What's Next for Muni

Recommendations for the new agency

SPUR Report April 19, 2000

Role of the Board

The new MTA Board of Directors is unique to city government. It is a part of city government but independent of the city's bureaucracy. The directors have powers and status closer to the members of the Community College District than the conventional city commissioners. They are the primary policy-making body for transportation in the city and county of San Francisco. In addition, they are responsible for the functioning of a public enterprise with a budget of over $400 million and more than 3,600 employees. When the MTA absorbs the Department of Parking and Traffic in a year and half, its responsibilities will grow larger.

A useful analogy for the new MTA is the U.S. Postal Service. At the time Congress reorganized the Postal Service into an independent public corporation, it was inefficient and highly politicized. Today, it provides its services in a business-like and relatively efficient manner, while maintaining union and civil service protections. Its Board of Directors has guided the turnaround. The new MTA Board needs to do the same.


1. The Board of Directors must assume the dual roles of primary transportation public policy maker for San Francisco and of overseeing the operating departments entrusted to it. Its job is to set policy. It needs to walk a fine line between providing knowledgeable oversight, on the one hand, and not meddling in the day-to-day details on the other.

2. The annual budget process is one of the most effective places for the MTA Board to exercise its policy authority. In approving the budget, it should hold public hearings on funding levels and the services to be provided. Since the Board of Supervisors will no longer scrutinize the budget, the MTA Board needs to hire outside consultants to examine the proposed budget and provide it with an independent analysis. (This is analogous to what the Board of Supervisors does through its contract with Harvey Rose, the budget analyst.)

3. One of the Board's most important functions is selection of the agency's chief executive. It should make every effort to recruit the highest caliber person for that task and be prepared to commit to a compensation package to achieve that goal regardless of other city salaries. The Board should insure that its chief executive has full authority to operate the agency and fully support him or her in the selection of top management.

4. The individual directors must take responsibility for being informed about the public's transportation needs. They need to be available to the public to provide information and instill confidence that the MTA is responsive. To that end, the members should schedule frequent appearances at gatherings around the city.

Role of the Citizen Advisory Council

Prop. E establishes a Citizen Advisory Council (CAC), but does not spell out its provisions in detail. The overall role of the CAC is to be accessible to the community, to serve as the voice of the public. The challenge for the CAC will be in establishing itself as a serious forum and a reliable source of advice in accomplishing the Board's goals for the agency.


1. The mayor and Board of Supervisors should complete their appointments as quickly as possible. In addition to the representation spelled out in the legislation, appointments to the Council should include representatives of pedestrian, bicyclist, and goods delivery interests.

2. The CAC should report directly to the MTA Board. Comments on staff-presented material could be made directly to the MTA staff; however these would not carry the weight of a recommendation made directly to the Board.

3. To be truly effective, the CAC will require a full-time staff person whose duties would be established by the Council. This secretary would be recommended by the CAC and hired by the director of transportation.

4. The MTA Board should hear a report from the CAC on a regular basis, probably monthly.

5. Reports requested by the Council should be forwarded to the Board, which could then instruct the director of transportation to assign staff to produce them. Minor reports or research could be handled by the secretary.

6. Meetings should include opportunities to hear reports and proposals (in draft or final form) from MTA staff as well as comments from citizens and Council members. At appropriate times during the year, the CAC agenda should include review of the MTA annual budget, quality of service reports, service standards setting and revisions, and customer satisfaction surveys.

Service Planning

Now that Proposition E has passed, it's time to focus on improving service rather than simply maintaining what we have. This does not necessarily mean new routes on more streets. Muni already provides a bus stop within two blocks of almost every home and business in the city-excellent coverage by any standard. We need to focus on measures that will make Muni attractive to people who have a choice of transportation modes: travel time, customer service, frequency, and reliability.

Total travel time is a critical performance measure that is often neglected in transportation planning. While bus routes currently exist to carry passengers between any two points in the city, the total travel time is often too long to attract travelers who have access to a car. This has been the primary complaint of motorists who park in the Caltrans lots in SOMA, half of whom are San Franciscans. Indeed, every survey of travel behavior indicates the important factor in travel decisions is time. Improving total travel time for transit has an interesting side benefit as well: if bus travel time is cut in half, frequencies can be doubled at no additional cost, further reducing passengers' door-to-door travel time by reducing waiting at the bus stop.

