Muni board approves service restoration, waits for cash

July 6, 2010 7:57:31 PM PDT
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors voted today to partially restore service previously slashed due to budget woes, but the plan's final approval depends on actions yet to be taken by local and regional transportation agencies.

Budget difficulties prompted a 10 percent service reduction to bus routes and rail lines that went into effect May 8 and saved the agency $29 million.

Half of that service could be restored by Sept. 4. if several outside agencies infuse the SFMTA with $11 million.

The contingencies include $7 million from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which manages the city's transportation tax, and $4 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional transportation agency.

In addition to these one-time infusions, the agency credits "stronger than expected revenue streams" and "operational efficiencies" for its ability to restore some of the cuts.

Scheduling changes for drivers will save $900,000 in operating expenses, SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said.

Should the money from the transportation authority and the MTC come through, riders would see improvements in late-night service, evening service in residential areas, and added capacity to some of the most over-crowded routes.

Although the cuts were originally designed to "balance the pain across the system," the agency's director of transit, John Haley, said the plan to restore 5 percent of the service came in response to customer complaints at community meetings and the city's customer service center, 311.

Late-night service cuts meant riders have been waiting 45 minutes in between buses, up from 30 minutes previously. The proposed restorations would revert late-night service to its original frequency system wide.

Evening service on community routes that primarily service residential neighborhoods would run later based on demand.

Over-crowding, which has plagued the system since May, would be countered by adding capacity along various express routes and local routes, such as the 24-Divisadero.

Some the five board members expressed concern that the restoration could be myopic if it leads to difficult decisions next winter or spring when hashing out future budgets.

"We don't want to end up back in the same situation," where service cuts became necessary to bridge a budget deficit, board chairman Tom Nolan said.

Beyond the local and regional planning level, senators in Washington, D.C., are considering legislation that would provide $2 billion in emergency operating funds to public transportation.

Ford said that although the federal aid would free the agency to reallocate capital budget dollars toward operational expenses, they would need to be wary not to "overtax" the capital budget.

"We have a great deal of need" to spend the capital budget on maintaining the system, including repairing buses, trains and rails, Ford said.

Details of the restorations can be found on the agency website at www.sfmta.com.


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