July 1, is technically balanced for now, with revenues keeping pace with expenditures.

However, the transit agency, which carries 700,000 weekday riders on 1,000 buses, streetcars and trolleys, is facing a $150 million structural deficit officials said will haunt the agency year after year. The deficit developed after years of budget cuts left the agency with overcrowded maintenance facilities, outdated equipment and a severe shortage of drivers, mechanics and vehicles.

"This budget does not address our long-term structural deficit," Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said this week. "We are on a financial journey to get our agency in better stability."

Muni officials increased various traffic-related fees to balance the budget. The cost of having a vehicle towed, for example, jumped from $225 to $314. The increase is expected to generate $1.5 million. Additionally, parking rates at 20 garages across The City were increased, as well as the cost to rent a cable car or other historical vehicles.

According to the 2007-08 budget, fare collection is expected to drop by 14 percent, or $22 million.

This year, Ford said fare collection is expected to come in lower than the $160 million projected because the agency failed to hire 22 fare inspectors. Muni employs 42 fare inspectors, or proof-of-payment officers.

"We overstated the amount of revenue we felt would come in due to the new POP officers," Ford said. "We lost a lot of opportunities."

Muni is also facing a shortage of 150 drivers — positions left open because of a hiring freeze. There are also 240 drivers out on long-term leave and a large number of other absent drivers each weekday, officials said. According to theMTA, 16.5 percent of drivers are absent each weekday.

To accommodate the situation, Muni pays drivers overtime to fill the runs. Members of the Board of Supervisors have been harsh on the use of overtime.

"It seems like you’re not in control of this overtime," Supervisor Tom Ammiano told Ford at a meeting Wednesday. "A lot of times the budget figures look like fiction. It is kind of a desperate situation, the people’s perception of Muni."

To begin mending the financial situation, a panel of policy and transit experts is poring over a list of ideas to generate revenue. Some ideas that have emerged include levying a 25-cent sales tax, increasing the price of residential parking and installing snack machines at rail stations.

The panel has 120 days to come up with some solutions, Ford said.

arocha@examiner.com


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