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Supe calls for hold on fare increases despite transit agency deficit

As the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to hold public hearings over its two-year budget, Supervisor Dean Preston is calling for the transit agency to hold off on fare increases. 

The SFMTA’s Board of Directors held its annual workshop on Jan. 28 where the agency’s priorities were outlined for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 fiscal years.

The SFMTA’s budget faces a projected a $66 million deficit with the possibility of fare increases based on the transit agency’s automatic fare indexing formula. 

If directors stick to the fare indexing and make no other changes, an adult single-ride cash fare would jump from $3 to $3.25 and from $2.50 to $2.75 for riders who use Clipper cards or the MuniMobile app.

An adult “M” monthly pass would increase from $81 to $85 in fiscal year 2020-2021 and jump again to $87 in the following year.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Muni officials test a new train at West Portal Station in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, February, 8, 2018.

Preston said:

“Increasing fares discourages ridership at time when we should be doing the opposite.”

The supervisor cited a 2018 University of California report finding that for every 10 percent far increase, ridership decreases by 2 percent.

Preston said:

“Our city should be doing all we can to encourage not discourage the public to ride public transit.”

Directors have before deviated from the fare indexing policy. During the last budget cycle in 2018, directors included a $5 all-day pass offered to riders through the MuniMobile app and did not index the adult “A” monthly pass, opting instead for a 20 percent premium adjustment to the cost of the monthly “M” pass.

In that same year, directors also offered a 50-cent differential between the single adult cash fares — paper tickets — and single fares paid with Clipper cards in an effort to encourage riders to make the switch.

Clipper Card
Sam Churchill/Flickr BART is set to launch a pilot program Aug. 5, 2019 at the Oakland 19th Street station where riders will only be able to purchase Clipper cards. Three other stations will launch pilot programs on a staggered basis through September 2019.

SFMTA’s budget staff estimated at the board workshop that the transit agency would lose $1 million in revenue if it paused indexing.

Directors floated additional ideas at the meeting, including reduction of the Clipper differential to 25 cents, expansion of the Free Muni For Youth program and introduction of an annual pass for City College of San Francisco students.

Additionally, directors were presented with an idea to give free Muni passes to residents facing housing insecurity. The program would require the SFMTA would work with other city agencies on implementation.

The SFMTA board will hold its first public budget hearing on Feb. 18 at City Hall. Per the City Charter, the transit agency must submit its budget to the mayor by May 1.

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