Transit First San Francisco Forum

Creative Financing, MUNI style ...

Muni has a new idea how to raise funds - enter into Enron style contracts with offshore corporations with the hope of getting a few million dollars based on selling tax right offs for Muni vehicles initially purchased with government funds.

Some questions people should be asking:

  1. What happens if these deductions are disallowed by the IRS? Will San Francisco be left holding the bag?
  2. What are all the conditions under which San Francisco taxpayers could loose on the deal?
  3. Are those who are proposing the deal willing to provide a surety bond that San Francisco will not loose money on the deal?
  4. All beneficiaries to the deal need to be identified and disclosed. What benefits will there be to any San Francisco elected officials or city employees?
  5. What does the IRS have to say about such deals?


Visionary Thinking The "X Plan," a draft of Muni's hopes for the future, offers a glimpse of transit utopia By Matt Smith, SF Weekly, December 5, 2001

I received a comment recently that this page needs updating and that Muni is still not fixed.

"MUNI seems to be getting worse day by day. Drivers arguing (and sometime yelling) at passengers. This morning I waited 30 minutes for a 28 line and ended up in a four bus 28 line caravan playing leap frog from 19th and Quintara to Geary Blvd. Then waiting for 10 more minutes to get into a 3 bus 38 line caravan. This doesn't sound like MUNI is being fixed." -Jim from San Francisco

My sense is that Michael Burns (the General Manager) is doing a fairly good job with day with day operations and that drivers for the most part are doing their best (when they are driving). The issues still revolve around good management and creating a supportive institutional culture. If you have a comment or complaint, you can add it to the Comments, Complaints and Questions form at MUNI website - or contact the GM directly. You may also want to add to our list of MUNI Horror Stories on the SF Transit Forum.

NextBus does an innovative job of letting riders know when the next metro will arrive - even provides a realtime web map on the system.

Here are some of the issues which I think are important.

1. Operations are still essential. This is a day to day issue. Are runs missed? Good management and institutional culture are intertwined here. Drivers (and other MUNI employees) that don't feel they are being treated fairly - both by management and the public will not perform at their best. Employees must be given the tools and the support they need to do the jobs expected of them. But employees that continue to perform badly, even when treated fairly should not continue to work at MUNI. The amount of money MUNI pays out in civil judgements for accidents does not show good management. Some have advocated management incentives as the solution to MUNI's problems. These could be counterproductive - those who advocate them might do well to read Alfie Kohn's article in the Boston Globe, Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator. It is foolish to expect that a new city charter amendment that creates another new commission will somehow fix MUNI. The public needs to keep the Mayor and Board of Supervisors fully accountable for the performance of MUNI. There is no substitute for good management with the proper balance of authority and accountability.

2. Equipment is important. Bad equipment is not good for moral, nor does it help riders when buses break down. This is both a funding and planning issue as well as a day to day management issue. Pollution levels, reliability, cost as well as the height of bus floors are important considerations to balance in new vehicle purchases.

3. Funding is important. To the extent that public transportation is deemed to be a public good in the city, MUNI must receive sufficient funding to do what is expected of it. Most would agree that MUNI provides civic benefits to those beyond just those riding the system and that fares alone are not sufficient alone to support the kind of public transportation system desired by city residents and those who benefit from business interests in the city.

4. San Francisco needs ongoing public transportation planning. It is not enough to just keep running the existing system. Needs change and there are opportunities to improve service (such as adding light rail to the Geary corridor). Automobile use in the city has reached the saturation point in many neighborhoods. Better public transportation is one of the major solutions to this problem. Much of this relates to funding - but it also requires good planning decisions. It will be crucial to look for funds from sources which traditionally subsidize road construction. For a good source of information about what other cities are doing, see Light Rail Progress.

5. Fares must be kept reasonable (or even cheap). If people are going to be encouraged to take MUNI rather than drive, it must make good economic sense. The Fast Pass is a great way to give Muni a predictable revenue source while making the incremental cost of taking MUNI free (for those who have purchased FastPasses). Perhaps it is time to give city workers free Fast Passes rather than free parking places. [See: Transit First' Comes Last For Many S.F. Officials They push public transportation, yet drive to work by Dan Levy, SF Chronicle, Aug 23, 1999]

6. City subsidies for autos need to be better understood. The city provides large subsidies for owners of cars in the city. Roads and traffic lights are not paid for directly by drivers. The $27 per year residential parking permit fee represents far less than the market value of a parking place in the city. In justifying city funds for public transit, it would be good to better understand the current subsidies provided for those using city roads and parking.

7. MUNI needs public support. Without broad public support MUNI will never work well. The reality is that budgets are made by politicians in response to public pressure. Without public pressure there will always be the temptation to cut MUNI. The rider organization, Rescue Muni has been helpful in this regard - but other civic organizations, from The Bicycle Coalition to the Senior Action Network are just as important. The Press in the city can also have a major effect on citizen knowledge of transportation issues.

8. MUNI must be responsive to San Francisco. People in San Francisco use MUNI. It's the 7th largest transportation system in the United States with over 700,000 daily boardings. It's in MUNI's best interest to be responsive to those who use MUNI and those who benefit from MUNI. It needs to give good service to riders and be run efficiently. The credibility of MUNI is important. It must strive to earn a reputation as an important and respected institution in the city.


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30-Apr-2001 - a previous version of this page