MUNI Reform Measure In Danger – Unions, Politicos, Readers: What Are Your Solutions to MUNI’s Woes?

Reading the morning Chronicle today, it looks like the much talked about MUNI reform charter amendment proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin may get talked to death behind closed doors today. Or not.
These days it’s hard to tell what’s going on at City Hall, what with all the shenanigans and whatnots. (For some recent coverage of this issue, check out this piece in the Examiner, and another at the Chronicle.)
The proposal has evolved somewhat over time, but so far, from my read (and that of folks who study these things more than I) is that the measure would stabilize funding for muni and knock a good 25% or more out of that perpetual structural deficit we keep hearing about. It also tries to address the problem of greenhouse emissions – something San Franciscans talk a good game about, but don’t always play.
And it does seem to address some issues related to management to try and force some more accountability to the workforce, instead of just treating MUNI like a job-for-life program, regardless of ability, and reward those who are trying their best to make MUNI work for us (which I am assuming is most MUNI employees, right?).
That said, there does seem to be more provisions that would have the effect of having fewer elected officials (who we can demand results from) having a hand in MUNI’s affairs. Ever since the 1999 “Proposition E” measure passed, it almost seems to be an article of faith with Those That Know that the less the public, the taxpayers, and those we elect have to do with MUNI, the better it will run. Has that been the case so far? Hmm….

Does anyone else find this strange? We are all apparently too stupid to elect anyone directly to run even a portion of MUNI, but we can vote for BART directors, judges, district attorneys, mayors, and vote on endless ballot measures. (Insert record scratch stop here)
Not too long ago, I commented on Chron reporter Rachel Gordon’s overview of MUNI’s challenges, and frankly it does not take a rocket scientist or a detailed analysis to know this – business as usual is not working for the people of San Francisco, and to keep doing so will ensure we’re all left at the
There’s no denying that it’s time for some structural fixes to MUNI – if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we got – which is perpetual unstable money for MUNI, a decline in service, and more people clogging the streets in their cars desperate to get where they need to go. No one is winning with the status quo.
Battle lines are being drawn. SPUR has announced its support, and you can read their reasoning for the measure, as well as their studies on MUNI’s future at their site.
Local labor leaders have indicated their opposition in this recent op-ed piece in the Bay Guardian, which outlines their concerns for their membership, but does not give any suggestions on how we improve the performance and funding of MUNI if we toss this measure out, and does not mention much concern for us, the daily MUNI rider/taxpayer/citizen. I think that’s unfortunate.
This debate has all the marking of going into choose-up-sider Hell, so I’m issuing a challenge to elected officials, policy folks, labor leaders, and concerned San Franciscans on all sides of the debate to engage in a civil conversation here at the N-Judah Chronicles and talk to us about how they are taking real steps to fix MUNI.
Labor leaders who don’t like this measure are invited to offer up constructive, tangible solutions they’re willing to support to make MUNI better and more stable if we are to reject this measure. Demonizing labor unions and workers is no solution to MUNI’s problems, but neither is automatically rejecting changes in the status quo. MUNI’s workers may have some ideas that could help fix it – let’s hear about them here!
Likewise, those who support the charter amendment are invited to talk more about how this will indeed, make our MUNI better, and answer questions about the accountability of MUNI, and how to fix this measure if it doesn’t work as advertised.
Most importantly, I want Loyal Readers and new readers to weigh in and let these folks know that all of us are tired of talking this issue to death, and are watching closely as to what they’re doing not just what they’re saying.
We don’t ask for much – we simply want to be able to have a reliable way to get around the City and live our lives, without having to make “MUNI Anxiety” a daily routine.
UPDATE: has some discussion on the matter, and I’ve issued a challenge to Mayor Newsom to engage in the discussion on his own site
(Remember, the NJC is non partisan and my appearance on said site is NO ENDORSEMENT of any candidate for Mayor, but instead an attempt to call attention to N-Judah safety issues and invite the Mayor to discuss his views on MUNI here with you, the reader.)

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8 Responses to MUNI Reform Measure In Danger – Unions, Politicos, Readers: What Are Your Solutions to MUNI’s Woes?