In order to set priorities for where improvements should begin, Muni should identify its core services, the workhorse lines of the transit system where the biggest investments will be made. Everything possible should be done to improve quality, frequency, reliability and travel time on these lines, and to make sure that transfers among these routes are easy.

Focusing on core routes does not mean that other lines should be neglected. Muni's other services should be maintained at their historic frequencies, and efforts should be made to better connect them with regional transit and core lines. In some cases, transit service could be improved by shifting lines to different streets, splitting routes, or directly connecting feeder routes into trunk lines. As with any change, such proposals should include a significant neighborhood planning effort that examines the larger goals of the neighborhood in addition to the needs of transit.

Good transit planning requires addressing difficult trade-offs, and it is important to involve residents and riders in these decisions. For example, transit systems generally achieve much higher productivity by concentrating frequent services on a few streets rather than spreading out infrequent routes onto many streets. For some people with mobility impairments and abundant time, however, front-door service is more important than productivity or travel time. Such a trade-off will be among the many value-based decisions the new MTA Board will have to make.


1. As its highest priority, Muni needs to identify what its core services are, and use every means available to make those lines work. Generally, these core service lines would be within one half mile of most homes and businesses in the city, with more service in the densest neighborhoods. Muni should work with its own divisions, DPW, DPT, and the traffic enforcement division of the Police Department to implement the following specific recommendations in support of its core services:

• Highlight core services on Muni maps to indicate to passengers where they can find the speediest, most frequent, and most reliable routes.

• Where each of these lines intersects another, construct a high-quality transit center, with improved shelters, lighting, landscaping, artwork and other amenities.

• Take every possible measure to maintain and improve Muni's travel time on these core routes. By increasing average speed, not only is customer travel time reduced, but frequency can be increased without additional cost.

• Implement physical measures to make transit-dedicated lanes self-enforcing for the core service lines. Measures can range from a slight grade difference, as exist along the N-Judah line, to more sophisticated devices that take advantage of the wide wheelbase and high clearance of most transit vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances.

2. The city should work aggressively to secure funding for a complete subway and busway network. The starting point for this network would be the central subway which continues the new Third Street rail line underground into Chinatown. The next most important component of the Four Corridor Rail Plan is the Geary line, by far the most productive line in terms of anticipated ridership. If funding for a complete subway network is not available in the short term, we should not hesitate to implement surface solutions immediately. A "bus boulevard" on Geary, taking inspiration from Curritiba, Brazil, could be implemented relatively quickly and cheaply.

3. Muni should significantly expand its Express and Limited Stop services to further improve travel time, especially from neighborhoods farthest from downtown.

4. Muni should explore re-routing some of its services to make better connections with BART, Caltrain, and the Transbay Terminal, with the goal being to provide the fastest possible travel time for passengers. From the southern half of the city, it is often faster to take Muni to a BART station, then take BART downtown, rather than take a bus all the way-even if the trip is indirect.

The city's three Caltrain stations are also important, particularly given the huge employment shift from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Currently, it takes longer by bus to get to the 4th/King station from most neighborhoods in the city than it does to drive all the way to Palo Alto. Once the Millbrae/SFO extension is complete, BART access will become increasingly important as well, especially at the Mission Street, Glen Park, Balboa Park, and Daly City stations.

5. The MTA should allow Golden Gate Transit and Samtrans to pick up, discharge, and carry passengers at all stops in San Francisco. Now that Muni's operating funding-and hence employment level-is secure with Prop. E, we should re-open this issue and insist upon greater cooperation.

6. The MTA should strive to integrate shuttle systems into the transit mix. Generally, these shuttles serve markets that are difficult for Muni to reach or where Muni cannot provide the quality of service that is demanded. In many cities, including San Jose, the local transit agency assists private interests in planning and funding shuttles, provided that the shuttles are open to the public and complement existing public transit.

7. To help meet all of the above recommendations, Muni's performance standards should include minimum average travel time targets among various key points scattered across the city. That is, Muni should set specific goals for how long it should take, for example, to get from 25th Avenue and Geary to the Transbay Terminal, including average wait time. Times may be expressed in actual minutes or as a percentage of travel time by automobile, including the walk to and from parking.

