Summay of Ideas Discussed at the March 6, 2010 Save Muni Summit
By Howard Wong (415)-982-5055
With the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) facing multi-year budget deficits and service cuts, over 120 representatives of 60 neighborhood organizations and transportation advocacy groups met on a Saturday morning in March 2010 to discuss the problem. Though perspectives varied, everyone agreed that fixing the existing Municipal Railway (Muni) system remained a top priority item for San Francisco.
MUNI FACES MULTI-YEAR BUDGET DEFICITS AND SERVICE CUTS
On December 5, 2009, the MTA implemented service cuts to solve its 2009 $129 million budget deficit, in addition to previous fare increases. Service changes affected half of Muni’s bus routes and one rail line---with 6 discontinued routes, 16 shortened routes and 22 routes with reduced hours.
Muni riders were already feeling the painful cuts. Then on February 26, things got worse. The SFMTA Board intended another 10% service cut to close a new mid-year $12 million deficit.
Fortunately, the State’s reallocation of fuel tax revenue to public transit will mollify cutbacks---with Muni receiving about $36 million in 2011 and $31 million in 2012. But the projected Muni deficits of $56 million in 2011 and $45 million in 2012 will not be totally erased. Almost a certainty, additional fare increases and/or service cuts will be proposed.
Exacerbated by declining State Transit Assistance Funds, declining General Fund contributions, falling garage/parking ticket revenues and a $609 million structural deficit for basic maintenance, the financial crisis is systemic and long-term.
For the City’s Budget, the $438 million deficit in 2009 was an ominous precursor, followed by a $483 million deficit in 2010 (with Labor concessions in progress), $712 million in 2011 and $787 million in 2012---not counting 4,000 appeals of property tax assessments.
MUNI'S NEW PROBLEMS REQUIRE NEW APPROACHES
This means creating ways of moving Muni vehicles more efficiently and quickly throughout San Francisco, in particular where traffic congestion and excessive crowding is impeding the travel of buses loaded with Muni riders.
SFMTA SUPPORTS TEST PROGRAMS TO IMPROVE TRANSIT
In September of 2009, in response to a question from SaveMuni.comat a SPUR Business Breakfast, Nathaniel Ford, MTA’s Executive Director, enthusiastically supported the idea of conducting test programs geared to improving the flow of transit vehicles on congested streets such as Stockton Street and Columbus Avenue. Drawing from the best transit practices around the world, SaveMuni.com believes that San Francisco's recent street improvement success on Market Street can be extended to other parts of the city.
SaveMuni.com is also believes that a test partnership between the SFMTA, its union and its riders could form an excellent platform from which to work collaboratively towards improved transit speed, reliability and general service quality.
SHORT-TERM TRANSIT SOLUTIONS (Ideas from the Save Muni Charrette of December 5, 2009 and Save Muni Summit of March 6, 2010):
Management/ Labor/ Rider Partnership and Citywide Collaboration:
The dialogue must be citywide and include motorists, Muni drivers, Muni riders, neighborhood groups, business people, ethnic groups, seniors, youth, the disabled, seniors, disabled community, and low income groups. Politics needs to be minimized for the public good. The objective must be to break down old barriers and seek innovative solutions---in collaboration.
In particular, Muni drivers should be encouaged and empowered to take an active part in the discussion. Much wasted energy can be dissipated with good Labor/ Management relations. Muni drivers have difficult jobs that warrant respect and rewards, while public service warrants accountability, fair work rules, performance goals…The SFMTA Board’s governance model needs to be reevaluated.
The city’s problems are interconnected, but citizens are being pitted against each other.
Muni Riders Union or Coalition:
Muni riders need to organize and prioritize problems and challenge the status quo. Public transit provides equitableness, e.g. seniors, owl service to low-income/ immigrants… A new Union/Coalition needs to faithfully represent Muni riders, while respecting the workers of the system, educating people about issues and campaigning for beneficial change. Riders can work to improve their individual routes, as well as organize for special projects.
Better Service and Reliability at Reasonable Cost:
Transit speeds must be increased with better management of headway clearances and elimination of bunching. Consider the metrics: Muni has been slowing 1% every year.
Street Supervisors can turn buses around and short-circuit bunching. Better management of bus lay-overs and missed runs can save money and time. Bunching can be reduced with additional line supervisors and increased communications between drivers and Central Control.
