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.


want to pay for it. That makes it easier for governments to run deficits rather than make the tough decisions. But we've taken that cowardice to such a point now that we cannot continue.

The day of reckoning has arrived, and the result won't be pretty.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:24 am

extend Medicare to everybody, raise taxes on the wealthiest equals budget surplus. Despite the fact that a government deficit is not inherently bad for the economy.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:44 am

So you stipulate to the algebra of corporate power using two tribes of nonprofits as fig leaves for their extraction regime?

Your only quibble is over representational issues. Thanks for the affirmation.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 12:54 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

Learn to comprehend English and you would see your posts make no sense at all.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:40 am

that he is losing the debate. It's called obfuscation.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:30 am

Those $10 words are above your pay grade.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:45 am

Any discussion of public transportation must begin with the automobile. A livable, walkable, human-powered vehicle City can only be possible by removing significant numbers of automobiles from our streets. Cycles, scooters, wheelchairs, and pedestrians (especially children) cannot share the same space as cars, trucks, and busses without numerous horrible accidents. The only logical solution is to design communities for people, not automobiles, from the ground up.
You know that more-or-less permanent traffic jam on any given Eastbound on-ramp to Hwy. 101/I-80? I was in the exact same traffic jam 40 years ago. It's never going to get better; it can only get worse. Automobiles are obsolete machines that represent a completely unsustainable way of life. Just think about how much space in and around cities is taken up by infrastructure designed for the convenience of automobiles.The Age Of The Automobile is over. The car is dead. Long Live The Car!
Transportation planning must begin with the fact that most people walk (or should) to most places. This will require converting some streets into "greenswards;" zones where no motor vehicles are allowed. We could begin with Market Street, which is un-drivable anyway. Some streets need to be dedicated for human powered vehicles like bicycles, tricycles, and wheelchairs. And MUNI needs to be re-thought and redesigned, from the ground up to top management.
As much as I like to rag on Los Angeles, their busses are Mercedes compared to our Fords. With the noticeable exception of the "F" line, riding MUNI is truly embarrassing. I almost broke my coccyx on a 9-San Bruno coach that had no discernible shocks, struts, or springs. We need a wide assortment of vehicles designed for different purposes; big roomy comfy express busses that make maybe five or 10 stops, vehicles designed to pickup and discharge wheelchairs, strollers, and other HPV's (human powered vehicles). Hyper-local, roomy shuttles for laundry and shopping trips. You know, public transportation. And of course MUNI should be free to encourage ridership.
And by "free," I mean paid for by those multi-national corporations that have used our infrastructure: over-educated population, perfect weather, among the best food choices and music scene in the world, free public art, Sierra snow-melt drinking water, BART, the GG and Bay Bridges, and of course, our world-class sports franchises to build their brands. If corporations are people, then they should be more than willing to give back to the community in proportion to how much they have benefitted. And, like persons, if they welch on their obligations, corporations can be knee-capped.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 9:38 am

They are here to stay, even in a fairly-densely populated city like SF.

Of course, if Muni was useable (it really isn't) then there would be elss car journeys. If we had a system like London's or Paris's, then less people would drive. But until we improve working practices and stop over-paying Muni operators, the voters will not support more funding for Muni. Muni's problems aren't lack of funding - they are bad management, bad workers and bad practices.

I'd be OK with some streets being bike-only (except for access by residents). But there also have to be some high-volume, high-speed thruways where there are no bikes or ped's.

We need a balanced policy; not a "war on cars". For some purposes, only a car will do.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 9:51 am

The voters passed Prop G several years ago that gave MTA management a freer hand in negotiating with the TWU. MTA executives claimed that Prop G would result in $45m in cost savings in the first year alone. When the budget came out this spring, MTA executives claimed that the $45m was "not budgetable" and would result in no net new resources for the Muni.

We need a war on cars and that war needs to be waged with the best fucking transit system that we money can buy. In order to get there, we'll need to demolish the corrupt administration that is using the MTA as an ATM.

The nonprofiteers from the enviro tribe who are authoring this piece are singing for their supper by demanding more resources be put into the sieve. They'll probably pick up a few drops for their efforts here.

But until we replace the sieve with a bucket, resources will pass through the agency and into other, more politically productive locations. Like the nonprofits.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:35 am

Why should muni drivers get twice the rate for private drivers?

Then fix the outdated rigid working practices.