  1. Mike says:

    I don’t know what happened today with this, but I’ll put my two cents in…
    This is the first time Aaron Peskin has
    garnered any respect from me. I was especially surprised by the power give-away part of the proposed amendment.
    While I have never found the Board of
    Supervisors particularly responsive regarding Muni woes, I don’t think a board of all appointees is the answer, either- an elected board like Bart, perhaps?
    Stabilizing Muni’s funding definitely
    warrants a charter amendment and I have no argument with giving the execs at MTA more power over middle-
    management hirings & firings-another
    plus as it often seems to me that there
    is a HUGE disconnect between what is
    said/planned/promised by MTA and what actually is happening in the streets.
    More flexibility negotiating drivers’ contracts also sounds good…
    A lot depends on WHO is going to be
    implementing all this at MTA level.
    Lord knows what’s going on behind
    closed doors at the Board of Stupervisors! Hope they can get their
    heads out of their butts long enough
    to seriously address these issues rather
    than their usual political posing and sucking up to special interest groups- their forte!
    Was Ammiano trying to be funny when he said ” How is this going to make Muni run better?” Come on!
    It all at the very least sounds like a good start to me because Muni as it is
    right now is a shambles!
    Mike R

  2. james says:

    maybe it’s time to privatize muni?
    if the unions won’t budge on this very sensible proposal, they never will let any additional accountability be introduced and it’s a lost cause.

  3. sf_fan says:

    If MUNI was a fortune 500 company, heads would have been rolling LONG ago.
    a Fix? get the politians out for now, do away with helping friends / family get hired, more so – hold people accountable and responsible for their actions or inactions, stop catering to the unions, working within all laws and policies, bottom line, put your foot down and get control for this is no actual control over the agency. look at all the varying departments, the department heads not communicating with each other, the back door politicking (sp?) and paying off favors…
    hire people who know what they are doing would be another good start, not accepting transfers or dumps hoping they can learn the job…
    there’s a lot to do, who is going to lead the reform?

  4. Greg says:

    @SF_Fan: points well taken. bear in mind, though that under the 1999 Prop E “reform” the Mayor can only appoint people with some sort of legitimate experience in transit to the MTA Board….the MTA being the entity that runs muni and dpt.
    part of the problem with MUNI is that there is no direct accountability by the people who run the MTA and MUNI to the rider and the citizen. The only input you have is changing mayors and hoping they do something about it. isn’t weird how you can vote on literally anything BUT who runs muni?

  5. Greg says:

    @james: this is a common question, but it is important to remember that we did in fact have a mostly private system for much of our history, and there are many reasons why the private companies ended up merging with MUNI.
    it’d be nice to think a private system would be more efficient, but when you look at the horrible customer service and overpriced, crappy service of Comcast, AT&T and the like, who operate private monopolies here in town, a private muni is frightening.
    at least under the current arrangement, the system is theoretically supposed to serve all, and is accountable to us. a private system is only obligated to make money, and doesn’t care and has no mission to not screw the public, which would have NO SAY in how its run.

  6. More rapid transit. More LRT,subways, more BRT, more express buses, express LRT service. All of this of course requires more money. Why can’t San Francisco get more money from the DOT? It has 500,000 people, it should get all the money that would go into highways including gas tax that comes from within the city.

  7. suckafree says:

    if only muni were run as well as comcast or at&t, we wouldn’t have this website to gripe at all day. give me a break. i can’t believe you think muni wouldn’t be 110% better if it were providing us the minimal service those two monopolies give us today.
    i’m in the technology industry and recently hosted some execs from japan that run their railway and transit system. they laughed and joked that it is well known around the world what a cluster fuck muni is.
    how sad is that?

  8. Greg says:

    @Suckafree: well let’s face it – Japan has ALWAYS had a superior rail network, not just for commuters, but nation wide. It’s no wonder they’d look at our mess, much of which was dismantled after ww2 (LA being a prime example, but SF being a top contender as well) and 50+ years of not making common sense decisions. It’s not just MUNI – it’s a USA problem.
    Without getting too astray, as I really want people to post ideas on what they could or would do to fix our MUNI, I’d simply say this: Comcast and AT&T and Earthlink are some of the worst companies when it comes to customer service. They jack up their rates way beyond the rate of inflation, and with their outsourced billing and tech support in Godknowswhereistan by people paid a buck a day, make using their services a bloody joke.
    I will never forget the 2 months I wasted with Earthlink DSL who invented a new way to screw up my service, and SBC (now the “new at&T”) joining in on the fun with their crumbling infrastructure. They were as bad as MUNI and worse, no accountability since they had a monopoly. There’s no ‘choice” no way for me as a consumer to exercise a free market choice that rewards good practices, and worse, no accountablity since they have no obligation to do anything but take my money and hold on to it as long as possible without really doing their jobs.
    Just like so many things in our society, business is no longer about competition or making a good product, just go to war with the customer. MUNI is just like this in that they often go to war with the citizen. No wonder the japanese are laughing (and get way faster home internet at 1/4 the cost)

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