Also, technology can redirect buses to crowded stops, skipping stops when buses bunch while providing information to riders. Keep a simple focus: On-time performance.
Fix the 70 Existing Muni Routes First:
Seek simple, low-cost, short-term transit improvements, such as effective changes to streets and operations. Many areas of the city have long 1 to 1-1/2 hour rides to downtown. Consider publishing schedules and information pamphlets, e.g. BART. Increase capacity to underserved neighborhoods. Adopt innovations from cities in underdeveloped nations that move millions of transit riders a day.
Peak-hour Reallocation of Muni Fleet and Resources:
Increase peak-hour buses in high density zones, such as shorter loop routes to better serve students and commuters. Assess peak travel times, e.g. youth, students, tourists, commuters, higher ridership when SSI checks sent….
Cell phone/ radio communications with Muni---redirecting buses to over-crowded stops.
Eliminate Cars on LRV Tracks at Stops, Intersections and Critical Junctures:
Stopped cars and car queues prevent trains from reaching and departing loading platforms.
Focus on Security in Muni vehicles and at Stations, Yards and Auxiliary Facilities:
Investment in security measures, including CCTV, sensors, lighting, signage, guards and friendly dogs, would cut costs of theft, vandalism, graffiti cleaning, maintenance etc.
Immediate Tests for Small Incremental Improvements:
Focus on simple but implemental transit improvements that can be tested.
Simple fixes can be tested before proceeding with costly big projects. This would test cost/benefit criteria and help resolve public opposition. Small projects are categorically exempt and easy to do, e.g. restriping of streets, dedicated bus lanes at peak hours, widened sidewalks, sidewalk bulb-outs with ticket machines, trucks/delivery management, parking management, traffic signal synchronization, transit priority signals, strategic positioning of bus stops to minimize delays, camera-enforcement at front of buses etc.
Also, physical separation of dedicated bus lanes and cars can be tested, or color-coded bus lanes. Prop K monies might be used for pilot projects.
Safer and more comfortable vehicles can be tested, including upholstered seats.
“Proof-of-Payment” and All-Door Boarding:
Ticket Machines, prepaid waiting areas, stiff warnings, stiff fines and inspectors are needed.
Collaborating with neighborhoods, program can be phased into busiest Muni routes.
Reallocate Central Subway Project Funds to Muni's more pressing needs:
Shift what's left of the $386 million in State/Local funds currently allocated to the Central Subway, and the as yet unidentified additional $252 million in required State/local funding, to address Muni's many more pressing capital, operating and maintenance needs. (More information on the Central Subway Project is seen in <SaveMuni.com>.Customer Service Emphasis:
A renewed emphasis on MTA Customer Service is necessary, from the driver to management levels. Attractive, clean, safe buses, trains, bus stops and stations---with a focus on design, esthetics, consistency and status. Graffiti should be aggressively cleaned, fined and policed.
Car cleaning staff should be increased. A positive Muni branding will coalesce support. Increased capacity is possible with “Move to the back of the bus!” signage, effective PA announcements, driver oversight, redesign of seating layouts and volunteer concierges.
Getting on and off the bus, announcements should encourage cyclical movement. Standardize back door exiting techniques.
Keep front seats available for seniors, disabled passengers and children. Volunteer concierges and police can also improve safety/ security by riding buses frequented by students at peak times and owl services.
Basic fleet maintenance is critical: Cleanliness, shock absorbers, wheel alignment, adjustment of back doors for soft closure, unobstructed view of electronic signs.….
All vehicles should have Muni Maps posted inside. Route messaging should be available in multiple locations inside the bus. Extend time on transfers beyond 90 minutes.
In-House Muni Team Dedicated to Removing Barriers for Good Service:
Removing the barriers to good Muni service is not a task that lends itself to the occasional Consultant or civic group report. On the contrary, to properly identify and remove the many barriers to good service that currently afflict Muni's 70 existing lines would require the continuous attention of a carefully-selected in-house Muni team comprised of individuals dedicated to the simple objective of making Muni the best it can be.
Neighborhood “Adopt-A-Bus-Line” Program:
“Adopt-A-Bus” Committees, in neighborhoods and commercial districts, advocate, promote Transit-First, create incentives for riders, sign up volunteer “Muni Concierges”…….
