The other day, Muni announced it would build a pair of avant-garde new kiosks to hawk Clipper cards and transit passes. Almost as an afterthought, the price of these two booths was mentioned late in news articles: $829,000.
For those of you who never thought you'd see the terms "kiosk" and "$415,000" in direct correlation -- well, welcome to San Francisco. "The cost of doing business in San Francisco isn't cheap," is a quote we could put in just about every article we write. In this city it costs well over half a million dollars to install a restroom in the park. You can blame the peculiarities of San Francisco for this spectacular ability to hemorrhage money -- and we will, in a moment. But, in the case of the Muni kiosks, you can also blame a higher authority.
Muni spokesman Paul Rose notes that the $829,000 in question were grants funded by federal stimulus funds. So, while it's not as if taxpayers have no connection to this money, it isn't as if this "use it or lose it" gift could have been used to pay workers' salaries or clean up the 38 Geary.
On the other hand, it also couldn't be used for a number of things that are relevant to selling Muni passes. Would it have been cheaper to, say, rent out space in one of the thousands of empty storefronts in the vicinity of the new kiosks on Geary and Masonic and at the Powell cable car turnaround? Quite likely. Would merchants at an existing store have welcomed a Muni booth within to draw customers? Possibly. Would this have been allowed under the terms of the grant? No way.
"We couldn't spend it on office space," explains Rose. "Any rental costs for nearby locations couldn't be paid through grants or capital funding. We would have to use our own operating dollars on that."