If the travel time targets are not met, better frequency, additional express services or bus priority treatments should be implemented. As congestion increases to the point where transit travel time is significantly affected, additional transit preferential measures should be automatically triggered on transit priority streets in order to meet the targets.

8. Investigate the possibility of investing more resources in a comprehensive dial-a-ride program for seniors and disabled passengers. At the same time as service on core routes is being made extremely frequent and reliable, options for people without as much mobility need to be increased.

The New Transit-First Policy

Proposition E re-wrote the city's transit-first policy and mandated that it be adopted into the General Plan of San Francisco. The transit-first policy spells out the principles that should guide Muni, the Department of Parking and Traffic, and, via the General Plan, all city agencies.

At its most rudimentary level, the transit-first policy directs the MTA to ensure that Muni does not regularly get stuck in traffic. Muni needs either to have dedicated right-of-way or, where that is not yet possible, have a guarantee that bus lanes will not be clogged with cars. The MTA's control over DPT should ensure that double-parked cars will no longer be in the way; the MTA's long-term planning and capital program should add dedicated right-of-way over time.

The true intent of the transit-first policy goes even further. It directs the city to promote all alternatives to the single occupancy automobile, so that over time alternative modes of access become more convenient than driving for more people. This requires the MTA to develop pragmatic strategies to make walking, bicycling, and taxis-in addition to public transit-more appealing. Proposition E was written to give one agency the capacity to develop an integrated, coordinated transportation policy for San Francisco. This is the logic behind giving the agency control over both Muni and DPT-and eventually, perhaps, taxis. We cannot stress highly enough the fact that the MTA is going to be responsible not just for Muni, but for cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and the movement of goods.


1. Aggressively add transit-dedicated lanes. This relates directly to the earlier recommendation to establish "core service" lines. These transit-dedicated lanes function both to let the busses move quickly and to make transit routes more visible to potential riders.

2. Develop mode split targets. These are benchmarks for the percentage of trips taken by transit, car, bike, and foot over time. These targets should be adopted by the MTA, incorporated into the General Plan of the city, and adopted by the Transportation Authority. An implementation strategy should be developed, with clear responsibilities and policy choices for each agency. The Transportation Authority should be charged with performing regular mode split measurements to allow the relevant agencies to take corrective actions where necessary.

3. Promote street designs that harmonize the automobile with other modes of travel. The MTA does not just have to accept the street designs that it inherits; it can work selectively to make the streets better. In San Francisco, every street needs to accommodate car traffic. We don't have the 24-hour land uses or the systems of back alleys that enable "car-free" districts to work. However, every street is also a pedestrian street. The techniques of traffic calming, which welcome cars at slower speeds, and boulevards, which separate fast-moving traffic from slower traffic, are excellent solutions for San Francisco. The MTA, working with the Department of Public Works and the Planning Department, can play a major role in promoting more balanced street designs that achieve both livability and mobility.

4. Develop a pedestrian-enhancement plan for the city. The budget for this plan needs to include environmental review. It should be an implementation plan, developed jointly with the Planning Department and the Department of Public Works.

5. Provide funding to conduct environmental review for the core bicycle lane network. Begin working with DPT to develop an approach to increasing the modal share of bicycles without harming Muni's performance.

6. Create a plan for delivery vehicles. The MTA is also responsible for ensuring the efficient movement of goods into, out of, and within the city, an issue of critical importance to the economy. Through routing, signage, control over curb space, and control over the timing of deliveries, the MTA has the tools to ensure that deliveries are facilitated in ways that mesh well with the rest of the activities on San Francisco's streets.

Labor and Management

Proposition E empowers the MTA to administer full human resources and labor relations functions, including negotiation of all collective bargaining agreements for "service critical" employees. Additionally, the MTA, through the Director of Transportation, may hire 60 middle managers outside civil service as exempt employees. These two major human resources functions stand apart from other duties formerly assigned to the city's Department of Human Resources, and must be implemented with thoughtful guidelines for accountability to the public.


1. Designate all "service critical" classifications as soon as possible. "Service critical" designations should include all employees providing essential line and support functions in operations and maintenance. Identify "service critical" employee staffing requirements in terms of force total provisions, regular day-off minimums, shift maximums, etc.

