Muni riders challenge potential rate hikes and cuts


They say listening is an art form, and when the board of San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency takes public comment, it is a passive one.

"Disrespect means when completely ignore the schedule of working people and you set meetings at nine in the morning," said organizer Frank Lara.

"Several people here suggested we end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I'd like to, really," said MTA board chairman Tom Nolan.

But while national policy does not fall within the board's domain, San Francisco's Muni system does. This is the board that decided to cut service by 10 percent next May to make up for a $50 million budget shortfall. So now that the board has decided to declare a fiscal emergency, it was obligated to hear public comments.

"Why are you here? Resign if you're not going to do your job Mr. Nolan," said Muni customer Kim Malcheski.

The newest wrinkle, a surprise $36 million payment from the state that might ease next year's pain. Tuesday's public hearing sounded more like a public lecturing.

"You paid out $23.8 million in overtime," said Malcheski. "That's not the fault of the bus drivers. That is your fault. You're not managing the system."

"It's $36 million in this year including next year... and then $31 million in the out year," said MTA executive director Nathaniel Ford. "Our deficit was much larger than that from the beginning."

In declaring a fiscal emergency, the agency expects to operate the next year at a loss. This does not automatically trigger rate hikes or service reductions, but it did lead to plenty of pointing fingers.

"I tell you, the management needs to get its head together because that's what the problem is, is upper management," said Muni customer Jimmy McConnell. "These unions, they won't give an inch."

"Find a way to fix the budget without pitting the drivers against the people," said Muni operator P.J. Williams.

Easier said than done. Not on Muni where nothing appears to be easy, ever. Not on a bus, and certainly not in a boardroom in this city, in these times.

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