MTA board of directors gets an earful
Photo by Thomas Hawk
The MTA Board of Directors met on Tuesday and, as StreetsBlog SF reports, balked at the F-line fire hike and want to take another look at extending parking meter hours. The Examiner also reported details about the proposed Muni service cuts. Rider Dee Leit attended the meeting and sent us a report that focused on the public comment portion of the meeting, which had an amazing turnout and really struck a chord with Dee. Commenters were concerned about the possible layoffs of Muni cash handlers, car cleaners, and other upcoming service cuts. An excerpt from Dee’s account of the meeting:
The MTA meeting opened with some business, then it opened up first for public comment on off-agenda items. I saw many union workers and people who may be laid off from MTA in the next few months. This includes 11 car cleaners, the folks who keep the buses clean every day. An 11 year old girl came up to say that zxshe was worried about H1N1 being spread due to layoffs of custodial workers on the bus. She was worried that because her school takes Muni on field trips and lots of her fellow students also take Muni, the layoffs of car cleaners could mean that she might catch the disease.
After the public comment on non-agenda items, the MTA started budget their presentation with many of the audience still in overflow to second room, although some of the union workers left after airing their grievances about the layoffs.
There were a few important details about the budget proposal that I didn’t know about. This included the proposal to charge a fee to go to the MTA Customer Centers! Have you ever been in one of those? It’s like the DMV, with numbers assigned to each customer on slips of paper and because lots of people go there to pay their tickets there’s a good deal of anger in the room. Imagine having to pay extra to go to the DMV! However, I was glad to see that the proposed F-line $5 fare increase needs to be approved by the Board of Supervisors after review, which means more public comment, and that decision is not just in hands of MTA Board of Directors.
Then, they opened the flood gates and started public comment on the proposed budget. This is when the meeting got totally awesome. The first commenter raised questions of the budget item to pay SFPD to have officers on board when SFPD is paid through other city funds. He also was the first to bring up the fact that Muni doesn’t have enough cash handlers – the people who can empty the full fare collectors in buses that when they’re full drivers are forced to allow people to ride for free. This became a very popular theme of the day.
When the directors were allowed to comment and ask questions, this came up as a point of great concern. Later, Ford said the layoffs of 108 MTA employees will still go forward. Sucks to be a car cleaner, or if you want clean buses.
The second comment came from a man who represented a Fisherman’s Wharf businesses association and he asserted that the $5 F line would be detrimental to them and their employees who take it to return home after working long shifts. Naturally, there was a great deal of comment on the proposal to increase the F line to $5 per ride. One taxi driver came to the microphone and sarcastically said that he supported the $5 F line because, as a taxi driver, he could take two people from Third and Market to Fisherman’s Wharf for $8 whereas they would have to pay $10 to take the F line. Eventually, many of the directors said explicitly that they do not and will not support a fare increase on the F line. I was relieved because I take the F frequently, especially since the 26 Valencia is gone, it’s the only Muni line that goes within two blocks of my house.
Another popular idea was to increase fees for Residential Parking Permits or vehicle taxes as well as the very popular increase to meter hours and rates. However, CFO Bose stated that the Residential Parking Permits are dictated by state law, and can’t be increased. Residential parking permits address “commuter” traffic, weekend and evening parking problems is a “different” problem. There was concern that the parking meter increases won’t happen simply because it’s unpopular with Mayor Newsom. Some of my favorite comments from the rest of the public comment was that, “public transportation is a right, not a privilege” when discussing the detrimental effects a hike in disabled and senior passes and rates would have. One person offered up himself as an example of a person who drives as well as takes Muni and he said he wants to take on his responsibility, get “billed as a driver” instead of being coddled as a driver and punished as a transit customer.
My favorite comment of the day was from a man who spoke ineloquently about having a BA in accounting and MA in business. He said that President of the Board of Directors, Nat Ford, “doesn’t have a BA in accountability,” which was a hilarious turn of words. I was pleased to hear from a former Muni driver who asked how much effort the MTA has made to increase ridership.
By far my favorite commenter of the whole day was a young man, a high schooler, on a Van Ness community board which I didn’t catch the name of. He was passionate and it was really fun to listen to his plea against fare increases and service cuts. He demanded of the MTA Board that they cut their own salaries … A very serious red flag went up for me late in the meeting, because of President Ford’s response to an SEIU representative who said that he was insulted by the board’s assertion that they had clear discussions with the union about the layoffs. He said that the meetings were secretive and didn’t create the desired back and forth discussion or positive relations between the SEIU and the MTA board. Later, Ford replied that he didn’t document the meetings w/SEIU or who was present at those meetings.
It was immediately clear that there was no support for the proposed budget. After four directors spoke, two explicitly stated they will not pass this budget, and the two others implied a no vote. I immediately felt better. The new suggestions will be taken into consideration and a new report will be created by the Feb. 16 MTA Board of Directors meeting. The general consensus seemed to be: Don’t increase fares, don’t cut services, don’t cut MTA jobs, do increase parking meter hours and costs, increase taxes and fees to drivers, and cut the salaries of the highest paid. And there was not one word of support for the Central Subway Project or the proposed budget from anyone except Nathaniel Ford.
We realize most of you weren’t able to attend Tuesday’s meeting. But we’ve been told by some powerful people that they’re reading this site. Sound off on the potential Muni service cuts and fare hikes in the comments, please!