Quote of the Week

An excellent article on the difficulties of managing transit in San Francisco comes back to the role of the public, and the dangers of seeing “transit riders” as an interest group:

And yet no one is holding Muni management accountable to make the big
changes to reverse [Muni’s downward spiral].  The agency can neglect its riders’
long-term needs because of the fragmented nature of its ridership.  At a
recent “Muni summit,” transit experts — some of whom have decades of
experience working with Muni — shared time with speakers who saw the
consolidation of bus lines or even bus stops as a plot against minority
communities; wild-eyed revolutionaries whose worldview began and ended
with seizing funds from downtown and St. Francis Wood taxpayers to pay
for Muni; and, naturally, people comparing the members of the MTA board
to “Hitlers.” Transit activists’ aversion to allowing anyone into the
room not dead-set against the Central Subway cuts them off from
Chinatown residents — a bastion of Muni riders.  And organizers’
insistence on labeling transit reform a progressive issue needlessly
invites hostility from other political factions.  A functioning transit
system benefits everyone, even car users and Republicans.

— Joe Eskenazy and Greg Dewar, SF Weekly

Read the whole thing.  Its story may be that of your city as well.

14 Responses to Quote of the Week

  1. Mad Park April 14, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Thanks for posting this for more folks to see – the story of MUNI is truly tragic for this otherwise wonderful city. Union Greed is NOT a victimless crime.

  2. Pedestrianist April 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    I was at the summit mentioned in this quote and, ineffective as I think it was, the description is not accurate.
    Organizing an advocacy group to improve Muni is a hell of a challenge, for all the reasons Eskenazy describes. But Muni’s largest problem isn’t its passionate riderbase, it’s Lack. Of. Money.
    6 pages of all the ways Muni uses it’s money inefficiently and they buried the lede:
    “Even if Elsbernd’s charter amendment [or any other reform] saves Muni millions, there’s no guarantee the money won’t be gobbled up by other departments.”
    No guarantee, for that matter, that mayor Newsom won’t find another way to raid Muni’s budget to patch band-aids on the General Fund. No guarantee, either, that the state won’t re-renege on the pittance it’s throwing our way in place of voter-mandated STA funds.
    Muni has some bad habits but let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Newsom, SPUR, and the Chamber of Commerce scolding Muni for spending unwisely is like a usurious banker telling a foreclosed homeowner he should have been clipping coupons.

  3. Ted King April 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    My thanks also.
    My objection to the Central Subway is not with the concept. Transit improvements are needed in that corridor. It’s with the current design and stretched out delivery date. Run times along Stockton St. from Sutter St. to Market St. could be improved by turning that stretch into a transit mall. Add a priority lane for transit on Fourth St. from Market to Townsend would help as well. These two improvements could be done in a few months (should have been done years ago) and for a few million dollars (mostly study costs probably though there might be a plan on a shelf somewhere).
    The Central Subway and Calif. HSR projects point to an ugly truth. Decades of non-planning and favoritism to cars has put San Francisco into a deep pit without an easy exit. Those projects’ high price tags could have been reduced by asking what comes next. The Moscone Center could have had a tunnel box included in its foundations. The Market Street Subway (MSS) could have had either deep crossings (UGH ! water problems) or Muni Metro-level crossings (UGH ! track conflicts) included during its construction.
    The point of this post is some advice to transit planners and activists :

    Do NOT build just the minimum.
    Do NOT watch only the transit projects and the immediate area.

    The MSS fixated on Market St. and didn’t consider upgrades along Van Ness Ave. and Stockton / Fourth Sts. The Moscone Center bracketed itself by Third / Mission / Fourth / Folsom Sts. and didn’t see that it could be an inverted bridge between two terminals (Transbay and Third / Fourth + King).

  4. Louis April 15, 2010 at 6:54 am #

    Is that the correct link, Jarrett? The link seems to be talking about union rules, not public meetings.
    Also, just got back from a public hearing in New Orleans where the route planner from Veolia was repeatedly derided as an ignorant newcomer to the city, and a racist who didn’t ride buses and was simply taking all of the fare money and sending it back to Veolia HQ in France.
    In all fairness, transit patrons in New Orleans have been through a lot, as the fleet has been reduced from some 500 buses to about 65. They passionately want things back to the way things were, but there just isn’t that kind of money (and often that many people) left for RTA. And as I’m sure is seen in every city, everyone comes out to deride the transit provider, which is obviously not to blame for any lack of funding.

