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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Free Muni" Is Never Free

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Hey, we'd desire some fiscal reality for Muni!
  • Hey, we'd desire some fiscal reality for Muni!

Things have gotten desperate enough for Muni that it's time for allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire. Imagine Muni is Blanche DuBois -- a woman/transit agency in need of a protector.

She's not getting one in Stanley Kowalski (Gavin Newsom). In the play, Kowalski marginalizes and sexually assaults DuBois. In San Francisco, Newsom siphoned funds away from Muni to pay his green advisers' lucrative salaries, and allowed other city departments to pillage the transit agency, using Muni as a city slush fund. Newsom is gone, but this is still happening.

Blanche was also done wrong by seemingly nice guy Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, who tried to lay hands on her -- because that's all he thought she was good for. Mitch is played in San Francisco by city progressives -- who can't think of anything to do for Muni other than make it put out for free.

This latest attempt to make Muni do more with less hit a bump in the road yesterday, when transit officials said it would cost twice as much as the Board of Supervisors claims it would to allow all children to ride the bus for free. If so, this is deeply frustrating -- for the rationale behind the huge cost increase was the same one that derailed Newsom's harebrained scheme to make Muni free for all.

Muni figures, rather logically, that if you make the service free for all the city's children, more children will take advantage of it. If so, you suddenly need more service to keep up with increased demand. And then you've got a problem -- because just as you're decreasing the funds going into Muni, you're demanding more service. And that's not free.

click to enlarge My green advisers got to get paid, too. Hiya!
  • My green advisers got to get paid, too. Hiya!
That's what outside consultants told the city back in 2008, which definitively pulled the rug out from under anyone pushing to make Muni free (assuming they gave the consequences of doing so a moment's thought, or weren't just making a crass political push). You know, 2008 wasn't all that long ago. You'd think someone would have looked into this.

The people pushing to open Muni's faregates to all young people seem to have their hearts in the right place. San Francisco is the most child-free big city in all the realm. Working people are struggling to raise families here. A matter of a few hundred bucks a year would mean a lot to them.

That's undeniably true. But what's also irrefutable is that Muni is foundering financially and the proposal to let all kids ride is, at present, a looming fiscal and logistical debacle. Like Blanche DuBois, Muni depends upon the kindness of strangers. Blithely decreasing supply while increasing demand doesn't cut it.

Perhaps Blanche put this line of thinking best: "I don't want realism. I want magic!"

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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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