2. Identify labor contract re-negotiation priorities. Budget and program goals should be correlated to specific collective bargaining agreements and employee performance standards.

3. Quantify current labor agreement costs and correlate each compensation provision and work rule to specific impacts on service performance measures. Adopt specific goals for each collective-bargaining agreement negotiation. Identify current absenteeism costs including both contractual "excused absences" and non-contractual absenteeism due to injury.

4. Identify areas for collaborative labor-management programs, including illness and injury prevention programs.

5. Identify "incentive bonus" pay criteria, in relation to achieving service standard "milestones." They should acknowledge superior operator performance in safety, rider commendations, and work availability. Merit-pay formulas should acknowledge both the specific employee role in attaining on-time service standards and collective attainment of route and modal on-time standards.

6. Identify exempt manager positions and correlate each specific function to MTA performance standards

Service Standards and Accountability

Proposition E establishes a minimum service level in hours that will serve as a benchmark for future service changes and budget requests. The measure phases in standards for on-time performance and other service standards over a four-year period. It also requires Muni to develop standards (and a methodology for collecting data on the standards) for an additional set of ten performance indicators. This requirement that Muni report on its performance using an objective set of measurements is one of the most far-reaching pieces of Prop. E-and an idea that should be applied throughout city government.


1. Identify the current status of each of the on-time/service delivery measurements and report the proposed measures for the ten non-specified target areas. Correlate the current program budget with each measure.

2. Quantify the April 1996 service level in hours and compare it to the current January 2000 service level. Earlier attainment of service delivery 98.5% goal may be possible.

3. Immediately publish a comprehensive timetable that will permit riders/customers to validate published performance standards.

4. Consider a joint session for reporting the MTA performance standards and the CAC customer survey to validate the effectiveness of the standards.

5. Establish modal "quality circles" or "service delivery teams" to understand performance standard goals, targets, and individual contributions to these goals.

The Muni/Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) Merger

Placing the Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) under unified management with Muni offers the opportunity of both having DPT's functions contribute to a more reliable and efficient Muni, and Muni's realizing a greater potential economic benefit from DPT's activities. At the same time, such unified management must avoid heavy-handed exploitation of these revenue opportunities, give thoughtful attention to the other functions and responsibilities of DPT and, most importantly, maintain high morale by recognizing the DPT's high degree of professionalism.

The MTA will have the power and tools to manage the streets, particularly with the cooperation of the Police Department and the Department of Public Works (DPW). The Agency must emphasize the efficient flow of people and goods-in contrast to vehicles only-by allocating a proper balance among Muni, taxis, trucks, private automobiles, pedestrians and bicycles.


1. DPT should prepare and deliver to the MTA a concise description of the functions of each of DPT's departments and the policy considerations guiding such functions.

2. The senior management of DPT and Muni should meet to discuss the historic role which DPT has played and how this role can be modified to enhance the reliability and efficiency of Muni. At the same time, the MTA needs to recognize the importance of DPT's functions which are only tangential to Muni operations.

3. Study whether organizational functions such as finance, personnel, purchasing, and management information systems can be merged and made more efficient.

4. Consider the deployment of parking enforcement personnel and parking charges with an eye towards revenue generation.

5. The MTA should explore with DPT how the recruitment and hiring of parking control officers can be made more efficient.

6. The city should obtain the necessary legislative and administrative authorization to create a group of parking control officers with the authority to issue moving violations to enforce transit preferential lanes.

7. The MTA should work with truck and construction equipment operators to minimize interference with Muni operations and automobiles.

8. The MTA Board should appoint a standing committee of its members to act as the Parking Authority and to deal with certain traditional DPT issues.

New Revenues

Proposition E directs the MTA to seek new sources of revenue that can either support expanded transit service or replace Muni's reliance on the General Fund. These revenues would be in addition to the Proposition B sales tax which already funds transportation improvements in San Francisco.

The point is this: Our transit system is simply not yet comprehensive enough to serve the whole city well. In order to make Muni a viable option for more people, the system must be expanded. Several options are presented here, but the MTA should undertake a serious study of the alternatives.

