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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Who do you trust less to run your transit system? MUNI, or the City?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2007 at 8:00 AM

Raise your hand if you’ve been stuck on MUNI lately.

I know, I know -- that many hands being raised that fast can cause accidents. It was irresponsible of me. But it illustrates the point: we’re all in this together. Every man, woman, transsexual, and seeing eye dog in San Francisco are bound by two things: a hatred for the Bush administration (so cold it burns), and a desire for more reliable public transportation.

We’re stuck with Bush for another 500-odd more days -- proving once and for all that the mantra “visualize change” just doesn’t work -- but MUNI should be getting better, right?

Yep. They just implemented changes to prevent another “T-line meltdown,” have the system running smoothly, and, with last year’s Proposition E passed, have stable revenues. Sort of. And City Hall’s looking to provide even more funding.

What could possibly go wrong?

Same thing that goes wrong every time, Pinky: politics. Even in San Francisco, where no one finds “enlightened self-interest” to be very interesting, the answer is always “Politics.”

The Board of Supervisors is now jostling over two new proposed ballot measures -- which come before the Rules committee this week -- over MUNI management. The Chronicle has correctly noted that one of them, proposed by Board President Aaron Peskin would divert more parking revenue to MUNI. But, in fact, the two measures -- Peskin’s and one proposed by Supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Gerardo Sandoval -- could radically alter the way MUNI is run. Each in a different direction.

Peskin’s measure would mandate that the MTA (which runs MUNI) consolidate the city’s parking functions with MUNI and give MUNI dedicated parking revenue. It would also mandate that the MTA find ways to clean up its greenhouse gas emissions, and gives the MTA more control over its own affairs -- to hire and fire staff, to incur debt, to amend its budget, and to put traffic control devices wherever they want (a power currently reserved for the Supervisors).

In short, it gives MUNI a lot more autonomy to do its job.

The McGoldrick/Sandoval measure, on the other hand, puts MUNI’s budget directly under the Supervisor’s control: currently the Supes can can’t make any changes to MUNI’s budget -- they can only reject it with a two-thirds vote. Under McGoldrick/Sandoval, the Mayor can modify the MTA budget before submitting it to the Board, and the board can change it any way they want to with a simple majority vote.

It would also strip away the MTA’s “exclusive jurisdiction” over transit operations and assets -- meaning that the Supes can pass laws ordering MUNI to do anything, at any time.

In short, it gives the Board of Supervisors a lot more autonomy to do MUNI’s job.

The MTA board obviously prefers the Peskin measure -- and frankly, so do I. But then, I usually like to leave jobs like transit to the professionals, rather than to people who win popularity contests. But, as the horse trading commences to see which of these measures get on the ballot in November (they both could -- and if we really want to screw with their heads, the voter could pass both), the people of San Francisco are left with a pretty stark choice:

Who do you trust less to run your transit system? MUNI, or the City?

Raise your hand if you can figure that one out.

--Benjamin Wachs

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Matt Stroud


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