Putting transit first

We are finally facing up to the reality that our declining transportation system hurts us all


By Stuart Cohen, Leah Shahum, Rob Boden, and Elizabeth Stampe

OPINION Every day, San Franciscans pay the price of an underfunded transportation system. We have all experienced painfully overcrowded bus rides ... or, worse yet, the bus that never shows up. Now, Muni is reducing service during Christmas week, as it is faced with a $7 million deficit this fiscal year.

Today, we are finally facing up to the reality that our declining transportation system hurts us all. It hurts our economy and it hurts people all along the economic spectrum. San Francisco is a world-class city in many ways, but we have a long way to go to have a world-class transportation system.

San Franciscans want better transit options: reliable, fast, comfortable buses, and safe and pleasant streets for walking and biking. San Franciscans support the city's official transit-first policy, but lacking political will, the city hasn't delivered on it.

By failing to make the tough decisions to fund our transit system, our leaders have put the burden on those who depend on affordable transportation options most. Transportation is one of the top expenses for people living in the Bay Area, after housing, and an exponentially greater burden for those with lower incomes.

Who will be hurt most by Muni's skeletal service this holiday week? Working families.

That is why our organizations are proud to have joined together recently to support a proposal to update the Transit-Impact Development Fee (TIDF), which would have ensured that major developments pay their fair share into the city's transit system. This would have included large nonprofits like Kaiser and the Exploratorium, when they build major new developments that generate thousands of new trips. The fee, probably about 1 percent of costs, would have paralleled the existing development fees for water, sewer, parks, and even art, that nonprofits already pay. It would not have included small nonprofits, and of course most nonprofits never build developments at all.

It would have helped visitors to large institutions have more dependable transit to get there, and helped the whole transportation system work better for everyone.

But it didn't pass, and last week's opinion piece ("The Muni vs. housing clash," 12/18/12) mischaracterized the issue, suggesting a trade-off between basic services and transportation. But good, reliable, safe transportation is a basic service. Just like housing and health care, it's something everyone should have access to, and something our city has declared a priority with its transit-first policy.

Unsafe streets are inequitable streets; low-income people and people of color are more likely to be hit by cars while walking. Underfunded transit is inequitable; low-income people have fewer options aside from walking or taking the bus, and the stakes are higher when the bus is late or doesn't arrive.

Funding transit is a core progressive value. Great public transit — and being able to get around the city under your own power, by walking and bicycling — are great equalizers in a city like ours.

We should be investing more and expecting more from our transit system. Our organizations are proud to be doing just that. It's time to help San Francisco finally live up to its transit-first policy — because that means putting people first.

Stuart Cohen works with TransForm, Leah Shahum with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Rob Boden with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, and Elizabeth Stampe with Walk San Francisco.


Putting transit first needs to start by imposing a moratorium on all non-Muni related activities until the Muni system functions for those who need it.

The original goal of Transit First was a balanced transit system. What we have now is an unbalanced power grab where all sides are grabbing from the middle and no one is going anywhere fast. Nobody is happy. Nobody wants to give them another dime because we don't trust them.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:09 am

If it did, then we wouldn't be putting in new bike lanes. Bikes are the ultimate in private transit, as they cannot carry passengers, unlike cars.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 8:01 am

Muni's budget has increased from 700mm in 2007 to 830mm today. That's an incomprehensiable amount of money.

With these sizeable budget increases - not to mention around 35mm in additional grants (30 mm from the fed) 5 mm for free rides for kids etc... Have we noticed any improvement in service? NOPE.

I don't think any amount of money can fix muni.... not to be a union basher but the union promotes un-productive employment practices, and doesn't seem to care that there members actually do the work they're supposed to - just that they get paid the most in the nation.... this is the real problem.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:11 am

do. What type of enterprise invests in it's weak area's? We should be rewarding success not failure.

In fact I do not think Muni can be fixed at all. All we can do is knock it down and start over.

I'd start by privatizing the cable cars, since they are quite separate from the rest of Muni's can can be run at a profit since the tourists are happy to pay to ride them.

Ring-fence the streetcars which also work fairly well, and maintain investment in the Central Subway - surely the centerpiece of the system going forward.

The real problem area is the buses. I'd scrap many of the lines, and focus Muni on the main routes to downtwon - they can be run profitably e.g. 9, 14, 30, 38 etc. Scrap those weird routes like the 37 that hardly anyone uses.