  5. Ted King April 15, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    The link is correct. Part of the problem is that San Francisco is a municipal riff on Switzerland. Change “cantons” to “neighborhoods” and you’ll start to get an idea of the basic dynamics. When the city has a strong mayor and a unified board of supervisors things get done. The rest of the time you have a weather vane in the big office and uncivil war among the supes.
    [sarcasm] Oh the joys of a combined city and county government. [/sarcasm]
    Add in the facts that [a] this is a union town and [b] a corporate headquarters magnet and the resulting stew can easily offend everybody’s palate. Sorry about the ranting but I’m an engineer and this kind of horse trading that yields bad results because it’s politically expedient sticks in my craw.
    Basically, SFMuni and its parent SFMTA are caught out in the middle of a free-fire zone and are taking flak from all sides. The union town aspect ties SFMuni’s hands when it comes to work rules. The agency’s lack of independence means that strange budget games can act like fiscal vampires. The heterogeneous ridership means that the riders often work at cross purposes (e.g. North Sunset [N-Judah] vs. Bayview-Hunter’s Point-Sunnydale [T-Third]). And this is the Cliff Notes version of the situation.

  6. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org April 15, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Ted.  How does "combined city and county government" make this worse?  At least SF has one less layer of government than most places in California.  You would rather deal with the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County constantly tripping over each other?

  7. Louis April 15, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Sorry, didn’t notice the next 7 pages of the article.

  8. Danny April 15, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    The unions have destroyed Muni. A simple 3-4% pay cut would have completely eliminated all transit cuts. Instead, they cut 28 million or so from services, and the union only conceded like half a million. They are pathetic. MUNI exists for transit unions, not for San Franciscans.

  9. Ted King April 15, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    It only seems efficient from outside. The consolidation resulted in several chances for cross purposes – Sheriff vs. Police Chief, Planning Commission vs. the mayor, the mayor vs. the supes. There may be others but these are the usual ones. Also, with everybody co-located it makes the processes MORE vulnerable to subtle monkey-wrenching. A case in point was the Wi-Fi network that Newsom was pushing. The word got around to several of the supes that the contract was a turkey (true) and the project got tweaked out of existence.
    I suspect that whoever set up the splitting off of San Mateo County from San Francisco County was a master salesman. That supposed efficiency from a unified government came at a high price – the loss of the San Mateo County tax base. Plus, it’s rather curious that San Francisco is the only one of its kind in California and the combination is relatively rare in the U.S. (see below).
    P.S. There must be something endemic to California. Several of our cities / counties / regions would serve as benchmark cases of how a government can tie itself into knots. A sampling :
    San Francisco – unified city and county
    San Francisco Bay area – balkanized transit
    Berkeley – radical chic
    Los Angeles – gigantism
    Further reading :

  10. Grahm April 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Regarding union contracts, supe Elsbernd has a “Fix Muni Now” initiative and is gathering signatures to get it on the ballot that would require union muni operators to bargain for wages and benefits. As a new SF resident (with limited muni riding experience) the article reflects my initial impressions of muni, an agency I had previous held in high regard. The real kicker is that there are reasonable solutions to many of the problems. A single metric can never fully capture the performance of somethign as complex as an urban transit system, but 8.1 MPH would make me think twice about getting on any muni vehicle. That is the type of # that anti-transit zealots salivate over.
    BTW, anyone have the source that indicates urban transit system average speeds?

  11. Eric Fischer April 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Grahm, there is a Muni presentation (http://www.sfmta.com/cms/cmta/documents/MuniUniqueCostOpenEnv.pdf) that gives these average speeds:
    Muni: 8.1
    AC Transit: 11.7
    Chicago: 12.8
    Los Angeles: 13.3
    Philadelphia: 13.4
    New York City: 14.0
    Toronto: 14.2
    Vancouver: 14.2
    Seattle: 16.7
    DC: 16.8
    Boston: 16.9
    But of course speed isn’t everything.
    Ted King, San Mateo County was split off a *long* time ago — 1856. The split may have been a bad idea in the long run, but nobody had any idea then what the area would look like 150 years later.

  12. Ted King April 17, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    Eric F. – No argument on the timeline. Keep in mind that one of the historic mansion clusters on the peninsula – Hillsborough / Burlingame area – is squarely in San Mateo Co, In view of the “History” paragraphs of the Wikipedia links below there MAY be a connection between the split and that part of the peninsula.
    My interest as a rail-fan comes from the 19th-/early 20th-century chain : city – train – horse carriage – country home. I’ve seen pictures of people being met at a peninsula depot prior to being driven up to one of those country homes.
    A few of the survivors –

  13. Ted King April 17, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    Another article on SFMuni with some funding ideas :
    “SFMTA eyes ballot box for funding” (SF Examiner, 16 Apr.2010)

  14. calwatch April 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    No worse than Orange County splitting off of LA County around that time. People wanted local control.