Transit-Only Lanes and Dedicated Bus Lanes
Paint is cheap! Attractive “Bus Only” Logos, colors and branding design. Bus only lanes can occur only at peak hours or in peak hour directions. A physical separation is desirable, even if temporary. Parking Control Officers and cameras on buses can be used for enforcement. On weekday mornings and afternoons, all Muni, SamTrans and Golden Gate Transit buses can be in rigorously enforced, transit-only lanes at critical points.
Convert at least 2 of the 18 mixed flow lanes, entering SF from the south, to “bus-only lanes”. In exchange, offer SamTrans the ability to operate buses on Market St. instead of Mission St.
Create more HOV’s lanes.
Traffic Signal Synchronization:
New technology has simple imbedded electronic boxes in the street, triggered by buses.
Transit Preferential Streets and Transit-Priority Street Design:
Implementing best practices from around the world, surface transit can be both enjoyable and fast---e.g. better parking management, restricted delivery hours, more color-zones to eliminate double-parking, relocating parking lanes to adjacent streets, dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal synchronization, traffic-direction switches at peak hours, traffic-calming, sidewalk bulb-outs, strategic bus stop locations, urban design improvements to streets…. One-way thoroughfares can be converted to two-way streets to slow traffic. Transit-priority = Transit speed.
The Planning Department can require freight-loading areas for new developments.
The Transportation Element of the San Francisco General Plan already establishes planning objectives for Transit Preferential Streets (TPS, Objectives 18, 20 etc.). Large amounts of dollars have been spent on planning/ design concepts---not even counting the Better Streets Program, Jefferson Street Plan, Columbus Avenue Street Plan…. TPS means faster buses and more service for the same cost. So, resurrect the General Plan, test and implement TPS.
Better Streetscape Design:
Beautiful, well-lighted, safe, landscaped and attractive streets promote sociable public spaces and public transit---bringing thousands of people to retail, restaurants, sidewalk cafés….
What kind of city do you want to live in? Better streets mean equitable distribution of resources, safety, social spaces, transit…. The city’s character is linked to Transit First.
Funding is critical, particularly operating funds and cost-reductions. Fare-evasions should be evaluated creatively, particularly on problematic routes, with fines and enforcement as only one parameter. Reevaluate cost of Residential Parking Permits, possibly including the mandatory cost for a Muni Fast Pass. Mandatory purchases of Muni Fast Passes can be linked to certain building/ planning permits, condo conversions, inclusionary housing requirements, development fees…. Along major corridors, businesses/ employers can subsidize transit passes/ fares.
Increase sale of day and multi-day passes, to both tourists and residents with ticket machines, on-bus sales, hotel/ business transit centers…. Create a cheaper day pass for all vehicles, except cable cars and F-Line. Or create a higher cost day pass that’s valid on ferries etc.
Evaluate and retool parking meter fees/ hours/ days, garage rates, disabled placard usage, free parking exemptions, discount all-day parking, interdepartmental work orders..,..
Reinstatement of state vehicle license fees (VLF) and gas taxes are critical, including political support of the state bill that allows counties to reinstate the VLF.
Most 311 calls can be directed to 511---although 511 lacks non-English services. Advertise 511 at each stop and post the stop’s ID Number.
Transportation Impact Development Fees need to be collected for operations and maintenance.
Seek creative fundraising: Naming rights for bus stops, benches, vehicles…..
Need for Muni Audit:
Already in progress, the effectiveness of funding for Transit First must be evaluated, including lax revenue collection, excesses in operating/ maintenance costs, priorities, actual duties of personnel, shifting of MTA jobs/salaries, work orders ….
The SF General Plan’s Transportation Element bolsters the city’s Transit First Policy. Are developer fees and transit assessment fees being collected? A “Maintenance of Effort” mandates verification that Transit Funds are not being shifted to General Funds.
TEST PROGRAM FOR STOCKTON CORRIDOR WITH CITYWIDE APPLICATIONS
Short-term, quick transit solutions can be tested in combination with longer-term strategies.
“Proof-of-Payment” and “All-Door Boarding”.
Muni “Loaders” and volunteer “Muni Concierges” can monitor pre-boarding fare collection, preboarding holding areas and all-door boarding. Option: Signage with warnings of stiff fines.
