Mayor spends thousands of dollars to learn transit user fees are necessary.

muni ticket machine

Dear Mayor Newsom

You didn’t have to spend City taxpayer money on private consultants. Anyone could have told you: Just like any other shared and limited public resource, public transit needs user fees.

Offering ‘free’ Muni is a destructive proposal. Muni rolling stock is not unlimited. Removing user fees distorts a natural and effective form of limiting the number of people that use Muni resources.

Muni needs to increase its quality of service. Removing user fees would decrease the quality of service. It would result in more crowded buses, leading to lower frequency and lower average system speeds.

Here’s the real Muni solution: increase quality (frequency, speed, reliability, cleanliness) on critical lines such as 38-Geary, N-Judah, or 14-Mission. Enforce real transit-only lanes that enable high speeds with true signal pre-emption. Prepare Muni to operate faster than a personal vehicle for trips on these ‘primary’ lines. Then, the City can increase user fees to $2 or even $2.50 for these primary lines.

Our residents don’t want free Muni. City residents are more than willing to pay for an effective transit system. It’s up to the City to provide an effective transit system and price it properly, not make a crappy transit system free.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m happy you’ve figured this out by now. It’s just silly that this advice cost tax payers $20,000+. I would have been glad to provide this advice for a bit less. Let’s say $10,000.

Let’s look on the bright side. At least you’re open to new ideas. Just talk to me next time and I’ll charge you half the rate of the consultants, and I’ll give you better ideas faster.


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3 Responses to Mayor spends thousands of dollars to learn transit user fees are necessary.

  1. rzu says:

    You said: “Removing user fees distorts a natural and effective form of limiting the number of people that use Muni resources.”

    I don’t disagree that user fees will limit the number of people that use MUNI. But is this a good thing? I say we need more folks riding the bus, not less. I’ve not read the report, but from the way it has been described, it doesn’t sound like the “how do we pay for a free transit system?” was fully explored. Rather, they seem to have just listed reasons why it wouldn’t work. I could have come up with most of those off the top of my head, which I think is part of the point you are making here. A better way to approach this idea, would have said, what needs to be done to make a free transit system work.

    I would advocate for a free or nominal fee public transit, provided that we can figure out a way to fund it properly, and that the system is able to absorb the additional riders. The TEP is presumably going to answer the latter question. Finding creative long-term funding sources for public transit which don’t fall into the trap where fares are increased but are accompanied by decreased ridership would have been a better use of this study money.

    Incidentally, there are a lot of things we don’t charge user fees for and with good reason. Public parks come to mind, as well as public libraries. And there are things we currently don’t charge user fees for that perhaps we should, on-street parking in most neighborhoods, for instance. In fact, I think part of the solution to funding public transit is to move the burden from public transit users to drivers. Though most drivers would be loathe to admit it, the non-driving public actually subsidizes drivers. That, my friend, is a destructive public policy.

  2. kfarr says:

    @rzu: You make a really good point about user fees. It is silly of me to think that all public resources need user fees. Parks and libraries are a great example of resources we’ve collectively decided should be ‘free’.

    Two rather separate issues I see. First, yes, existing transit funding source development is neither creative nor particularly effective. But, perhaps more importantly, even given infinite funding, Muni and the MTA do a poor, poor, poor job using their available resources to accomplish City transit goals.

    RE: (1) Funding source development: Yes, it is time to think hard about where additional funding should come from. I love hearing about the concept of capturing some of the increase in property value caused by public transit (One, Two). I strongly agree that the cost of driving in the City is not properly borne by end-users. Parking is underpriced in the City, especially the $60 neighborhood permits, and the societal costs of traffic congestion are not fully borne by those that cause it.

    RE: (2) Muni goal execution: Our City needs to face reality and put more resources into the highest used, primary transit lines — give them absolute priority over personal vehicle traffic while scrapping underused, unreliable lines. Muni needs to start over with an organizational rehaul, have significant accountability enforced at all levels from bottom to top, or scrap the whole City owned and operated transit concept and outsource it.

  3. njudah says:

    This was a classic Gavin move – talk about an issue that the liberals and lefties just love to go on and on about (“free” MUNI with no way to pay for it) and carry it through the election…only to have consultants who seem to hail from the No Duh Institute that um, yeah it’s a bad idea.

    I’ve always been amazed at how supposedly Greenie San Francisco has such cheap parking. True, they love issuing tickets (when I had a car I had tons of ’em) but I never had to pay for parking outside of downtown. Weird.

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