SAN FRANCISCO -- At a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Board of Directors approved two controversial revenue generation measures and, while unable to pass an equally contentious plan to give free rides to the city's children, made clear its intention to turn the latter idea into reality.
The ultimate purpose of this week's meeting was to pass a two-year budget for the agency totaling around $1.6 billion dollars; however, the board tabled the vote until questions about funding for the two-year pilot program giving free rides for San Franciscans between the ages of five and 17 could be squared away.
Muni, which faces a $53 million deficit over the next two years, has long been looking for ways to close the ever-growing structural hole in its budget without resorting to service cuts. The agency has recently made a number of moves on the spending side of the equation, such as scaling back on overtime and eliminating a number of management positions. Since these cuts don't come anywhere near the level needed to get Muni back into the black, the agency is now taking steps to increase revenues.
The two measures approved earlier this week included adding a $5 surcharge to every parking ticket and turning on parking meters on Sundays.
Charging for parking on Sundays would bring an additional $2 million per year into Muni's coffers, but the idea has raised a lot of hackles around the city.
The faith community, led by Christian pastors, objected to Sunday meter enforcement, saying it would harm the congregations.
"I along with other clergy struggle with adequate parking to accommodate parishioners," said the Rev. Floyd Trammell, pastor of the First Friendship church in the Western Addition.
SFMTA responded to the religious leaders' concerns by agreeing to begin Sunday meter enforcement between the hours of noon and 6 p.m.
Other constituencies around the city are unlikely be so easily pacified.
In an editorial on Monday, the Chronicle came out against Sunday meters calling the idea "a parking jihad" and insisting that "car owners should get a day off from an army of ticket-writing meter minders."
Business owners nervous that increased parking headaches could scare off potential customers also oppose enforcing paid parking seven says a week.
"I think most merchants are tentatively in support of the Sunday meters, but shoppers don’t want to give up their free spots," Matt Rogers, owner of Papenhausen Hardware on West Portal Avenue, told the San Francisco Examiner. "So I don't think you're going to get many businesses making big proclamations for the plan."
However, Streetsblog reports that a recent study on the results of a parking meter hike in Seattle found a 5.4 percent spike in gross receipts at restaurants in the affected areas following the change.
Most members of the public who spoke at Tuesday's meeting about the extension of parking meter enforcement came out strongly against the idea. The proposal to give free Muni access to San Franciscans between the ages of five and 17, on the other hand, was wildly popular, drawing so many supporters to the typically sedate proceedings that some members of the public spilled over into two overflow rooms.
Three members of the city's Board of Supervisors, John Avalos, David Campos and Jane Kim, all popped into the meeting offer their support for the proposal.
"I respectfully ask that you make history today and make public transit free for all children in San Francisco," said Campos.
San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Kim Shree said the proposal also encourages families to ride Muni. "We want that shift in ideology" that families do not need a car to get around San Francisco.
"As they start to take Muni more and more, (parents) start to figure out, 'Well, if my kids are taking Muni, I can take Muni as an adult to work,'" Shree said.
Despite the vocal public support at the meeting, the board's vote was deadlocked with three in favor and three opposed--the deciding vote would have been cast board chairman Tom Nolan, but he was absent while recovering from surgery. The dissension amongst the board members was a result of the agency identifying funding for a limited version of the project giving free access to low-income youth ($4 million), but currently lacking money to expand it universally ($7.9 million).
However, as transit blog The N-Judah Chronicles notes, the actual costs of the program are "actually more than what's been stated in SFMTA reports...because those numbers only account for the loss in revenue to the agency and not the cost of administering the program, or the 'outreach' they'll have to do."
The blog also worried that the funding for free Muni would likely only come as a one-time cash infusion that would only subsidize the program for a limited time and then disappear, leaving another large, long-term gap in the agency's yearly budget.
Discussion of the proposal will resume at the next SFMTA board meeting on April 17.
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