The next SFMTA Budget: More service, freeze fares, price parking

Excellent public transit is key to a livable, accessible, sustainable San Francisco. The SFMTA budget that will be adopted this spring needs to focus on the city’s goals to put transit first, to improve equitable access for all riders and San Franciscans, and to continue to build a system that is easy and attractive to use so people can take transit rather than use private cars.

The SFMTA budget process is an opportunity for us to shape the future of transit in San Francisco. Budgets reflect what and who we choose to value in our city. San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR) has developed our main priorities in response to SFMTA’s budget proposal: increase service, freeze fares, and price Sunday and evening parking.

Increase and Improve Service

SFTR absolutely supports the proposed service increases, which depend on hiring and training more Muni operators faster than ever (we’d love to see it happen even faster). One of the best ways to improve the lives of regular riders, to increase ridership, and to make Muni more useful for more people, is to make Muni service more frequent to more places.

Our 30x30 campaign (to get Muni to connect all neighborhoods with frequent end-to-end service in 30 minutes by 2030) depends on aggressive increases in service. We’re excited that SFMTA is prioritizing the 29 Sunset in this budget, which SFTR identified as a top priority in our 30x30 campaign. The 29 Sunset serves the south and west of the city, including many students — so many students, in fact, that they often get passed up by overcrowded buses.

SFMTA should combine service increases with transit improvements like red lanes, signal priority and bus bulbs to get buses out of traffic and improve the experience for riders. By giving Muni priority on the street, more service can be delivered. Without these improvements, riders won’t experience the increased speed and reliability they need. We need a transit quick-build program implemented as soon as possible, which would streamline the approval process for street designs that speed up Muni.

Our light rail system particularly needs more priority, and the new train control system should be brought online as soon as possible. An eight-year timeline for rolling out the new system, especially considering the state of the current one, is way too long. We needed that system in place yesterday, so the investment in rail can truly serve riders.

And finally, to improve service, riders need the most robust version of NextMuni 2.0. We need better real-time predictions, as well as information about disruptions and alternate routes. This information is key to riders’ ability to plan and re-route their trip in real time. But seemingly forgotten in the conversation: we need this information to be displayed as clearly as possible at as many bus stops and on as many shelters as possible.

Displays that are readable from a distance, and from different angles, help riders make choices before they’ve wasted time walking up to and inside of the shelters. Such displays also make Muni more accessible and inviting to people less familiar with the system. Of course, good displays also help folks with mobility challenges. A few months ago, over 100 members of SFTR sent emails supporting excellent signage as a top budget priority.

Freeze Fares

Currently, transit riders are paying $3 a ride for Muni service that is too often stuck in traffic and isn’t reliable. Fares are also regressive, most impacting those with the least ability to pay. While we applaud Muni’s Lifeline pass and especially the upcoming 50% single-ride discount, many San Franciscans who need it are left out — if you make $25,000 a year, you’re still expected to pay full fare.

That’s why SFTR is calling for a fare freeze in the upcoming budget. Let’s work to make Muni as affordable as possible. Riders already have to deal with long waits, long travel times, and overcrowded buses and trains — let’s not charge them more on top of the challenges of being a transit rider.

We would like to see a full review of fare enforcement and penalties. We want to connect first-time fare evasion to fare assistance, and decrease fare evasion penalties relative to parking fines. We also want to see a clear assessment of racial bias that may exist in enforcement patterns, and the development of training and reporting around cultural sensitivity and bias.

Finally, there are some great fare proposals on the table that we support: free Muni for all youth under 18; free Muni for City College students; and making the $5 day pass available at the farebox on Muni buses and trains (not just on MuniMobile).

We need to ensure we have a more equitable system before fares are further increased. If it’s true that the city wants to see a shift from 47% sustainable trips today to 80% by 2030, and if we understand excellent public transit is a public good that improves the whole city, then we need to find more equitable, sustainable funding sources than higher fares that impact those least able to pay.

Price Parking

Driving a private car is the least sustainable, least efficient way for people to move around a dense city, and free parking is one of the primary reasons people drive. If we’re serious about putting transit first and encouraging folks to get out of their cars, we shouldn’t be raising transit fares until parking is priced right.

It is past time to revisit Sunday parking meters, and to add evening meters, along busy commercial corridors. This would help turn over parking spaces, which would provide more access to local businesses. It would help reduce double-parking, making streets safer and allowing Muni to get through.

It would also price the right thing — driving — while supporting the public transit we all need for an accessible, livable, sustainable city.

Riders First

We want an SFMTA budget that doesn’t just put transit first, but puts riders first. Transit riders are climate heroes. Many of us depend completely on transit to access our jobs, schools and diverse communities. Many of us choose to travel together in a time of increasing polarization and inequality. We need more frequent and reliable service, we need faster trips, and we need affordable fares.

As we improve service for folks already riding the bus, others will join us, and together we’ll create a more livable, sustainable San Francisco for all.

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