When the state of California took millions in transit aid to reduce its budget deficit, it severely hurt city transportation agencies-since most agencies are already strapped with their own deficit, including our MUNI. Last August, Genesis, a local group of public advocates, along with representatives from the other transportation advocate and agencies from accross the country, gathered in Chicago to speak out and call on Congress to stop the trend of transit service cuts, fare hikes, and operating budget shortages. During the press event, speakers described the dismal fiscal conditions of most of the major transit agencies around the country and offered solutions for how to get them out of the hole. They specifically referenced a report by Transportation for America titled “Stranded at the Station”. According to the report, in 2008, Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips, the highest since 1956. Advocates and community leaders say funding cuts have hurt people living in vulnerable demographics, as cuts to service make it difficult to get work, school or doctor appointments To that, the president of Genesis Reverend Scott Denman says this: “Our government says it is concerned about greenhouse gases, claims that government is by the people, for the people. Nonetheless, Federal policy currently encourages more cars on the road and less help for those who have no cars.”
Just last week, The Mercury News put out a special report on the devastating effects of service cuts on Bay Area residents who rely on public transportation. In the report a graphic depicts just how slow and expensive common regional commutes are on transit. What more will public transit agencies need to pay their bills? Here in San Francisco, Muni has raised fares twice in one fiscal year, increased parking rates and reconfigured service on its bus and train routes to deal with budget problems. If things do not change at the national level and state transit funding is not reinstated, then AC Transit and other regional transit operators will continue to be forced to cut service, raise fares, and continue to debase the transportation system- and consequently remove it as viable option for Bay Area residents. At this point, almost $22 million is still needed to close MUNI’s projected budget deficit, a dilemma that has forced the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the agency that oversees Muni, to ask its commercial vendors to help ease the transit agency’s debt. The department is requesting that private businesses voluntarily reduce their contracts with the agency by a minimum of 3 percent for the next 2 ½ years. Judson True, spokesman for the agency, believes this will save the agency “several million dollars.”
Another way the (SFMTA) could have raised millions in annual revenue would have been by extending parking meter hours to Sundays and nights, but that recommendation was recently rejected by the mayor. What is truly sad about this crisis is that the people who depend on public transit most are paying higher fares for less service, as some routes have had parts cut or were completely eliminated. As pointed out above, some of the most vulnerable people are now faced with walking longer distances or drive their cars to reach their destinations. MUNI may also become less safe and clean in the future. The SFMTA announced last week that it is going to lay off 24 parking and control officers and four mechanics, 10 people who clean trains and buses and a few others. Here at the Brod Law Firm, we wonder if fewer people will ride MUNI due to all the cuts to service and safety-which may lead to a complete melt down of the system, traffic congestion (that is if those left stranded even own a car)and poorer air quality.