Parking and Delivery Management:
Analyze district-wide parking and reallocate street parking onto secondary streets/ properties---minimizing or eliminating parking lane(s) on Stockton Street. Also, analyze deliveries---limiting deliveries to off-peak hours or creating truck parking zones, perhaps a center lane for trucks.
Dedicated Bus Lanes:
Bus-only lanes can be only at peak hours and/or in the direction of peak-hour commutes. The lanes should have high status and esthetics, e.g. solid color, graphics etc.
Better Streetscape Design:
Widened sidewalks, bulb-outs, tree containers, flower boxes, sidewalk cafés, lighting lanterns…. can foster a pedestrian and transit-oriented realm---encouraging walking and social and economic interactions.
Incorporate “Sunday Streets” Program
The management skills and funding for existing programs can be combined with transit testing.
The Better Streets Program has a symbiotic relationship to transit, with the meshing of beautification, pedestrian/ transit realms and economic vitality. Moreover, linking to existing cultural festivals and street fairs, the test program can attract sponsorships and provide an economic boost to Chinatown, North Beach and the entire region.
Transit-Priority Street Design:
Northbound vehicles (except buses) forced to turn right at Clay and Jackson Streets.
Southbound vehicles (except buses) forced to turn right at Pacific Ave.
A test program can take a fresh look at regional transit and street patterns.
Convert Grant Ave. into a transit mall, with free bus service between Market St. and Broadway.
Like Shanghai’s pedestrian Nanking Road, a fun shuttle relieves Stockton Street’s transit load.
Convert Kearny and 3rd Streets back to two-way traffic.
Bring back Muni buses on Kearny St. to relieve the congestion on Stockton St.
STRONGER, BETTER, FASTER LIGHT RAIL SERVICE
Right Of Way and Signals:
Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) should have priority at new right-of-way traffic signals. To prevent pedestrians and bicycles from impeding LRVs, replace stop signs with traffic signals, e.g. NJudah at Duboce/Noe, J-Church along Church Street and along West Portal Avenue especially at West Portal Station. Add dedicated right of ways. Consider barriers to stop cross traffic at critical intersections.
Add raised trackway on J-Church along Church Street and N-Judah.
Balboa Park is particularly dangerous and confusing, requiring a remodel.
Speed Up LRV with New Underpasses, e.g. under Saint Francis Circle etc.
Alternate outbound L, M and J trains at Embarcadero Station to prevent long waits. Also, at the east end of LRV lines, dispatchers should be allowed to reassign outgoing vehicles in accordance with need, e.g. converting a “K” to an “N” etc.
To cost-effectively handle ridership spikes that occur twice every weekday, the MTA should be able to hire part-time drivers, e.g. retired Muni drivers (legally allowed to work half time).
Ticket vending machines on trains allow passengers to pay fares (credit card, cash…).
Fix broken ticket machines at outdoor Light Rail Stops, e.g. Embarcadero, SF State….
In lieu of fare inspectors, train conductors can collect fares in the second car.
Fare inspectors should not stop trains for inspections, checking fares while trains are moving.
In lieu of large groups of fare inspectors, distribute inspectors to most problematic routes and to booths lacking a station agent.
Better management of fare inspection program to assure higher returns.
Better design and enclosure of fare gates/ booth areas---to prevent jumping over gates.
Option: Proof-of-Payment eliminates the need, cost and maintenance of fare gates.
Focus on Fixing the Existing Light Rail System First
Attention and funding has been diverted to new projects that appear to diminish existing service. For example, the T-Line’s new southern leg has a meager 11.940 riders/day, no better than the old 15-Kearny Bus. When the T-Line eliminated the 15-Kearny Bus, over 10,000 riders/ day north of Caltrain lost fast bus service to the Montgomery Street Station.
Similarly, the proposed Central Subway’s EIR projects a decrease of 76,400 annual hours of bus service---ostensibly to offset higher operating and maintenance costs. Riders in the northeast quadrant will lose transit service, despite a $1.578 billion payout for the subway.
LONG-TERM, FUNDING AND PLANNING STRATEGIES
Creative ideas from the Save Muni Charrette of December 5, 2009 and Summit of March 6, 2010:
Regional Public Transit System:
For greater economic efficiencies and transit integration, create a regional Metropolitan Transportation Agency, integrating public transit, resources and funding throughout the Bay Area---common in many cities throughout the world. In the short term, seek collaboration between different transit agencies through the MTC, ABAG, State etc. Add transfers between transit systems, in addition to TransLink. For long-term planning, reconcile overlapping projects, e.g. BART to SFO/ San Jose, High Speed Rail to SFO/ Peninsula, CalTrain to SFO/Peninsula….