The most straightforward source of revenue is a local tax, which would require a two-thirds vote. It would consist of an additional "millage" on the local city/county property tax bill or a per-unit parcel tax to pay for local transit service, similar to the way in which local water service is paid.

A second form new revenues could take would be a local benefit assessment. Geographical areas benefiting from proximity to transit stops may be shown to have a "special" benefit to their property and therefore could be assessed a fee in order to assist in paying for the public service providing the benefit. This form of revenue is complex to implement, but it could be done.

Third, an additional payroll tax would be a logical way for businesses to chip in for the service of bringing employees to work.

Finally, joint development of property owned by the Muni is a potentially lucrative source of revenue in certain locations. This idea is being demonstrated on a small scale at the proposed Mission-Stewart Hotel at the foot of Mission Street, where development of a Muni-owned parcel is slated to net Muni $4.4 million per year for the life of the lease. On a larger scale, the Transbay Terminal, by participating in joint development of land formerly underneath a set of ramps, could generate $400 million to help pay for a new terminal. San Francisco has barely begun to develop air rights over public uses such as bus yards.


1. Undertake a study of alternatives sources of new revenue, with an eye towards increasing the speed, quality, and reliability of Muni's service.

2. Undertake a study of opportunities for joint development on land that Muni owns.

MTA's Role in Land-Use

Historically, Muni has not taken an active role in the land use decisions. There are at least two critical reasons that the MTA should be more of a participant in this realm of city decision-making. The first is to encourage transit-friendly development along major Muni corridors. The second is to discourage developments that will facilitate more driving to downtown, because Muni's bus access to and through downtown is severely diminished with increasing auto congestion. In particular, the MTA should weigh in whenever significant planning and zoning actions are contemplated along its main transit corridors, particularly on actions that will provide more housing within a five minute walk of transit stops.


1. The MTA should help policy-makers and the public understand how land-use decision affect transit use and performance.

2. Through the planning process, the MTA should be an advocate for transit-oriented development, particularly housing, along its major transit routes.

3. The MTA should be an active agency participant in neighborhood planning efforts. This means assigning staff to work with the neighborhood planning effort in the Central Waterfront, Balboa Park, and Market/Octavia. The MTA's role in this planning effort should not be simply to report on plans for the transit development, but to help citizens and other agencies understand the connection between land uses in the corridor and ridership on the line. Being a central participant in this effort is a first step in becoming more broadly involved in the land use debate.

4. The MTA should review all planning studies and Environment Impact Reports (EIRs) on projects of significant scale, comment on the proposals' successful or failed transit orientation, and record their opposition to any new developments which will degrade Muni service. This means assigning staff to review all significant planning studies and development proposals for comment. Muni should develop threshold criteria for review of plans and proposals. The agency should also develop criteria for what constitutes transit-oriented development, and what does not, and should make these standards known to other agencies and to the public.

5. The MTA should not add service in low-density areas unless there are approved plans for increasing transit-supportive land uses, such as high density housing at rail stops or along major arterials.

The Regional Context

San Francisco's transportation system exists within the context of a large region. In the big picture, we cannot solve our problems alone. Every day, 59,000 cars travel into San Francisco from outside the city-most from suburbs which do not support transit very well. We have to work with communities throughout the region to provide better ways for people to get into and out of the city.


1. San Francisco must have knowledgeable, strong, and effective representation on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

2. San Francisco must seek and obtain a notable increase in its share of regional, state, and federal dollars distributed by MTC and the respective state and federal agencies. The logical way to do this is to change the distribution of funds from the current origin and destination formula to a "highest transit use" formula.

3. The MTA should negotiate new operating agreements with other regional transit agencies such as SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit, and AC Transit to pick up and deliver within San Francisco, in accordance with approved schedules and fare reimbursements. This will be particularly important when the new regional transit pass goes into effect.

4. In order to establish all of the above as official policy for the city's transportation requirements within the region, a regional policy report should be developed as soon as possible and adopted by the mayor and Board of Supervisors, to be used as a guideline for advocating official positions within the regional transportation community.


This report represents SPUR's best thinking about how to move Muni to the next level. San Francisco has the opportunity to have one of the most comprehensive, most forward-looking transportation systems in the world. Let's keep up the momentum.SPUR logo

About the Authors: 

SPUR MUNI Task Force

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