What it does
This amendment to the San Francisco City Charter, officially called the Emissions Reduction and Transit Reform Act, is intended to strengthen Proposition E from 1999, creating greater independence and more streamlined operations for our city's transit agency and providing more funding. It also implements some reforms designed to improve labor management that were left out of Proposition E in 1999. It includes, for the first time in San Francisco's history, performance standards related to global warming emissions, calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels. It was put on the ballot with the signatures of seven members of the Board of Supervisors.
Why it is on the ballot
The Municipal Transportation Agency was created in 1999 with the passage of Proposition E. That measure consolidated Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic into a single agency with a board of directors and procedures that were somewhat more independent from interference by the mayor and the Board of Supervisors. It created a stable funding source by creating a set contribution from the General Fund to the Municipal Railway, and set performance standards that the agency was required to meet. SPUR was closely involved in the drafting of Proposition E, and advocated its passage.
Eight years later, we can now review the success of the Municipal Transportation Agency in meeting the goals of Proposition E. Some things have worked; others have not. Combining the DPT and Muni into a single agency has for the most part streamlined transit and transportation planning. The same Board of Directors that is responsible for Muni operations is also responsible for the traffic engineers who are in charge of the streets. However, the Board of Supervisors still has final approval authority over all traffic changes. The MTA has benefited from a reliable funding source, no longer having to lobby every year for its budget, but the amount of reliable funding is insufficient to meet the promised level of service. Finally, the service standards in the city charter have not been met. Where on-time performance is supposed to be 85 percent by now (meaning 85 percent of the buses are no worse than one minute ahead or four minutes behind schedule), actual performance is a meager 70 percent, and not improving. The poor performance of Muni is reflected in declining ridership: It dropped 3 percent last year while nationally, on average, transit ridership increased by 2 percent.
Those who support this measure claim:
- This gives the MTA more independence from interference by the Board of Supervisors that will cut waste and improve efficiency, leveraging better results from existing funding.
- Muni's poor reliability and service failures hinder the kind of dense, transit-oriented development that is necessary for the economic success of San Francisco and the protection of the planet from sprawl-induced pollution. We cannot wait for improvements.
- Its labor reforms will permit stronger management and improve labor productivity through changes in work rules. The potential for higher base pay will reward the majority of operators with strong work habits while permitting easier discipline of the more poorly-performing workers. Even an increase in base pay of 10 percent will keep operator salaries near or below the city's median wage, which is perfectly appropriate.
- The voters want to know what it will take to reduce our contribution to global warming and this amendment will accomplish that with regard to transportation that causes the largest contribution to global warming.
- This measure permits the construction of more parking should it be desirable and financially feasible because it eases the MTA's ability to issue revenue bonds based on projected parking revenues.
- Including the provision limiting parking increases is appropriate because the biggest contributor to traffic congestion is excess parking, and traffic congestion delays transit service.
Opponents of Proposition A claim:
- It does not do enough to reform labor practices and may increase costs without improving performance. Automatically giving the operators the average of the highest wages does not guarantee the removal of any of the work rules. Nothing prevents the City from proposing the removal of any of these work rules during negotiations today.
- This amendment takes the revenue from parking and applies it all to transit, preventing the money from being used on a case-by-case basis to fund a neighborhood parking garage.
- The provision to lock in maximum parking amounts is bad governance because it sets in stone the upper limits on parking. This measure was not part of prior drafts and was not discussed in public hearings.
- Budgets with set-asides reduce flexibility in the annual budgeting process.
SPUR has exhaustively analyzed Muni in the last several years. Our policy papers, "Preventing Muni's Downward Spiral" and "Muni's Billion Dollar Problem," have emphasized two imperatives: speeding up the vehicles and providing more funding. Each of the papers referred to problems in labor management that hinder good service. Prop. A addresses many of the suggestions in SPUR's recent analyses. Key aspects of Prop. A include the following:
Increases autonomy for the MTA. Speeding up the buses is critical because faster service translates to more service at less cost. (For sake of argument, reducing a run's duration from 60 minutes to 45 minutes means that in three hours a single bus and driver can accomplish four runs instead of three.) Increasing Muni's average speed from its current abysmal rate of 8 miles per hour to just 10 miles per hour means that systemwide service could increase by 20 percent for a relatively low additional cost. This charter amendment would facilitate this goal by giving the MTA exclusive control over "all official traffic control devices, signs, roadway features and pavement markings that control the flow of traffic." Currently, many of these powers rest with the Board of Supervisors, whose members can be more concerned with the interests of a few constituents than the efficient operation of our citywide transit system.