MTC reform requires more funds to Muni instead of BART, highways etc., stemming the suburban bias and sprawl.
Reallocate Central Subway Project Funds to the Citywide Muni System
Working with San Francisco’s strong political leadership, reallocate the future $942 million of federal funds to quicker transit-oriented street projects, injecting funds into the local economy---
similar to the shifting of funds from the Oakland Airport Connector and from Alaska’s “Bridge to No Where”.
Solve $609 Million Structural Deficit in Basic Maintenance
The existing Muni Fleet must be kept in repair and eventually replaced. Establish program to provide spare parts and major maintenance equipment items.
Build New Central Control Facility
Muni’s antiquated control center needs to be replaced with state-of-the-art technology, which will enable management of schedules and the system.
NEXT BUS, Digital Displays and Tracking System
Implement full system and assure accuracy, engaging drivers for better scheduling reliability.
Missing buses should be noted on the system to benefit riders.
Implement TransLink System:
TransLink speeds up all-door boarding, lowers operating costs and facilitates future BRT.
Geary and Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit:
Priority for bus rapid corridors would bethe best chance for helping the most riders in the shortest timeframe. BRT are good opportunities for test programs.
Increase Capacity of Light Rail and Muni Metro System:
To achieve 5-car trains, not 2-car trains, train coupling problems must be solved. This would alleviate 60% peak period capacity. Also, there is a projected 20% latent demand (30,000 more riders per day) if capacity can be increased, thus generating larger revenues. The peak carrying capacity of Muni Metro can be more than doubled.
A regional analysis of increased revenues for Muni’s and public transit’s operating/ maintenance budgets should be holistic. Structural deficits are the biggest problem and must be solved.
Taxes are controversial and not easily agreed upon. For evaluation, some proposed possibilities include sales taxes, gas taxes, transit assessment fees, transit district taxes,ground leases for city-owned property, oil depletion allowances….. High transit use areas, like Downtown, might contribute more funding in exchange for identifiable economic benefits.
Automobiles can pay a fairer share for use of roads and streets, tied to parking rates, garage rates, user taxes, congestion pricing fees….. State Transportation Funds must be protected.
SFPARK, MTA's parking study, can help better manage parking rates and hours.
Long-term Transit Planning
Thoughtful transit planning is necessary for neighborhoods and citywide systems, seeking longterm efficiencies and transit effectiveness. Grants should be sought for such planning.
Aggressive Adaptation of Best Practices from Around the World
In recent years, many cities have made great strides in transit innovations, both simple and complex, transit-priority streets and systems---which San Francisco needs to evaluate.
Create Transit Hubs
Design and planning of compact/ unique/ identifiable transit hubs would create efficient transfer stations, Muni branding, urban nodes, weather protection, comfort, high status… Similar to planning for subways and railroads, surface routes cross at strategic nodes, which should be physically intuitive to see and identify.
Create regional parking nodes:
For example, Candlestick Park or shopping center parking lots can be inked to public transit---allowing pedestrian/ transit zones in the Downtown and commercial districts. Futuristic planning models envisioned cities with pods of parking, linked to the urban core by public transit.
Shuttles and Jitney Vans
Coordinate and integrate existing private shuttles into Muni system, e.g. UCSF, Kaiser, residential complexes….. However, private jitney services and privatization of the Muni system has much opposition---although used in other cities.
International transportation experts and lawyers can evaluate and streamline laws.
Streamline Muni Management and Labor Issues
The contentiousness of Labor/ Management has been detrimental to riders’ needs. A collaborative process is necessary.
Free or Low-Cost Muni:
Higher transit fees push people into automobiles, with negative environmental effects. The city can study best practices of free or low-cost transit from other cities around the world.
Strategies to Address Climate Change:
Currently, low transit budgets contradict climate change mandates. Transit First reduces cars and 20 lbs/ mile in emissions. Global warming policy is a powerful tool for strengthening public transit.
Better Regional Coordination of Land-Use
Competing jurisdictions, economic interests and suburban sprawl have emphasized cars and highways, not public transit. State laws and regional planning must focus on transit-priority planning and livable communities of the future.