Nearly everyone who rides Muni frequently is familiar with its main problem: it is unreliable. While Muni provides a very high level of service on paper, running buses and streetcars to within two blocks of almost everywhere in the city and advertising a high frequency of service, the railway fails to meet its schedule far too frequently. Muni delays have endangered riders' jobs, made going out in the evenings difficult, and ultimately driven many potential riders off public transit and into private automobiles.
A wide range of reasons has been cited for Muni's continued unreliability. In our view, critical problems affecting Muni service include the following:
Muni today is only loosely accountable to the public for service delivered. Muni frequently fails to run on time and often misses service entirely, as noted by Rescue Muni's 1997 and 1998 Riders' Surveys. Whether this is due to management problems, broken-down streetcars, absent operators, or heavy traffic, the passengers suffer - but nobody in the railway loses a penny. Customers either put up with it (Muni has no serious competition) or switch to their cars, contributing to the rapid growth in traffic in the City. While the "Muni buck" theoretically stops with the elected political leadership of San Francisco -- both the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors -- in reality responsibility for Muni is largely ducked and evident problems with Muni are denied.
Muni today operates as a city department, serving under a Commission that serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, while the Board of Supervisors must approve its budget. Muni relies on other city departments for several key functions (purchasing and hiring) which are critical to running the transit system, and has been ready to point the finger at those departments to explain its failures. The result is an organization that lacks clear accountability and is subject to frequent political interference.
Today, San Francisco enjoys a booming economy, and in 1998 and 1997 Muni's budget received the largest increases (7.7% and 5.7%, respectively) in many years. In the early nineties, however, However, earlier in the decade, Muni's budget was repeatedly cut, and cut deeper than many other city departments. This is a major cause of service problems today. The lack of a predictable source of revenue for Muni makes it very difficult for the railway to plan, hire, and buy equipment with an appropriate eye on the current and future needs of San Franciscans.
San Francisco's transportation policy that is unclear and poorly coordinated. The Charter today has a "Transit First" policy, but it has not been effectively implemented. Heavy traffic and poorly-engineered streets cause major delays for transit riders and endanger bicyclists and pedestrians. The City's two transportation departments - the Municipal Railway and the Department of Parking and Traffic - have had much difficulty designing coordinated solutions.
The problems affecting Muni are complex, so simple solutions are not likely to succeed. Rescue Muni, in alliance with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and other concerned organizations, has developed a Muni Reform Initiative that we hope to put on the Fall 1999 ballot. This Charter Amendment brings the Municipal Railway and the Department of Parking and Traffic under a new Transportation Agency, establishes a protected Municipal Transportation Fund in the City budget that cannot be diverted to other purposes, and requires Muni and DPT to operate under strict service quality standards, backed by a system of merit pay for all Muni employees. Key elements of our initiative include:
San Francisco's elected leaders know that Muni is a critical issue. Unfortunately, Mayor Brown and his majority-appointed Board of Supervisors have repeatedly shown that they cannot fix Muni as it exists today. With the Mayor up for re-election in November 1999, we should expect to see more half-baked attempts at Muni reform come out of the Mayor's office. By the time you read this, the Mayor's "New Muni Task Force," from which Rescue Muni was excluded, may well have introduced a much weaker proposal than what we are proposing. We must reject these desperate attempts to change the subject and instead vote for real reform. The independent Muni Reform Initiative will bring new accountability to Muni, protect its budget, insulate it from political interference, and ensure a coherent transit policy for San Francisco. By acting now, we can take the first step towards what our elected officials repeatedly promise but have conspicuously failed to deliver - a world-class transportation system for San Francisco.
Follow this link to read the Rescue Muni Muni Reform