Then, and only then, ask me for more funding.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:41 am

What more power to negotiate did you want than Prop G, and why did Sean Elsbernd not include that when he drafted the measure. Sean is pretty smart you know.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:51 am

the worst excesses of Muni's bloated pay and benefit structure, nor the archaic and rigid working practices. Some improvements came from G, but the difficult decisions were averted.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 11:26 am

So Sean Elsbernd did not prod Newsom and Lee's MTA negotiating teams to go for it, and Lee did not demand that?

All you're saying politically is that you hate government that takes in taxes and provides services to residents, and no matter who runs local government, you're going to make sure it suffers controlled descent into terrain.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:18 am

all levels. And muni's "decline" is 100% muni's fault, split between it's greedy workers and it's spineless management.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:58 am

If not for the opposition of the usual suspects this 'problem' might not still exist today.
Sue Bierman's 1994 Proposition O. "Downtown Transit Assessment District".

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN. on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:16 am

Prop O was easily defeated because it was clear it would be anti-jobs.

Every downtown district has transit geared to get people to and from work. It's ultimately for the city's benefit that we do this, not the individual businesses which, in any event, come and go.

Successful economies greatly increase the taxbase, allowing services to grow organically. You can't put the cart ebfore the horse, however.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:32 am

How much was spent to torpedo Prop O by businesses who are quite content to see others finance transit systems that deliver customers and employees to their doors?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 10:38 am

get to work easily. Which is why every city on the planet invests to provide the transit that will attract new employers to their city.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 11:24 am

Numero uno; no one who waits your table or cooks your food or cleans your house or clothes or drives you hither and yon (servants) is paid "too much." MUNI drivers presently have to drive not very well made vehicles on narrow streets full of people DWS (driving while stupid), individuals lurching into the streets, trucks and taxis blocking traffic, and cars parked in bus stops. They must be fare taker, transfer enforcer, social worker, wheelchair attendant, and put up with rowdy kids and clueless Tourons. I can tolerate the occasional rude driver because the other 97% aren't.

Numero two-o; go to Wikipedia and type in "list of car free places." There are about 100 all over the world, including downtown Sacramento and Riverside, and huge portions of Davis, California.

Number three: Here's everything you need to know about government: priorities, priorities, priorities. If "we" can time a drone to intercept someone half a world away, we can have busses that run on time. We just have to demand it.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

drive buses along the same streets as private bus drivers who get paid half the muni rate. And the private drivers don't have ludicrously expensive health and pensions benefits.

There are no major cites that are "car free". There are a few neighborhoods that are ostensibly "car free" (i.e. the cars are hidden from view). Build enoiugh garages and, by that argument, SF can be "car free" too. Oh, and those towns are populated by people who are wealthy or influential.

Our buses can run on time, but they will still be filthy and crime-ridden and full of obnoxious urchins. You can't fix that so easily. Aspen has great urban transit, but then of course there are no poor people there.

Posted by anonymous on Dec. 27, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

There are over 100 "major" cities that have car free zones. Do some research before making outrageous statements.

Because private bus drivers are exploited, you think that public employees should be also?

Filthy? Yes. Easily fixable. Crime-ridden? What are you talking about, exactly?
All urban areas with large populations of poor people are "crime-ridden." I have lived in several, and I can tell you the worst part of San Francisco is like Disneyland compared with any other major city.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:36 am

sure, there are "zones" in some cities that are car-free - that could be as little as one block. But Zermatt Switzerland is the only conurbation I've been to with no cars, and it's tiny and irrelevant in SF..

And yes, I think muni operators' pay should be competitive and at no more than a market rate for the job, because it is ME that is paying their salaries and for their outrageous pensions.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:57 am

of your flawed ideology. So called "prosperity" provided by "innovators, or job creators" is supposed to flow downwards by your account. But that same prosperity comes from driving down wages to some sort of "market rate for the job," in this case the newly emerging private (non-union) bus industry whose lower wages make the wages of MUNI operators uncompetitive in your eyes.

You proclaim the benefits of rising tide, trickle-down economics without acknowledging the downward pressure on wages that that tide pushes on the vast majority of workers. This process is clearly visible in the present day political economy of the United States--the owners are reaping almost all the rewards (after being bailed out and given free money by the public sector) while high unemployment persists, real wages decline, and almost all new jobs created are low wage without health and welfare benefits.