As soon as the current operator contract expires, tell them there will be no new contract, that their employment is "at will" and that they will take what they are given, including a cramdown of their benefits and across the board 30% pay cuts. If they don't like it, fire them all and start over with non-union staff.

Allow other bus companies to compete, including jitney's on routes where demand doesn't justfiy full-sized buses.

Oh, and de-regulate the cabs so that people can actually find one.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:26 am

$130m over five years averages out to $26m per year, hardly an incomprehensible amount during times of 4% inflation.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

Of course if that $130m went to transit instead of being siphoned off to fund everything else, we'd be enjoying the finest transit system in the US.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

to the operators in the form of base pay, overtime pay, bonuses (for showing up), pension and healthcare entitlements.

That leaves almost nothing for the service itself.

Oh, and Central Subway is paid for from other sources, you haven't even got that excuse.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

Right, because paying operators to operate, repair ans support transit vehicles has no bearing on the provision of transit service.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

helping the service at all. It detracts from the service.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

result of that "investment".

Why would we keep throwing more and more money at an enterprise that is clearly failing it's customers, it's managers, it's shareholders (us) and in fact failing everyone except it's bloated workers?

Muni is a municipal welfare system with a side-business in running shabby, filthy, unreliable buses. We should give them less money, and cut it in size until there is a viable core left.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

Mayor Ed Lie controls the MTA. Blame Ed Lee for MTA's failing. Hold him accountable.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

that no local politicians have had the spine to deal with the union and it's contracts. Until that happens, Muni will continue to fail and throwing more money at a defective system makes zero sense.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

Ed Lie is the product of the political syndicate which has run the Muni into the ground for most of the past three decades. The syndicate asked for and got a free hand to negotiate labor contracts yet apparently only siphoned off more resources to cultivate their corruption.

It is the syndicate that must be held accountable and we can count on their nonprofit clientele which wrote this piece to acquiesce to the corrupt arrangements.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

revelation he may subsequently have had after his lying on the stand trying to get Mirkarimi.

It almosts seems as though accountablity is only something Progressives get threatened with.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

Are you referring to Debra Walker's hearsay trouble-making, that was later refuted by Olague

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

No, I am referring to Lee's pledge to run as a good, honest administrator and turning around and running a slipshod corrupt operation by and for Willie and Rose.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

He's a non-ideolog, and has generally acted in a pragmatic and neutral manner.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

and Olagues reaction(s) to being questioned was *anything* but decisive.

Circumstantial evidence is quite adequat to get a conviction when there is also motive -- which there *is* in the case of Lee's perjury. That Gascon first made noises about letting the EC take the lead in the investigation of Lee's felony perjury, he later made quieter noises.

An investigation in whether Lee committed a felony during the conduct of his duties as mayor remains in order.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:09 am

subsequently refuted hearsay claim. And SHE certainly had a motive for that lie.

If anyone should be investigated, it's the lying manipulative sad sack of malicious bitterness that is Debra Walker.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:37 am

Debra Walker's phone machine, and the suspicious reactions to being questioned on the topic by Olague and Lee. Lee, in particular, failed spectacularly to reassure San Franciscans that he was telling the truth when offered a chance to account for his actions while under oath.

And "Case-by-case-basis" Lee had every reason to lie.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

with Olague. All we have is Debra Walker's allegations, refuted by all the witnesses, and so have no credibility.

Go to the DA with what you've got, and you'll be laughed out of the office.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

And the notion that "direct evidence" is neccessary for a conviction -- let alone an investigation -- is as laughably ignorant as any of your other utterances here.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

that doesn't mean that I am. Once Walker was trapped in that lie, she had to double down by "swearing" to it.

But as a hearsay claim, it was always open to an easy refutation by the actual real witnesses who, unlike Walker, were present at the time. They both gave the same story which exposed Walker's lie.

Peskin never made any such claim anyway. These stories were maliciously started to try and distract the EC from Ross's abuse and crimes. The tactic failed so there is little point in whining about that now.

Again, no proof, and no possible conviction.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

One of very few instances -- if not wholly unique.

Olaque gave several responses, but none were made under oath.

Lee's testimony -- and his subsequently having been spirited away under cover of bom threat -- was *very* suspicious and is undoubtedly part of the reason his approval numbers have fallen so precipitously.

Peskin claimed exactly what he claimed; a topic you are not qualified intellectually, or ethically, to comment on.

