Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"My, That's a Lot of Blood! Can I Offer You a Band-Aid?"

"It will be a smaller system," says Muni chief Nat Ford. As a direct result of the 'leadership' of mayor Gavin Newsom and his appointees on the SFMTA Board, the San Francisco Municipal Railway that has served San Francisco for almost 100 years will be serving fewer people.

This meltdown is readily perceived by Muni riders, and there's a lot of political hay being made by claiming to know how to fix it. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is riding a wave of bus driver and union contempt to push a ballot measure that he hopes will save Muni some money. And SF Weekly drew a lot of eyeballs with its thorough feature on a large number of ways that Muni wastes some of the money it gets.

Bad management takes its toll on the Muni system, but $3 million in wage cuts here and $7 million in service cuts there won't solve the real underlying problem: Lack. Of. Money.

The Weekly article contains 6 pages of all the ways Muni uses it's money inefficiently, but they buried the lede near the bottom of the 3rd page (online):
"Even if Elsbernd's charter amendment 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 been forced to make do with less for years, because city and state leaders did not think a functional Muni system was worth its cost. At a recent SFMTA Board meeting, Nat Ford referred to the 10% across the board service cuts as "right-sizing" the system. That choice of language indicates that Mr. Ford thinks that Muni serves too many people; a conclusion based on the cost of providing that service. I happen to think that demand for public transportation should determine the size and scope of Muni's system, and the budget should be crafted to support that system.

Muni has some bad habits but let's not miss the forest for the trees. Newsom 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. And I think transit riders and advocates ought to put in as much effort as possible to fight the underlying strangulation of Muni as we do in small battles over few-million-dollar line items.

No comments: