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More Muni Money, More Muni Problems: Even a $500 million boost won't help Muni 

Wednesday, Mar 4 2015
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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver borrows much from its spiritual sister program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Oliver plays some news clips, rips officials a new one, and the audience always gets a good laugh. San Francisco has given these comedians plenty of fodder over the years, but no matter how often we star in these shows, sensitive San Franciscans will never get used to being the butt of the joke.

In the opening of John Oliver's segment on crumbling infrastructure in the United States, which aired March 1, Ed Reiskin, transportation director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, got his 15 seconds of roasting.

"As much as I like to think otherwise, infrastructure is not very sexy," Reiskin says on the show. His comments are played alongside a few other middle-aged Caucasian bureaucrats saying similar things.

To which Oliver replies, "Yes, infrastructure, like those men we just heard from, is important, but not sexy."

Ouch. For the record, SF Weekly is no authority on bureaucrat sexiness — we'll leave that one to the voters. It is worth noting that Muni's infrastructure is a frequent topic in these pages. And at a Feb. 9 Capital Planning Committee meeting, Reiskin was making a similar argument as Oliver: San Francisco needs even more money for transit infrastructure.

The SFMTA's infrastructure (of which Muni makes up the bulk) isn't getting the attention or the money it requires, and over the next 10 years it will face a $4.9 billion in infrastructure obligations. That number will balloon to $11.5 billion in 20 years. In other words, that recent voter-approved $500 million bond for transit infrastructure won't even put a dent in our needs.

"Spoiler: I'm not going to end by asking for a billion dollars," Reiskin told the committee. Everyone laughed.

But maybe we shouldn't wait for Reiskin to ask for it, because Muni really could use the cash.

Basic maintenance is what Muni calls its "State of Good Repair." Muni stations, buses, trains, repair facilities, tracks, stoplights, roads, all need regular maintenance. The SFMTA, Reiskin said, would need at least $450 million annually to not sink us into a deeper backlog of needed repairs.

Currently, SFMTA is facing a $2 billion backlog — and counting.

Presently, Muni is getting $316 million annually, all of which pays for capital needs. To actually make a dent in the backlog, the SFMTA would need $570 million a year.

"This is the level at which we can stay above water," Reiskin told the committee. This time nobody laughed.

And the public need continues to expand: "Vision Zero" pedestrian safety construction, Central Subway digging, and the expansion of Muni lines and bike lanes will all add to maintenance requirements.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said "we do have a significant amount of unmet need," which means the transit agency should be more "strategic in identifying funds."

Rose's take was, well, a bit rosy. However, Reiskin was more realistic.

"At the core of the transit system, we're in decent shape," Reiskin said. "But as for the things that support that... we don't have an answer."

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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