Impoverish the populace at your peril.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 10:50 am

their work relative to what it is actually worth. In the private sector, that leads to the kind of excess costs that can eventually destroy the enterprise - the most recent example was with Hostess - the makers of Twinkies etc., that had to fold losing thousands of jobs because the bakers' union would not agree to a pay cut.

In the public sector, the enterprise cannot really go bankrupt (although some municipalities are starting to, via chapter 9 of the BK code) so those cities and counties run from crisis to crisis, underfunding all services in order to maintain the workers' gravy train. and of course plead for ever higher taxes to kick the can further down the road.

I don't single out Muni here any more than any other city department, and in fact some are worse. But since we're talking about Muni here then, yes, paying operators twice what they are worth isn't a massive problem, as are the timebomb of their unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:05 am

ignores the fundamental flaw of your free-market neo-liberal ideology. Prosperity for the owners does not bring prosperity to all; prosperity for the owners depends on driving down the wages of workers.

The most striking current example is the moving of (relatively) well-paid manufacturing jobs in the United States to poor countries under the guise of "free-trade" (read capital flow), leading to high profits for corporate owners, and lower wages for American workers.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:17 am

more than our work is worth. The solution to that is one or all of the following three thigns:

1) Outsourcing
2) Immigration, legal and illegal
3) A collapsing dollar FX rate

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

Those jobs were pushed through explicit neoliberal public policies, they did not jump. Ross Perot got this one right, a giant sucking sound with H1-B insourcing to add insult to injury.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

relative to the rest of the world.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

unless your job doesn't require thinking.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

Throwing out a cheap insult tells me that you cannot.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

because my insult was to "guest's" comment, but Anonymous replied? I'm secure about my intelligence and my ability to refute your points, most of which are little more than catch phrases unsubstantiated by any evidence.

In fact, I'm still waiting for evidence that all airline pilots carry firearms.

Of course, I shouldn't resort to insults, but I plead imperfection and a weakness for good set ups.

That's okay. Your tendency towards insults somehow wrongly justifies my infrequent ones. At least, mine are specifically directed, unlike the common racist ones spouted by "Guest," "guest," "Anonymous," "anonymous." Glass houses, stones.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

we are all anonymous here.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

is Ass-clown...

is Guest...


Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

And Marcos has been caught out posting as "Guest".

Or I might be you.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

the purpose of high wages in a classical capitalist system is to stimulate demand so that workers can afford to buy the crappy products they are made to produce for wal mart. in a neoclassical system, the giant sucking sound is all you hear, the economic equivalent of a sucking chest wound.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:57 am

They should be an appropriate measure of the value of the work done.

In the case of a muni operator, the local market tells us that is about 30K per annum, not the 60K they actually receive.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

Wages should track productivity in the aggregate. They have not for 30 years, leaving much to make up.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:20 pm
Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

That's communism, thanks. Wages now track competition to do work rather than the value of what is produced on the clock.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

discover what someone is willing to pay you to do it.

Except if you work for the government, in which case your income bears no direct relationship to your value add.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

Can you provide a reason to justify that Randian axiom in way that doesn't employ circular reasoning?

Posted by Greg on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:15 am

your item in the only way you can - it's worth what someone else will pay you for it.

Price discovery is a natural and efficient process.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:33 am

The whole fucking point of capitalism is to divorce the value created by the worker from their compensation, leaving the capitalist with the surplus value and profit which becomes more capital.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:25 am

Remember: "The profit a company makes is the difference between what it's workers earn and what they actually receive". Thanks for the nostalgia.

But nobody over the age of 25 believes that. It ignores risk.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:35 am

Either there is a market for labor and it commands its own price or compensation is determined or limited by value added.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 10:48 am

That privilege belongs solely to those who choose to employ them or not. You can ask, but you cannot demand.

It's the golden rule - he who has the gold makes the rules.

There's an exception, of course, for those in cushy government jobs, hence the Muni problem.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:02 am

It really depends on who wants what and when. Back during the last speculative bubble, software engineers could name our price and demand signing bonuses. Now we just get paid very well. I'm sure that some more free market discipline in the form of in/out sourcing to Southern Asia would put an end to all of that.

Your economics are junk economics.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:16 am

You might get away with getting paid more than you are worth, but not forever. Eventually you will be arbitraged away. Or outsourced.

Of course, everyone thinks they are worth more than they are paid. But with the muni operators, it's obviously the reverse of that.

A little free market shakeup is in order.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:39 am

Every problem is a neoliberal nail when all you've got is a free market hammer.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 11:44 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