San Francisco Transit Riders Call Capital Plan Inadequate, Urge Elected Officials to Fund Transit Now

The tunnel boring machine used for the Central Subway. Photo: SFMTA.

Today the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency announced that it needs $21 billion for its Capital Improvement Plan. The plan would expand service and “keep Muni, bike lanes and roadside features in San Francisco in a state of good repair for 20 years,” according to an Examiner article by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez.

We support dramatic new investment in Muni and consider SFMTA’s plan inadequate.

We’re very concerned about the inability to fund fast and reliable public transit in San Francisco. Muni has been underfunded for decades, even when there was significantly more state and federal money behind the agency.

Only a quarter of the funds allocated in the SFMTA’s plan are for new service (capital expansion). Their plans also do not include ambitious programs that would get our city moving faster and attract new riders to transit like Scott Wiener’s Subway Master Plan.

By definition, the capital funds requested by SFMTA are not for operations, an area of funding that needs dramatic new investment, too. Operations help to fund expanded service by paying more drivers, fuel, inspectors, and station agents.

“We need to be thinking about billions more and not just in the next 20 years,” said Daniel Sisson, a board member of the San Francisco Transit Riders. “We can’t afford to be too little, too late again. We need billions more now, in the next 5–10 years.”

As state and federal funds for transit have dried up, elected officials at all levels must take dramatic action now to fully fund fast and reliable transit.

In San Francisco, we’ve taken incremental steps to increase funding at the local level. But it’s not enough.

It’s time for our Mayor and Board of Supervisors to show leadership in finding permanent and adequate sources of to expand public transit so that it’s fast and reliable across our entire city.

First, our local elected officials must be more aggressive in making sure that public transit gets its fair share of state and federal money.

Our organization has praised David Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee for supporting additional state funding for public transit. But ultimately, SBX1–7, which failed to pass last week, would only have had a small impact on funding San Francisco’s transit needs.

When it comes to state and federal funding, the writing is on the wall and the message is easy to understand.

Next, if we want fast and reliable transit in San Francisco, we have to fund it at the local level.

This will require strong and forceful leadership that’s politically tricky. It means that our Mayor and Board of Supervisors must make finding significant new local funding a top priority. This will include considering sources our elected officials have resisted, including Sunday meters and increasing the Vehicle License Fee.

But these won’t be enough either.

Finally, as a city that prides itself as progressive, we we should consider innovative ways of reducing congestion while benefiting transit, pedestrians and bicyclists. One of these ideas is congestion pricing (charging a toll to enter the city).

Congestion pricing will be controversial and it failed to pass in New York. But it’s inevitable. In cities like London, Stockholm, and Milan, congestion pricing has raised significant revenue, dramatically reduced traffic, and cut pollution.

Our city should immediately begin studying congestion pricing initiatives around the world. It should also create and fund a public information campaign to ensure San Franciscans understand its benefits.