Alternatives to ‘March Against Muni’

whole mess of muni
Photo by Flickr user noremmie

I’ve been thinking about a way to express my misgivings about March Against Muni, a self-described protest/boycott of Muni set to start next Monday. The march is billed as a way to protest a set of proposed service reductions and fare hikes. On its face, yes, fair enough — I hate service cuts and fare hikes too.

But the whole “don’t ride Muni” and “don’t buy a March Fast Pass” slant seems wrong-headed. As Robert Cruickshank points out in his post at Calitics, the problems for SFMTA began when the state cut off all transit funding (in the last three years, SFMTA has lost $179 million it would’ve received from the state, owing to what was simply reduced funding at first, and then, this fiscal year, the total elimination of transit monies.) Taking that fact into consideration, the picture comes into better focus. It should be clear to most people that lack of funding, almost more than any other factor, got MTA to the sucky situation it’s in now.


But while most of the “demands” of March Against Muni‘s organizers are valid, none of the demands addresses the real problem: how to bring more money into the system to replace what was taken away by Arnold and friends.

Look, I hate that Nathaniel Ford (or whoever happened to have the job) makes so much money, but the job of director is a nationally competitive one. And to his credit, Ford took a pay cut. I hate that drivers make way more money than I do, too. But like the director, that job is nationally competitive. (Another fact: Unlike Nathaniel Ford, Muni employees, through their union, voted down a package of budget-deficit-reducing concessions just last week.)

I cannot see what a boycott and march will achieve. Our time would be better spent helping to think of creative actual solutions. I don’t have the answers myself, but I think you can do something that’s more useful than holding a sign at the cable car turnaround, such as:

– Educate yourself about what can be done to save Muni; start with this StreetsblogSF story.
– Go to this Friday’s MTA board meeting where the board will be voting on the service cuts and fare hikes (9 a.m. in room 400, City Hall). You can sound off during the public comments section.
– Go old media and write a letter to the editor.
Email the governor yourself.

It’s true that nobody has a silver bullet, but I do think that those of us who ride Muni every day are quite capable of at least trying … instead of sticking it to Muni. Kinda, you know, like Arnold did.

– Jeff


  • Steve

    I agree that a boycott that will reduce revenue is not a solution to a budget shortfall, but I think restoring funding from the state is only part of the solution. Muni is a fundamentally broken organization whose costs will quickly outpace any restored funding. Securing extra government funding is no more a complete solution for Muni than it was for General Motors.

    At some point, Muni is going to have to reduce costs and improve service drastically. That means making management and the board accountable for delivering results, and making the union get real about salary, benefits and work rules. Right now the Mayor, the board, the management and the union seem content to slowly drive the system into the ground before risking a confrontation, and decreased ridership and the resulting downward spiral of revenue and service is the inevitable outcome.

    • Steve, I totally agree with the call for accountability when it comes to results. You can’t expect to earn nationally competitive salaries and benefits, and offer nothing in return. In the case of many drivers, and especially when we consider drivers en masse, there’s a lot to be desired there. But I question whether the Mayor (despite many gripes we have with him), the board, the management, and the union intend to “drive the system into the ground.” There are various generalizations to be made for how we got to this point, but no one is out to kill Muni.

      I’d like to know more about how Muni is a broken organization. What exactly are these costs that wouldn’t be defrayed by the resumption of funding from the state (not that I’m holding my breath)? I don’t mean to ask this question rhetorically — I really would like to know what you think. What types of restructuring should Muni undergo?

      Also, interestingly, StreetsblogSF just posted that TWU is set to revote on the concession package that will help lessen the deficit. I’m sure it’s foolish, but my fingers are crossed.

  • noah

    With the exception of two of the “demands,” March Against Muni’s demands are not hard to get behind. (The two: “No More Exploiting Seniors & Disabled” — only because I wasn’t aware that this was an issue; if it is, I’m in. The other: “No More Paper Fast Passes.” Even if I supported this change, why would that be tied to things like reliable service? Shouldn’t we try to bring in all people who want more reliable service, not just those who also want fast past integrated with Translink?)

    I see two fundamental problems with MaM.

    The first is the one Jeff identified: they offer no solution to these problems. The obvious solution is to eliminate the bureaucratic excess in Muni. I’m all for that, but that’s not an overnight solution. At best, that’s a solution that starts kicking in one fiscal year down the road. There are too many constituencies to solve that problem in five minutes. I know people WANT to solve those problems with a magic wand, but that’s not how it works in real life. (Frankly, I think it’s amazing that they may get the drivers to take a pay cut for the upcoming fiscal year, instead of phasing it in over several years, starting one fiscal year down the road.) The other long term solution (that doesn’t involve fare increases or route cuts) is to increase taxes. We all know how that goes over. So, a big part of the problem is that the people who are complaining want: (1) more buses, more routes; (2) lower or steady fares; (3) no taxes. How does that work?

    The other problem is that the tone of MaM is totally not constructive. If you want somebody to make changes and sacrifices, the solution is NOT to drag them across the coals publicly.

  • It already feels like the boycott is already happening. I was trying to buy a “Muni only” pass for my TransLink card and it wasn’t available at any of the automated machines at Powell, Montgomery, and Embarcadero. But they wanted me to buy the $70 pass (no thanks).

