Supes Debating Muni Service Cuts Worst of All Possible Worlds


Yesterday's action by the Board of Supervisors killing an appeal that would have prevented deep, across-the-board Muni service cuts was dinner with a psychotic ex-girlfriend at a terrible restaurant. It was a 1974 Ford Pinto that only cost you $14,000. It was a dessert that's fattening and tastes horrible, too.

In short, it was the worst of all possible worlds. And here's why.

First of all, as you can read in our current SF Weekly cover story, Proposition A, which purported to take "politics" out of Muni management and allow transit decisions to be made by transit experts, was a dismal failure. Muni is now very much the mayor's show. But if Prop. A did one tangible good thing, it took the Board of Supervisors out of Muni's day-to-day management. Up until 2007, the supes were intimately involved in the most minute decisions regarding transit: We're talking about stuff as minor as painting a curb red for 10 more yards and moving a stop sign a couple of feet. This bureaucratic lethargy didn't help Muni's swelling budget.

Yesterday night's debate was largely undertaken by a handful of our most capable, intelligent, and transit-knowledgeable supervisors. But the notion of some of their colleagues weighing in on transit matters is horrifying.

That being said, there were no "winners" in last night's debate. It was heartening to see the supes uphold the law at the expense of grandstanding about Muni service cuts, but the end result is Muni service cuts.

"Across-the-board cuts are absolutely the worst way to solve a budget problem for Muni," Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), told us in our cover story. "There needs to be some strategy about it."

The notion of across-the-board cuts sounds good politically: We should all suffer equally. But, then again, not all transit lines are equal. Does it make sense to cut service on Muni's workhorse lines like the N-Judah and 38-Geary at the same rate as, say, the 36-Teresita? No. In no sane world. But that's essentially what's been proposed.

Muni has a lot of research in the can about how to more efficiently tweak service -- and, yes, this includes cuts. But applying this research properly takes more time and money than Muni is willing to expend. The service cuts given tacit approval by the supes yesterday will save Muni $28.5 million a year. God knows how many miserable stories the pending 10-percent cuts will spawn and God knows how many frustrated riders will abandon public transportaiton in favor of polluting, street-clogging cars. But, at this point, Muni just needs to be able to cut the check.

That kind of worry is a luxury. But ignoring it imperils the transit agency's long-term viability.

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