Increases funding. This charter amendment would also provide more funding by increasing the percentage of the existing parking tax revenues that go to the MTA from 40 percent to 80 percent and by permitting the MTA to keep all revenues generated by off-street parking fees (except those revenues generated by facilities owned and operated by the Recreation and Park Department and the Port of San Francisco). It also specifies that these funds must be used for transit. These measures amount to a $26 million funding increase for Muni, critical because Muni's structural deficit is huge: from $30 million to $100 million per year, according to SPUR. The deficit has starved Muni of operators and managers. Of 21 similar transit properties, Muni's rail and bus operations have the 19th- and 21st-lowest ratio of supervisors to operators. Where the 21 agency average number of schedulers per division is 1.4, Muni gets by with 0.5. The performance standards in 1999's Proposition E, it turns out, represented an unfunded mandate.
Initiates labor reform. More money and faster buses will help, but without improving the agency's ability to deploy and manage its workforce those improvements are insufficient. The charter amendment does several things to change labor relations. It increases the number of "at will" employees who can be hired and fired at the will of the manager from 1.5 percent (about 75 today) to about 3 percent. It converts the formula that sets the operators and platform employees' salaries from a wage ceiling to a wage floor. According to MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford, this enables the agency in bargaining with the union to offer a higher base pay in exchange for changes in work rules that will reduce bonus payments and improve the agency's ability to discipline poorly performing operators. Current base pay is about $26 per hour. All Muni labor unions support the amendment, with the exception of SEIU Local No. 200, which represents middle managers and supervisors, and which takes no position.
Mandates climate-change plan. The charter amendment represents the City's first attempt to hold an agency accountable for its role in reducing the city's contribution to global warming. According to the Department of the Environment's Climate Action Plan, the transportation sector causes 51 percent of our city's greenhouse gas emissions. This charter amendment requires the MTA to issue a report every two years detailing how its policies are progressing toward reducing our emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.
Establishes parking maximums. The amendment includes a controversial provision that requires nine votes of the Board of Supervisors to increase the amount of parking required or permitted in San Francisco above the amounts specified by current law. This was added in response to the qualification for the ballot of the so-called "Parking for Neighborhoods" initiative that would dramatically increase off-street parking in the city's downtown. Prop. A's intent is to prevent the traffic congestion that would result from increased off-street parking in the city's transit-rich and already congested downtown. The provision does not decrease parking amounts, but merely sets a high threshold to gain approval for increasing parking amounts.
Several other reforms proposed by this amendment are worth mentioning. The MTA will get exclusive authority over some contracting and revenue bonds. This would allow the MTA to sell fast passes and youth passes at any outlet of its choosing, not just City-approved vendors. Its budget deadline is moved from March 1 to May 1, correcting a mistake in 1999's Proposition E that forced the agency to create a budget without sufficient information. The agency would be required to draft a two-year budget every year to give policy-makers a longer-term picture of the agency's fiscal outlook. The number of votes on the Board of Supervisors required to reject the agency's budget is reduced from eight to seven. It preserves the ability of the Board of Supervisors to merge the Taxi Commission into the MTA at some point, and gives the MTA more authority over rules governing taxicabs should the Board of Supervisors ever take that action. Should state law ever allow a non-elected body to set rates and rules governing on-street parking, the MTA would have that exclusive authority as well. This would allow for more rational pricing of on-street parking relative to off-street parking, to reduce traffic caused by circling for parking. It would consolidate the parking authority under the executive director of the MTA.
This measure implements many of SPUR's recommendations for improving transit, and SPUR has been closely involved with its drafting since day one. Naturally, in the course of negotiations and outreach, we did not get everything we wanted. However, the strengthening of the MTA's independence, the included labor reforms, the infusion of cash and the mandate to address global warming all make this a very important reform of the Municipal Transportation Agency and a positive step toward the improvement of Muni service.
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. A.