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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Muni: The Stupid Idea That Just Keeps Giving

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 1:50 PM

click to enlarge Who's going to pay for this? - JIM HERD

It seems the activist group POWER has done us all a favor. In holding a demonstration demanding Muni be made free, fiscal reality be damned, they've permanently answered the question, "should I pay attention to anything POWER ever does?"

By all means, Muni's fare recovery is poor -- hovering around 25 percent. That is, Muni only earns back a quarter of its budget via fares. Still, you're talking about a quarter of a budget approaching $800 million. In technical terms, this is a metric shitload of money. Caterwauling about making Muni free without addressing this disparity is the sort of thing that, in an ideal world, should result in people being mandated to do pushups in public.

So, yes, POWER's latest creative call for defunding Muni is an example of foolish policy promulgated by fools (and is especially vexing when you consider POWER was at the forefront of the successful move to curtail Muni's beefed-up fare inspection program). But behind nearly every group of city lunatics is an enabling politician.

In this case: Gavin Newsom.

As recently as 2007, Newsom proposed making Muni free for one and all. Politicians running for office say the darndest things!

Actually this is free. Go ahead, take it!
  • Actually this is free. Go ahead, take it!
Of course, a subsequent study performed by outside consultants came to the obvious conclusion that this would be a terrible idea. Yes, you'd swell Muni's ridership. But you'd actually be losing revenue just at the time vastly increased usage would demand additional drivers, maintenance, vehicles, urine clean-ups, etc. Muni wasn't forced to commission a study on why falling asleep on the bus is ill-advised -- but, odds are, that one would have produced similarly predictable results.

"Populism" is actually a dirty word in French. This is a good example why. Anytime a local politician wants to be on the side of "the people," all he needs to do is propose making Muni do more for less -- or, hell, even free! Willie Brown -- come on down! Tom Ammiano? Kevin Shelley? Why not!

As SF Weekly reported in a cover story last year, there are myriad ways to make Muni better serve the vast majority of the 700,000-plus riders who board every day. But it turns out Mr. Spock was wrong: The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few. The best interests of Muni's general ridership are often trumped by small and vocal groups protecting their turf.

Along those lines, it seems the only thing progressive groups can put forward when faced with the challenge of "Muni reform" is to demand discounts or freebies without making up for the lost revenue.

Muni is like The Giving Tree -- only saturated with bodily fluids. Everyone wants more and more. But no one wants to pay for it.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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