Any District Attorney who took his job a seriously as Gascon is able to pretend to do would have been all over this, but evidently San Franciscans' best hope for justice will come next election cycle.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

I knew I recognized you, Mickey! Now you stipulate that there is a sworn affidavit to that effect.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

is akin to committing suicide to cure cancer.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

It is not his strategy to fix Muni, it is divinely ordained by Randian scripture as the theologically correct course of action unless you want to burn in libertarian hell.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

business lines and shut down what isn't working. We need to cut out the bus routes to nowhere and cut the out-of-control costs, while introducing competition and/or privatizing those parts of Muni that are not viable.

It's really basic care and feeding.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

at the finance industry, the health insurance industry, the real estate industry, the military industry. Where's your outrage there?

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

Obama saved GM because he wanted to - I wanted to let GM fail.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

GM produces goods and assets, finance produces debt and obligations.

We need more goods and assets and we need fewer debts and obligations.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

bailed out, and I have GM as the example most like public sector workers because GM was brought down by unsustainable pay and benefit packages.

We can manage without car companies as we can import cars from overseas. We cannot import a banking system.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

the insolvent financial sector? Or have you forgotten QE's 1-4, TARP, other back door bailouts like moving bad loans from private ledgers to the public sector...?

Now, the plutocrats and their paid servants in government want to gut what's left of the meager safety net that none of them will ever need, but most Americans will. Social Security and Medicare to be replaced by inferior private insurance as a profit center for legalized theft. What a democracy.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

Letting every US bank go bust would not have made you wealthier.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

Yes, privatizing health finance has worked out well, reserving 17% for middle men insurer overhead which adds no value as measured by the efficiency of Medicare and the VA socialized programs.

Apparently, personal accountability is only for "welfare queens," not corporate execs in finance. And you wonder why people open fire on schools.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

He was persuaded by his fellow Dem's that we cannot afford it, and he was right.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

Popular opinion is against Wall Street and private health insurers and yet government forces us to grant licenses to print money to private finance and a mandate for individuals to purchase private insurance.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

and it was the Dem's who sank it.

What "popular support"?

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

Is this what they're down to?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. As Glen Ford noted, Obama is not the lesser evil, he is the more effective evil.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

Al Gore's sidekick, so hardly a conservative. And he did so after listening to his constituents, who opposed universal healthcare.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:24 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:42 am
Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:15 am

universal health care, as do about 2/3 of doctors. Various polls confirm this over long periods of time. Obamacare is somewhat unpopular because of the universal mandate, and I believe because people see through its stated purpose and recognize it as a subsidy for the unproductive health insurance mafia. Personally, I am opposed to Obamacare as it further institutionalizes our perverse for-profit pay or die health care system and sets back efforts towards universal health care.

Similarly, vast majorities of Americans oppose US aggressive wars, support higher taxes on the wealthy, support Social Security and Medicare, support cutting military spending. The narrowness of the political parties and allowable debate insures that the elected rulers represent those that pay for their elections rather than the wishes of the populace.

Democracy, indeed.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:52 am

It was pressure from constituents that caused the Dem's to abandon the public option. And even the diluted ObamaCare cost the Dem's the House in 2010.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:14 am

Yes, Joseph Lieberman is a screaming communist liberal in your twisted world view.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:56 am

It was a Dem-controlled Senate who nixed it, remember?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:16 am

Your comment just reinforces my point about the failure of the two party corporate owned political system to represent the aspirations and interests of the populace. No wonder, voter participation is so low.

By the way, I believe that Lieberman was an independent, since he lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut in 2006. He hasn't caucused with the Democrats since he supported McCain in 2008.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:29 am

main parties, then there are options. I voted for Nader in 2000 and libertarian in 2004. The problem with going for the fringe parties like the Greens or the Libetarians is that it often lets in the party you really don't want to see.

Just ask Al Gore.

But yes, I believe Liebermann was an independent by then, altho he usually voted with the Dem's.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:42 am

The answer is neither left nor right, that is a tactic of distraction, but against corruption and self dealing.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:49 am

Also from this author

  • City College will appeal

    "City College neither ignored nor fought ACCJC's recommendations, as many people wish we had."

  • Transforming Pride in our schools

    It takes more than a one-time discussion or film screening to support queer youth

  • Developers should pay -- on time

    It's boom time -- a good moment to end bust-time business breaks