  • Alex

    Oh come on. The problems at MUNI began well before the state started cutting funding. In fact, if you look at the pittance the state has cut (@sfmta_muni said, what, $173 million over *three years*?)… it pales in comparison to some of the more egregious waste that the MTA blows its wad on. How much have the following cost the MTA:

    – An unreliable ATCS system cost. Tens or hundreds of millions simply for construction, how much have the service delays cost the MTA in idle drivers?
    – Safety retrofit campaigns for the LRVs (emergency brakes, couplers, articulation joints)
    – Injury claims for avoidable accidents (hint: morbidly obese people with uncontrolled diabetes would not be allowed by the FAA to have a pilot’s license, why can they pilot a 100,000lb LRV?)
    – TransLink rebranding (there’s at least a million there — SFAppeal had a blurb about this)
    – The MTC’s shuffling of funds to BART pet projects. Where was the MTA’s outrage at the planned funding of BART’s Oakland Airport Connector??
    – Various junkets for the central subway (how many groundbreaking ceremonies do you need?)
    – Overtime rules and abuses. How much does OT cost for new year’s service because the drivers mostly refuse to show up on new year’s eve?
    – The new digs at 1 South Van Ness
    – Cutting back on street cleaning (The MTA gave up $4 million a year, and they want to cut back street cleaning further. How can they whine about funding cuts when they literally throw away money?)
    – Switching to a new livery scheme (gray/red vs white/orange… okay that was more than three years ago)
    – Paying out work orders to SFPD
    – Extra vehicles and staff required to provide inefficient service due to lack of signal priority, traffic enforcement, etc
    – Underutilized trolleys. Trolley coaches have the lowest operating cost per hour, but highest (excluding cable cars) cost per passenger mile of any mode of transit that the MTA uses.
    – Vandalism due to non-existent SFPD patrols. How many thousands of dollars does a windshield for an LRV cost?
    – Townhall meetings about service cuts. You’re talking about after hours work for how many MTA employees?
    – Free parking for city employees (that’s, what, another $4 mil a year?)

    So, yeah, the cuts to state funding suck. But, guess what? Pretty much anything relying on state funding got cut this year. In an ideal world I’d like to see more funding for the MTA. But a quick look around will easily demonstrate that the MTA doesn’t know how to handle what money it does have. Throwing money at the problem is merely treating the symptoms, not the cause. Instead of aiming to become leaner and more efficient, the MTA is kvetching that they’re losing money.

    In fact, at the last town hall meeting, Judson True explained that the MTA was only willing to look at service cuts as a solution. The MTA is explicitly avoiding dealing with the public at large and the board of supervisors. They’re not looking for solutions to problems, they’re looking to cut costs.

    If you ignore that and actually look at some of their proposals, you’ll see large problems with how the MTA plans to save money including:

    – Turning back the M at SFSU. At some point in the past seven or eight years MUNI decommissioned those switches because they were prone to derailments.
    – Increasing headways on routes where the supposed headways aren’t met.

    If it’s coming from the MTA, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

    • Mike

      You make a good argument to March against the MTC and SFMTA, not MUNI.

    • Aaron

      I agree with Mike, half of what you said were things MUNI has no control of. The other half seem to contradict each other like when you said that MUNI shouldn’t pay out to SFPD, but then you complain that there are not enough police on the buses. There are a few important nuggets of truth in this comment, but most of it is garbage. (Sorry for the rudeness, but I dont have time to go one by one and explain why that has nothing to do with the current situation).

      • Alex

        A few things to consider:

        – The police are obligated under their current contract to patrol MUNI. For the most part, they don’t. Why should the MTA be billed for this? This is part of their job as police officers.

        – MUNI *is* the SF MTA. As such the agency that controls parking meters and street cleaning is also the agency that will be footing the bill for Clipper (nee TransLink) rebranding and is also the agency that provides public transportation service. They’re one and the same.

        • It’s always been perplexing to me, too, that MTA has to pay SFPD to patrol buses and trains. I thought SFPD’s jurisdiction was the city (and county, whatever) of San Francisco. Anyone happen to know (I’m just too busy/lazy to look it up) how much MTA pays SFPD?

        • Mike

          Alex, Alex, Alex. SFMTA is NOT MUNI. But yes, MUNI is PART of the SFMTA. There is a big
          difference. Also, the Clipper (see Translink) re-branding is handled by the MTC which
          controls monies for the entire bay area. The reason that MUNI is part of SFMTA is
          because this joined public transit with parking and parking enforcement – in theory
          providing a way for the city to make decisions in one department to better public
          transit. However, it seems the opposite has been true. SFMTA has gouged MUNI
          to keep parking prices low.

          So marching against MUNI is marching against public transportation. Marching
          against the SFMTA is marching against poor policy choices that have led to MUNI
          becoming less reliable and more expensive while low-hanging revenue options
          have not been explored.

  • kevin

    Muni would have more money in their coffers, and riders would have more in their pockets, if Muni would solve it’s own nagging problem of accidents.

    How much of Muni’s budget was used to pay for legal services and settlements last year? How much of Muni’s budget is tied up in legal fees this year?

    What is the average dollar amount per settlement, where Muni has to pay out because one of their drivers was so wreckless, so irresponsible, and so dangerous that someone or a group of people were hurt?

    Follow the money. This problem with Muni isn’t just about funding, it’s about a culture of malfeasance.

    • Mike

      It isn’t about funding? So the state raiding transit funds for the last 3 years has NOTHING to do with the fact that we are facing 10% cuts?

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