In 1973, San Francisco voters approved a “transit first” policy in connection with our long-term city infrastructure planning. While I firmly believe in a transit first policy, I don’t believe the way to encourage residents to use public transportation is by making driving so onerous that people capitulate and abandon their cars. That isn’t reality.
In my opinion, the way to drive demand for our public transportation system is to innovate, turn MUNI into the most efficient operation possible, and make our public transportation system such an attractive mode of transportation that residents proactively choose to leave their cars at home.
However, the policies coming out of City Hall are very different.
Most recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) released its proposed budget for fiscal years 2013–2015, and it included several ill-advised proposals that would generate little revenue compared to the enormous headache they would cause.
Specifically, one of those proposals calls for enforcing parking meters on Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m. starting on Jan. 1, 2013. Other proposals include a plan to add 1,000 more meters throughout the city and to increase the cost of parking tickets by $5 (note that we already have the highest parking ticket fines in the country, and parking meter hourly rates, citation fines and late penalties have each increased more than 100 percent since 1995). The SFMTA’s board of directors approved this proposed budget at a hearing on April 17, 2012.
The SFMTA is currently facing $19.6 million and $33.6 million budget deficits for the next two fiscal years, respectively. The unfortunate reality is that the agency has to cut services, lower compensation, or raise fees to balance their budget. This is a challenging task to be sure, but here’s the problem: For the past few years, the SFMTA has been one of our most inefficient city agencies. In this fiscal year alone, for example, the SFMTA had an overtime budget of approximately $30 million, but is currently on pace to spend over $60 million in overtime (the highest of any city agency). That’s $30 million chalked up to internal inefficiencies.
These figures are infuriating on their face, but more so when the SFMTA is now attempting to balance their budget on the backs of San Francisco residents. Furthermore, the proposal to implement meters on Sundays will only generate approximately $1.9 million extra in revenue, but has the potential to disrupt Sunday services across the city, drive away shoppers to out-of-town malls, impact young families, and, most importantly, further nickel and dime our residents without justification.
I’m a firm believer that in order to create confidence in our local government, we have to look in the mirror at City Hall and question whether we have our internal house in order before raising fees on residents. I am actually a big fan of the SFMTA’s new director, Ed Reiskin, and have faith that he is the right person to turn the agency around — he is one of the most humble and accessible leaders in our city government and we are lucky to have him. However, Reiskin was only given the job last year, and change does not come overnight. Until San Francisco residents have confidence that the SFMTA is finally on the right track, I don’t believe raising fees, installing new parking meters, or starting to enforce parking meters on Sunday to compensate for internal inefficiencies will instill confidence in the agency.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of enforcing parking meters on Sunday is the potential benefit to local merchants, who will witness greater turnover in the parking spaces along their commercial corridors. I’ve actually heard from many merchants on both sides of this debate, and while I appreciate the sentiment of the merchants who look forward to Sunday meters, every policy is a balancing act, and I just don’t believe Sunday meters outweigh the negative effects on local neighborhood residents and our
quality of life.
Unfortunately, under the San Francisco Charter, the SFMTA has exclusive authority to establish parking meter zones, to set parking rates, and to select, install, locate, and maintain systems and equipment for payment of parking fees — it is out of the hands of the Board of Supervisors. That being said, I still don’t believe the SFMTA should even contemplate plans to increase revenues on the backs of residents until the SFMTA can curb its overtime costs — and implore the SFMTA board of directors to develop a comprehensive strategy for balancing its budget and managing overtime costs without squeezing dollars at every turn from our residents.
San Francisco is already the most expensive city in the nation when it comes to parking fees, and at some point it has to stop. Let’s start with Sundays.