San Francisco transit officials are contemplating solutions to fill a $130 budget million deficit in the 2025 fiscal year, including finally carrying out a plan to extend metered parking hours to evenings and Sundays in commercial corridors and exploring raising Muni fares again.
While the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency submits a budget every two years to the mayor and Board of Supervisors as the agency did last year, directors on the SFMTA board received an update on the agency’s finances at the board’s annual workshop last week.
The outlook is gloomy once federal relief funding runs out in 2025. In the 2026 fiscal year, the agency projects its budget deficit to balloon to $216 million.
The SFMTA is also expected to receive less funding from The City’s general fund, which makes up 38 percent of the agency’s budget, said Bree Mawhorter, the agency’s chief financial officer:
“When the general fund is struggling, we are struggling.”
The agency expects to receive $19 million less from the general fund in fiscal year 2024 as The City struggles with its own projected $728 million deficit.
Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said the agency has some time to figure out solutions and that cutting Muni lines was not one of the solutions:
“If we were to not raise new revenue and deal with our deficit only by cutting Muni service, that would mean cutting 25 Muni lines. We are not going to do that. Let me be very clear, we are not cutting 25 Muni lines.”
Mawhorter said in her presentation that while revenues in transit fares and parking have risen since the pandemic, revenues are projected to remain stagnant over the next five years:
“What we’re seeing is that revenues are flattening out. Similarly for transit, transit is in a much more challenging place than parking.”
This will not be the first time the SFMTA decided to charge drivers at parking meters during the evenings and Sundays. The SFMTA board adopted the policy in 2012 as part of the agency’s budget, but was later axed in 2014.
The idea to bring the policy back again came before the pandemic began in early 2020 and had the support from Mayor London Breed at the time.
SFMTA documents showed that evening meter hours could generate $25 million annually with Sunday meter hours generating $9 million annually. There are other short-term parking reforms that could generate revenue for the agency, including raising residential parking permit fees, having a dedicated parking official detail that would solely focus on issuing parking citations and raising the contractor permit fee.
Directors said they were also interested in increasing fares again given the number of free and discounted programs the SFMTA offers to riders. Fares have remained the same since 2020 despite an effort to raise them early on in the pandemic, but was later nixed after the Board of Supervisors expressed concerns as residents faced job insecurity early on in the pandemic.
Director Manny Yekutiel said:
“I think we can be smart enough to figure out a way to capture all the revenue we can for folks that it doesn’t matter if you increase it and make sure we do everything we can to help the folks for whom it does.”
Amanda Eaken, who chairs the SFMTA board, said she agrees that there many riders could probably afford the fare increase, but wanted to also focus on the riders for whom paying is burdensome.
Director Stephanie Cajina said the agency has to make it easier for riders to take Muni, access a Clipper card and discounted programs:
“We have to make it easy for folks to pay their fare, to understand how to add money to the Clipper card. All those things are essential.”
Bay Area transit agencies are struggling financially and are asking the state for a funding “bridge” to support transit operations until a new long-term funding source is identified.
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. He covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent over a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a native in the city and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Email tips to [email protected]