SFTR’s Local Funding Working Group has spent the past six months understanding Muni’s existing funding limitations and identifying potential SF-specific revenue sources. Our first blog laid out the funding needs and the second detailed our recommended funding sources. This blog is the final in the series, and will detail our funding principles and timeline.

Pathways to the Ballot

In our last blog, we recommended the reauthorization of the sales tax and the general obligation bond (GO Bond) as important sources that would address Muni’s aging infrastructure and support a state of good repair. However, it is clear that an operations funding source is also needed to fix SFMTA’s structural deficit and expand service.

The good news is that both GO Bond and sales tax reauthorization and are on track for the June and November 2022 ballots respectively. SFCTA is currently drafting a new expenditure plan that would reauthorize the spending of sales tax revenue, and a 2022 Muni Reliability and Street Safety Improvement Bond is part of San Francisco’s bond schedule. Because neither of these measures would add new taxes — they simply dedicate existing tax dollars to transportation — they are more likely to be approved by voters.

Note: SFCTA has recently revised it’s process to aim for the November 2022 ballot

The pathway to the ballot for an operations funding measure is more tenuous. Given the current timeline and the GO Bond scheduled for June, November 2022 is the next, best shot for a transit operations funding measure. There are a couple of pathways a major transit operations funding measure could move forward:

  1. The Mayor or Board of Supervisors places it on the ballot. This is the typical process, where either the Mayor or at least four Supervisors submit an original proposed ordinance or declaration of policy to the Clerk of the Board’s office and provide a copy to the Department of Elections. The deadline for the November 2022 ballot is August 5th, 2022. So far, no clear champion for transit funding has emerged from these elected leaders.
  2. The SFMTA Board of Directors places it on the ballot. Per Section 8A.109 of the city charter, SFMTA is also empowered to place a special tax measure to fund Muni on the ballot, independent of the Mayor or Board of Supervisors. While technically possible, this has never been done before, and carries some political risk. Historically, SFMTA has requested the Board of Supervisors lead on transit funding measures.
  3. A measure can also be placed on the ballot by a voter-led initiative process. To qualify, a proponent must gather signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Mayor at the most recent municipal election for Mayor. As of 2020, this number was at 8,979 valid signatures of registered San Francisco voters. To qualify for the November 2022 ballot, the signatures would need to be collected in a 180-day period ending on or before July 11th, 2022. This type of campaign requires significant resources and funding of its own.

Funding Principles

It is not simply enough to secure additional funding for SFMTA. Any funding must be directed toward the most urgent needs of riders and address the historic lack of transit investment in the Bayview, Visitation Valley, Sunnydale, the Excelsior, OMI-Lakeview and other equity priority communities. Service also needs to be improved and expanded on the west side of the city, where a disproportionate amount of our personal vehicle traffic and emissions are generated.

Based on conversations with labor, community, and other stakeholders, we recommend that any transit funding measure prioritizes the restoring suspended lines; increases the number of rapid routes essential to growing ridership and improving reliability; and centers people of color, people with low incomes, seniors, people with disabilities, and transit-dependent riders in both investment and the decision-making process.

In addition, we believe any funding measure should improve Muni access and affordability by permanently funding free Muni for all youth, enacting fare capping, and ensuring paratransit is both more accessible and free for riders who qualify for lifeline services. Finally, investments must support rider and operator safety, create good-paying union jobs, contain public oversight and cost-control commitments, and reduce GHG emissions. You can read our full list of principles here.

Building the Political Will

As transit advocates, we have our work cut out for us: creating and passing a sales tax reauthorization, a GO Bond, and an operations funding measure that all meet our values and transit needs. All three measures will need widespread support from politicians, community groups, and riders to succeed.

There is a clear opportunity and need to fund and rebuild Muni. Public transit is at the foundation of San Francisco’s economy, our climate goals, and a more equitable, accessible, livable city. The pandemic has disrupted decades of entrenched policies, allowing community-first innovations like Slow Streets, outdoor dining, and transit-only lanes to reclaim space previously dedicated to cars. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our city in a way that centers equitable and sustainable transit rather than pushing people back into cars.

To have the best chance of meeting this moment, we need the mayor and board of supervisors to champion funding measures that meet the scale of the crisis Muni faces. Please email your Supervisor now and ask them to fund and rebuild Muni. San Francisco first proclaimed itself a transit-first city in 1973. Forty-eight years later, it’s more urgent than ever to prove it.

A rider-based organization working for excellent, affordable, and growing transit in San Francisco. Join us! http://sftransitriders.org/join