Updated Jan 16
Here are some of the most interesting points from the budget summary (via Streetsblog, not the Chronicle):
Although the budget hole to be closed is $16.9m, the service cuts are only $4.8m. That’s impressive. They achieve so much non-service savings by a whole pile of cuts to other things, designed to have wide but manageable impacts. Labor takes a ping: not just 0.7m in “concessions,” but also charges for parking at the workplace. (Since a huge share of the drivers report to work around 4:30 in the morning, many don’t have good transit options.)
The service cuts are all frequency cuts, and they affect every single line. Unlike the first round of cuts, which pruned and shaped the network by removing weak branches and segments, this round is intended to spread the pain without cutting anyone off entirely. They’re even cutting peak-hour commuter services, with the exception of rail. Here’s how they describe the increase in headways (elapsed time between consecutive trips on a line) by service type:
“Peak AM & PM”
Rapid & Express Bus: 1-2 minutes
Rapid Rail: No change
Local Bus: 1-5 minutes
Community Bus: 5-10 minutes
“Midday & Late Evening”
Rapid & Express Bus: 1-5 minutes
Rapid Rail: 1-5 minutes
Local Bus: 2-10 minutes
Community Bus: 5-10 minutes
Virtually everyone will wait a little longer, not just for their trip but also for any connections. Crowding and pass-ups will get a little worse.
There’s a range of fare changes, of which the most interesting is the expansion of the range of “premium” fares.
There has long been a premium cash fare for cable cars (currently $5 instead of the standard fare of $2), because they are very expensive to operate and cater to tourists, but as compensation to the locals who rely on them, the cable cars accepted monthly passes at the standard rate. Now, a premium monthly pass will be required. The same more expensive pass will be required on “express” routes, which are mostly peak-only, one-way, and thus relatively inefficient. This, like the frequency cut on those same services, will hit an especially high-end demographic.
Most fascinating, to me, is the proposal to charge the premium cash fare ($5 instead of $2) to ride the F-Market & Wharves streetcar. (Confusingly but understandably, they do not propose imposing the premium pass charge, so monthly pass users will see no impact.) When the F was created, it was made very clear that this was not a tourist ride like the cable cars; it was to be an integral part of the network. It replaced two bus lines (8-Market and 32-Embarcadero), and that was acceptable only because it was understood to be providing the same or better access at the same cost.
Now that deal’s changing. Cash passengers, at least, will pay something extra to ride a streetcar instead of a bus or subway, so we’ll start to see what value people attach to the streetcar’s distinctiveness and amenity. (If you don’t know why I’m curious about this, see here.)
As it happens, many F riders have credible alternatives: most can walk to the metro subway stations along Market Street, and a few can walk to Haight Street buses. But with the deletion of bus service along Battery/Sansome Streets in the last change, there’s really no good alternative for riders on the Embarcadero segment, including anyone traveling between the Financial District and Fisherman’s Wharf. So people who need to make these trips will be hit with the higher fare whether they want to ride a streetcar or not.
If this change prevails, it’s a major conceptual shift in how San Francisco treats its historic streetcars. And it will be interesting, too, to see what a dramatic fare penalty does to the 20% of the streetcar’s ridership that uses cash fares, especially along Market where there are alternatives.
This may well have large impacts on the viability of any extensions to the historic streetcar network. With this fare change, the agency will be saying that the streetcars are conceptually like the cable cars. The cable cars’ fundamental justification is the experience of riding them, not the transportation, and for this reason there is little serious prospect of extending them. Is the same true of the historic streetcars now?
Finally, it’s important to say, over and over, that these huge cuts aren’t San Francisco’s doing; they’re the result of the combined effect of an overall economic downturn (which hits the sales taxes on which much California transit funding relies) and California’s profound budgetary and governance problems. But nothing will be done about those problems until enough people feel the pain.