Numerous bus lines face further cutbacks and possible elimination later this year, according to the SF Appeal’s analysis of data recently supplied by Muni as part of its Transit Effectiveness Project. Lines most at-risk include the 24-Divisadero, the 28-19th Ave, the 28L-19th Ave Limited, and the 23-Monterey.
Muni’s always been strapped for funds, but in the past decade they’ve faced unprecedented budget shortfalls and rapidly escalating fare inflation. Fares have doubled within just ten years; the last doubling of fares took twice that time.
Under current conditions, we expect to see more service changes as soon as this summer; and we expect additional fare hikes within two years.According to an SF Appeal analysis, it costs Muni $2,281,370 per day to run all 76 routes; they face a budget shortfall of $25,000,000 this year (or is it $47,000,000?) and as much as a billion dollars by 2015. Deprived of cash by Gavin Newsom’s city hall and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sacramento, the transit agency is scrambling to save money wherever it can.
Under current conditions, we expect to see more service changes as soon as this summer; and we expect additional fare hikes within two years.
These predictions are based largely on a “report card” that Muni recently released, featuring data about all of its routes: ridership levels, on-time performance, daily cost, and more. We crunched those numbers, analyzed past performance, and developed an algorithm that assigns a “health rating” to each Muni line.
The line with the lowest health: the 39-Coit. It’s unlikely that the line would be eliminated altogether, but recent analysis by Muni indicates that they may cut the number of buses assigned to the line from two to one.
The 24-Divisadero is also perilously high on the list. The recent streetscape improvements may speed up service; and Muni may see that as justification for reducing the number of vehicles to the route. One of the main problems with the 24 is its expense: it costs $41,730 per day, or $3.90 per passenger. That means that Muni loses $1.90 every time you board the 24.
The passengers on the 24 aren’t Muni’s most heavily subsidized; that honor goes to the 56-Rutland, where Muni pays a startling $9.70 subsidy for each of the 200 daily riders.
The subsidy for each rider of the 91-Owl is $7.10; for the 37-Corbett, it’s $4.70; each rider of the 36-Teresita costs Muni $5.30; and for the poor departed 26-Valencia it was $3.20. Even the beloved F line is revenue-negative, with each boarding requiring a subsidy of $2.80 to cover its daily cost of $15,080. The N-Judah costs $154,020 per day, of which $63,420 is paid by Muni’s subsidy.
The least pricey are the 30-Stockton (Muni only loses 70 cents per passenger), the 14-Mission, the 38-Geary, and the 9AX-San Bruno (all costing Muni just 80 cents).
Not one Muni line is revenue-positive. Every single one requires taxpayer contributions to function. Muni’s daily payout to subsidize its riders: $1,008,970. That’s a million dollars a day. (But it’s still pocket change compared to the subsidies that car-drivers get. Muni may be expensive, but the true cost of parking spaces are mind-bogglingly high.)
In this context, those fare hikes and cutbacks start to make more sense. Muni’s costs would be crazily high in any climate, but now that they’ve been starved for cash over the last decade, their current trajectory is unsustainable.
BART, incidentally, is revenue-positive. On average, they make money on each passenger. Correction: BART is revenue-positive on some of its lines, but not all.
So what’s going on here? Why is BART so successful while Muni’s 24 and 18 face constant peril?
BART has some major advantages: more faregates, no mingling with motorists, revenue from multiple counties, more flexibility with fare hikes.
But another cause of Muni’s woes is lack of political will to support transit if it means inconveniencing single-passenger automobile drivers. Both the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors are reluctant to alienate motorists, and they’re far more comfortable asking Muni riders to bear the cost of moving everyone around the city.
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: politicians deprive Muni of cash, so service degrades; when service degrades, fewer people want to ride; when fewer people want to ride, Muni loses more cash; and on and on and on.
A few examples of politicians dropping the ball at Muni’s expense:
- Adjusting parking meter hours would bring in cash; but that idea freaked out our SUV-driving Mayor. Nobody in city government is eager to stick their neck out, so while the city drags its feet we’re making do with fewer buses.
- Back in 2006, Gavin convened a fancy-pants panel to solve all of Muni’s problems; but predictably, they just putzed around for a few months and then shot down the possibility of beefed-up parking enforcement. The result: more free parking and longer waits for buses. Great job, guys!
- The SF Country Transportation Authority completed a study earlier this year that advocated for more control of parking prices at the neighborhood level; but the Board of Supes acted like they didn’t want to hear it.
- Last year, the state raided $152,000,000 from Muni’s funds in a move that the state Supreme Court ruled was illegal — but they still haven’t gotten the money back yet, and possibly never will.
- And at the same time that Gavin was pushing for cutbacks to the bus lines that San Franciscans ride every day, his administration was discovered to be raiding Muni’s coffers, taking money earmarked for transit under a questionable “reimbursement” scheme.
- And the latest announcement: Governor Schwarzenegger plans to cut another $1 billion from transit statewide.
Next November, San Francisco may vote to impose a $10 congestion fee on new car registrations. And again, conservative commentators are aghast at the idea of car owners being penalized for contributing to downtown congestion.
Time and time again, opportunities to resuscitate Muni have presented themselves; and then slipped right through our leaders’ quivering fingers.
Every time a politician takes a swipe at Muni, it means that service degrades, fares go up, ridership goes down, and Muni’s very real death spiral gets worse. At this rate, it’s not hard to imagine Muni shrinking again and again until there’s no more agency left to shrink.
But for now, our immediate concerns are with the bus lines most at risk for additional cutbacks: the 39, the 56, the 66, the 36, the 91, the 35, the 37, the 17, the 90, the 18, the 67, the 23, and the 10.
Now that the continuation of those lines hangs in the balance, city leaders face a tough decision: properly fund an expensive transit agency, or cut more routes and hike more fares.
Actually, it’s apparently only a tough decision for the people who must make it. For the people who rely on Muni to get to work, to shop for food, and to visit friends and family, it kind of seems like a no-brainer.
Which Lines Are At Risk for Cuts?
Photo illustration: Tim Ehhalt Infographic: Matt Baume