San Francisco leaders and advocates for better public transit took Muni to City Hall Wednesday morning to celebrate Transit Month, but the event doubled as call to action for better service and more funding.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency gutted Muni service when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020 with just 17 core routes focused on getting essential workers to their jobs. The agency is slowly restoring some routes and reopening subway service, but is now contemplating what to do with still defunct routes given the agency’s financial uncertainty.
Cat Carter, the communications director for the San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group, which organized Wednesday’s event, said that despite a drop in Muni ridership due to the pandemic, transit remained essential for many, adding:
“Even during the most restrictive shelter in place, we had 100,000 daily riders on Muni. Those are people that are absolutely dependent on transit.”
Over the weekend, transit officials publicly released details of three proposals that had drawn criticism from transit riders and city supervisors even before particulars were shared. The agency’s Board of Directors will decide which service proposal will be implemented early next year with the aim to restore 85 percent of pre-pandemic Muni service hours.
One proposal would restore the remaining routes at pre-pandemic frequencies, including the 2-Clement, 3-Jackson, 6-Haight/Parnassus, 10-Townsend, 21-Hayes, 41-Union and 47-Van Ness.
The second proposal would prioritize two high ridership routes out of the seven still not in service. A third option would be a combination of both proposals.
Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents District 5, has criticized the agency for failure to reinstate all Muni routes. At City Hall Wednesday, Preston expressed frustration that his district still lacks proper service more than a year and half after the agency cut back operations.
“A transit system should be based on the principles that more service leads to more rides and more riders, and less service leads to fewer riders and fewer rides. That is why cutting service and cutting lines for financial savings is a death spiral for transit.”
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, said setting a goal for 85 percent service restoration is just not enough, adding:
“I think for all of my colleagues, a very high priority for the next year is going to be figuring out how to get the revenue that the MTA needs to make sure that we are not aiming at worse service than we had before but are aiming at better service than we had before.”
There have been talks a measure on next year’s ballot that would bolster the SFMTA, but it is unclear at this point what such a measure would look like. Officials estimate that restoring that final 15 percent would cost somewhere around $85 million.
Despite federal funding used to help keep service running and prevent layoffs, SFMTA’s Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said the agency expects another four years of Covid-19-related financial loss in the two of the agency’s biggest sources of revenue: parking and transit fares.
“We need a world class transit system for San Francisco, and we’re gonna need help from all of you.”
More information about the three Muni service proposals can be found on the SFMTA’s website, including ways the public can submit feedback. The San Francisco Transit Riders are planning a free Tuesday virtual event to discuss the 2022 Muni service with Tumlin and other transit officials.