What Prop A’s Loss Means For San Francisco’s Riders
Our city’s transit system is broken, and in dire need of investment. The train control system is still running on floppy discs, the bus yards need to be made earthquake-safe, and our buses and trains need to be free from congested traffic. That’s why San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR) pushed so hard for Proposition A, a $400 million bond measure that would have funded transit San Franciscans could depend on. It would have modernized our aging subway system, supported our conversation to clean, zero-emissions buses, and created a faster, more reliable transit system and safer streets.
Unfortunately, in the June 7 election, Prop A gained only 65% of the vote, just short of the 66.67% it needed to pass. SFTR is saddened that this needed proposition failed to garner the two-thirds vote despite significant support for the measure. While all voters will be hurt by Proposition A’s failure, it will unfortunately be most felt by San Francisco’s transit-dependent riders. In the absence of unreliable and infrequent transit, they will continue to be burdened by an overall lack of access to opportunities, to clean air, to vibrant neighborhoods and to sheer participatory citizenship.
There are a variety of reasons for Prop A’s loss this June, despite the fact that it was not a new tax and that it had the support of the Mayor and all eleven Supervisors. For one, SFTR recognizes that it is difficult for voters to put their faith in a transit system that does not always meet their needs. Past projects like the long delayed and over budget Central Subway have also weakened confidence in Muni.
And then, of course, there’s the pandemic. The majority of San Francisco’s public transit lines were suspended in 2020 when the pandemic hit the city, with only 17 of 69 bus lines remaining in operation for essential workers and trips. While SFMTA has committed to restoring service on nearly all the shut down lines thanks to the local organizing of riders and community advocates, the experience jaded many riders. Furthermore, ridership is still only at 55% of pre-pandemic levels. While Muni still provides essential trips that power our local economy and quality of life, less riders means less people actively buying in to improving the system during our recent election.
Finally, we can no longer pretend transit exists outside the broader political context. Proposition A was on a recall-dominated ballot that was pretty hostile to government. It bore the backlash of voters who are broadly frustrated by the state of the city, the pandemic, and government in general.
Taken together, we are living in unprecedented times that leave unanswered questions about transit funding and possibilities for success at the ballot going forward. At the same time, Proposition A’s loss leaves a gaping hole in Muni infrastructure that needs to be filled. Its loss will continue the decades of disinvestment in public transit that has resulted in the inadequate service we have today and denies SFMTA the funding it needs to rebuild voter’s trust in public transit and government.
While some questions remain, it is clear that a large majority of San Franciscans still think transit is essential. Travel patterns may have changed post-pandemic, but Muni continues to provide vital connections to our communities, our libraries, our grocery stores. Close to 250,000 people rely on Muni every day, and many more will need to count on transit if we are to hit our climate and sustainability goals. All riders deserve a transit system they can rely on, where trains don’t break down and the buses show up on time.
Going forward, SFTR will continue to engage with riders across the city to ensure riders are front and center when it comes to transit decision-making in a way that builds trust and accountability for SFMTA and other government entities. We are currently conducting a transit needs assessment in Bayview to identify the post-pandemic needs of riders in Southeast San Francisco and how they might translate to improved transit connections in the neighborhood. In addition, our transit planning, funding and regional policy working groups ensure our actions center the needs of riders.
As we organize riders and help rebuild trust in Muni, the Better Roads and Transit Sales Tax Renewal Measure on the ballot this November presents another opportunity to invest in the transit system we need to meet our transportation, climate and equity goals and rebuild public trust. Even so, it does not fill the hole caused by Proposition A’s loss, which will require additional action. SFMTA’s operating budget deficit still remains, and the necessity for our city leaders to fill the $400M gap caused by Proposition A’s loss and champion a major transit funding measure that resonates with voters in the coming years has only increased.
We cannot get to where we need to be without collaboration and loud voices. We need to build a powerful coalition of riders and communities across the city, especially in areas who have been left behind and overlooked long before the pandemic. This coalition is essential in shaping a vision for transit that goes beyond the status quo and truly transforms our transit system into one all San Franciscans can be proud of. Help us make your ride better. While SFTR cannot promise to fix the Central Subway or ensure every real time transit prediction will be accurate, we can do our best to ensure your needs are front and center when it comes to transit decision-making, planning and investment.