Free Muni: The Stupid Idea That Just Keeps Giving

Categories: Public Transit
Oily bus.jpg
Jim Herd
Who's going to pay for this?
It seems the activist group POWER has done us all a favor. In holding a demonstration demanding Muni be made free, fiscal reality be damned, they've permanently answered the question, "should I pay attention to anything POWER ever does?"

By all means, Muni's fare recovery is poor -- hovering around 25 percent. That is, Muni only earns back a quarter of its budget via fares. Still, you're talking about a quarter of a budget approaching $800 million. In technical terms, this is a metric shitload of money. Caterwauling about making Muni free without addressing this disparity is the sort of thing that, in an ideal world, should result in people being mandated to do pushups in public.

So, yes, POWER's latest creative call for defunding Muni is an example of foolish policy promulgated by fools (and is especially vexing when you consider POWER was at the forefront of the successful move to curtail Muni's beefed-up fare inspection program). But behind nearly every group of city lunatics is an enabling politician.

In this case: Gavin Newsom.

As recently as 2007, Newsom proposed making Muni free for one and all. Politicians running for office say the darndest things!

Thumbnail image for Muni logo.jpg
Actually this is free. Go ahead, take it!
Of course, a subsequent study performed by outside consultants came to the obvious conclusion that this would be a terrible idea. Yes, you'd swell Muni's ridership. But you'd actually be losing revenue just at the time vastly increased usage would demand additional drivers, maintenance, vehicles, urine clean-ups, etc. Muni wasn't forced to commission a study on why falling asleep on the bus is ill-advised -- but, odds are, that one would have produced similarly predictable results.

"Populism" is actually a dirty word in French. This is a good example why. Anytime a local politician wants to be on the side of "the people," all he needs to do is propose making Muni do more for less -- or, hell, even free! Willie Brown -- come on down! Tom Ammiano? Kevin Shelley? Why not!

As SF Weekly reported in a cover story last year, there are myriad ways to make Muni better serve the vast majority of the 700,000-plus riders who board every day. But it turns out Mr. Spock was wrong: The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few. The best interests of Muni's general ridership are often trumped by small and vocal groups protecting their turf.

Along those lines, it seems the only thing progressive groups can put forward when faced with the challenge of "Muni reform" is to demand discounts or freebies without making up for the lost revenue.

Muni is like The Giving Tree -- only saturated with bodily fluids. Everyone wants more and more. But no one wants to pay for it.

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Muni needs to find a better way to recoup it's money. I cannot believe how many times I have paid my fare share and then sit back and see piles of people sneaking on the back door. If they actually find a way to police this, not only will we not need to have rate hikes, but they will have more money for newer busses and maybe some better drivers.


Could you be any more insulting?


Quixotic groups like POWER insult 'reason and rational thought and I'm talking 'reason'able  assessment of a situation from even a 'left'ward cant (Situationists?) and not the 'reason' of Ayn Rand  , either..


Not sure but some members of POWER may have formerly been with the Marxist/Leninist  "Workers World".


A modified version of this does work , arguably , from the Int'l Dist. to Bell St. downtown , up in Seattle... Here in Sci Fi , though?..An insane asylum on wheels!


I lived in Seattle in the 90s and remember that quite well. It worked because it was a limited area and was designed to cut traffic in the downtown, especially for people who worked downtown. I remember I could run errands and not have to worry about brining my car or whatever. But people in Seattle also don't jaywalk, and people didn't abuse the ride free area either. People actually paid LEAVING the bus once it left the ride free area!


Free Muni is impossible, and it's not just the cost of running the agency.

When Spare the Air programs offered free transit to all Bay Area agencies, it showed the true nature of "free transit."  People rode Muni buses for only a few mere blocks, slowed buses because they were so full, and those who really need a shower found a place to hang-out all day.

On BART, things didn't go so well when some youth found a nice new hangout and caused trouble on the system.

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