Why Muni is in such trouble

The Municipal Transportation Agency has not had a management and performance audit since 1996. How is it that an $800 million operation can go for 14 years without that type of evaluation?

OPINION The Municipal Transportation Agency's Web site states a goal of providing a "convenient, reliable, accessible, and safe transit system that meets the needs of all transit users" in San Francisco. I have a feeling that if you ask most Muni riders, few would use those words ("convenient," "reliable," "safe," "meeting the needs of all transit users") to describe Muni today.

Riders have been put in the untenable position of paying higher fares for less service. Yet Muni still faces a $17 million deficit (projected to grow to $55 million next year), which it proposes to close by again increasing fares and cutting services. When asked about Muni recently, Mayor Gavin Newsom pointed to a $179 million reduction in state funding as the culprit. And while no one can dispute the devastating impact of such a cut, there are a few questions that suggest that the state alone is not to blame for Muni's troubles.

For one, we just learned that the MTA has not had a management and performance audit since 1996. Although it's undergone a number of fiscal audits, a management audit is different; such an audit would actually evaluates Muni's operations to determine if the system is run effectively and efficiently. How is it that an $800 million operation can go for 14 years without that type of evaluation?

Moreover, what does it say about how Muni is managed when the agency has consistently failed to control overtime costs? We just learned that Muni accounts for about half of the city's overtime expenses. This fiscal year alone, Muni has spent $23.8 million in overtime, or 45.6 percent of the city's total. What kind of management and operational practices allow an agency to function like this?

And why is Muni spending 9 percent of its budget ($67 million) on work orders (with other departments) for services that may or may not have much to do with its mission — including $12.2 million for the Police Department, $8.5 million for the Department of Telecommunications, and $6.9 million for the General Services Agency that runs 311? Since a quarter of the value of these work orders would suffice to wipe away its deficit, what, if anything, has Muni done about this?

And speaking of Muni's deficit, why is it that increasing fares and reducing services seem to be the only tools in its tool box? As a number of transportation experts have suggested, there are several options that should have been on the table — raising parking fees, adding parking meters, charging for blue placards, and putting a revenue measure on the ballot, just to name a few. While some of these options may not be the answer, has Muni at least considered them? Did it consider them before proposing more fare increases and service cuts, including doubling fares for seniors, the disabled, and youth?

All this points to a more fundamental question — what about the MTA Board? Has the board provided the type of engaged and independent oversight needed to guarantee effective management? And is independent oversight even possible when all board members are appointed by one person, the mayor?

Because of these and other questions, I am proud that the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion I introduced asking the budget analyst to conduct an independent management audit of the MTA. Given the timing of the budget process, the first phase of the audit will be completed by May 1, with the remainder in the summer. The audit will evaluate key areas of Muni's operations to shed light on whether it is truly following best practices. We owe it to the ridership to face these questions head on. We no longer have the luxury to wait for the state to do the right thing.

SF Supervisor David Campos represents District 9.


The title of this op-ed, "Why Muni is in such trouble" should have been titled "Why is Muni in such trouble?" The Supervisor doesn't provide answers, he just rips off a barrage of questions.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 17, 2010 @ 6:39 am

Campos asks questions - no answers. a series of bad ideas by a naysayer who spends most of his time fighting federal laws than developing concrete ideas. Campos is an idiot.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 17, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

It seems the only way out of this mess is to split appointments to the MTA. I liked John Avalos' idea of putting a measure on the ballot that would give the mayor 3 picks, the board 3 picks, and one that would be elected by San Franciscans. I wonder if this idea was put on hold because of the possibility that there will be a progressive mayor come January.

Posted by Matt Stewart on Mar. 18, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

Although Supervisor David Campos may not offer any concrete solutions to MUNI's budget dilemna, he brings up a valid point about commuters facing huge fare hikes AND cuts in service, while MUNI has gone without an operational audit since the late 90s. Riders – including riders with disabilities – are being forced to pay almost DOUBLE for a monthly MUNI pass (as compared otone year ago) yet settle for less service. We have a right to know how efficient the internal MUNI systems are, how our commuter dollars can be most wisely put to use, and that the money we’re paying isn’t being misused. The fact that overtime costs are so high for this one organization sends out a huge, waving red flag. Even without a fare hike, the people of San Francisco are entitled to this information about how the public transportation system rates, from an operational standpoint.

Lana Nieves
Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco

Posted by Guest Lana Nieves, Independent Living Resource Center SF on Mar. 18, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

Anyone with half a brain can figure out that it's cheaper to pay one or two hours of overtime to a driver than it is to hire another one and have to pay them eight hours for two hours worth of work. But hey, lets not let the facts get in the way of a good story! We said no a few years ago to give power to a bunch of political hacks that would do nothing but muck it up and the Bored of Stups have gotten worse since then. It's the ECONOMY, stupid

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

People here are complaining about no answers when they're right in front of them. Paying $ for work orders to have the SFPD to do they're jobs on Muni is redundant and ridiculous, as is paying for communications and 311. These services should already be paid for out of the overall budget and should not be folded into the Muni budget. As Campos points out, eliminating just 1/4 of these costs eliminates the deficit. This is the classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Take care of this issue and problem solved; hell we can resume full Muni services and cut the fares back to normal while we're at it!

Posted by Ill-ish on Mar. 19, 2010 @ 12:55 am

In Dare v. Department of Motor Vehicles two individuals with disabilities challenged the DMV'S right to charge the six dollar fee for disabled parking placards. placards provide an individual with an disability equal access. The case went to the Supreme Court. The individuals with disabilities won.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

Campos is right. It's high time we had a management and performance audit of the SFMTA. And don't be surprised if the work order fairy tale turns out to be the tip of an iceberg sized scandal involving the Mayor and a gaggle of City Department Heads. That is, if the city's budget analyst does'nt cook the books!

Posted by Will Johnson on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 1:14 am

It is sad to see Campos resort to self-serving politics still early in his BOS term. He asks 11 questions and offers zero answers. It feels good to believe that his calling for an audit is sincerely motivated by an interest in improving Muni, but it seems much more likely that this is simply a self-serving way for him to DO NOTHING but sound like he's doing something that he can highlight in a bid for future office.

The audit that Campos wants was done a few years ago:

Findings include - Muni doesn't have enough street inspectors or schedulers, and has the lowest ratio of managers to operators in the country. Basically Muni needs money. If Campos had ANY political chops or allies, then he would put in the WORK required to find some revenue options for Muni and quit asking silly questions.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 11:26 am

Why is money budgeted for a public transportation department in the City budget when we have an MTA?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2010 @ 9:37 am

Also from this author

  • Stand up for the little guy

  • End the health-care scam

    Businesses charge a health-care surcharge then keep the money for profit.

  • End the healthcare scam