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Thursday, June 30, 2011

If I Ruled Muni ...

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 1:20 PM

click to enlarge If I were king of the Muniiiiiiiiii...
  • If I were king of the Muniiiiiiiiii...

Today is Nat Ford's last day atop Muni. His farewell party, however, is planned for the near future.

In other words, Ford's goodbye festivities will be late. Well, there you go.

Folks around City Hall are saying Ford's soon-to-be-ex-post is Ed Reiskin's to lose. So be it. So I'll only have to imagine what I would do if ...


1. Stop, Thief! In 2007, city voters passed Proposition A. Its stated goal: Give Muni more money and more autonomy. Well, guess what? Other departments, aided and abetted by Mayor Gavin Newsom, made up for the money they were no longer receiving by pillaging Muni to the tune of scores of millions of dollars. "Work orders" skyrocketed from $36 million in 2006 to $64 million last year. A Muni CEO interested in making transit viable for the people of this city would have raised holy hell. A CEO who was content to appease the mayor wouldn't lift a finger -- even when Newsom paid his top-dollar "green" advisers out of Muni funds. That leads us to another thing...

2. Show Some Backbone. As SF Weekly revealed last year, Ford allowed Newsom and his people to dictate Muni's budget down to the line item. This also led to Muni obediently presenting "politically palatable" deficit numbers that bore little relation to reality. But perhaps the most galling demonstration of the mayor's de facto control of Muni was the creation of the Culture Bus line. As we wrote in 2010:

Without even consulting the MTA board, Muni CEO Nat Ford catered to Newsom's whims by yanking six buses out of regular service, to be piloted by Muni's best drivers, selected for their skill and courtesy. The bus line was awarded a $1.6 million budget -- which was also yanked out of Muni's regular funds, at the expense of core transit service. In the first five months of its existence, the Culture Bus cost Muni 10 times as much as the fare revenues it brought in; along with the line's jarringly low ridership, this did not escape notice. Muni claims the Culture Bus was a victim of the down economy. Perhaps -- but what it really demonstrated is that Muni itself is a victim of political vanity projects no transit agency should be encumbered with.

click to enlarge The culture of no culture...
  • The culture of no culture...
3. Listen to the Transit Experts. The correct answer to a mayor's query about a cockamamie idea like the Culture Bus would have been, "I'll get my transit experts to look at it right away." Similarly, Muni spent millions devising the Transit Efficiency Project (TEP). Ford even crowed to the Chronicle that getting the report completed on his watch was one of his biggest achievements. Sadly, however, all TEP has been used for is to economize service cuts. The many, many solutions on how to make our transit system faster and more efficient  -- Bus Rapid Transit lines, transit-only lanes, stop consolidation -- have not been touched. Muni paid millions for a fat report it's essentially using as a doorstop.

4. Find a Way to Do Fare Enforcement. Watching Muni devise methods to require riders to pay and critics of the system decrying said methods is akin to observing drunks argue in a bar over who would win a fight between Bigfoot and Nessie. First, Muni did itself no favors by devising a willy-nilly enforcement plan that cost six times more to fund than the ticket revenue it brought in -- and had no way of statistically demonstrating whether it was successful in pushing more riders to pay their fares. Then, opponents of "sting operations" claimed that immigrants were jolted by the operations, which some mistook for immigration raids. Ignoring the fact that undocumented immigrants are capable of paying a fare and producing a Clipper Card or transfer, there must be a middle road between allegedly deporting fare jumpers and Muni's current policy: Punish the law-abiding by essentially allowing anyone who wishes to ride for free.

5. Reward the Good Ones. Wading into Muni's labor situation would require a monograph-length publication. But here's a suggestion: Find a way to reward the (vast majority) of front-line Muni employees who work hard, do their jobs, and make riders' lives better. Sadly, the current practice of Muni's dysfunctional union is to, instead, stick up for the worst of the worst employees and generally do everything possible to sour relations between drivers and the public. Yes, this works to management's advantage. But not to the riders'. Morale around the Municipal Transportation Agency, in general, is lower than the Metro Tunnel. This wouldn't hurt there either.

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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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