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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Horrible Budget Ideas from the Geniuses at Muni (SFMTA)

On February 4th, the SFMTA Board of Directors had a special meeting covering various issues and topics.  One of the topics they covered is the upcoming fiscal year budget by showing a PowerPoint presentation.  Thanks to the public disclosure laws, we are able to view the materials the board gets to see.

To view the budget presentation, click here.

A lot of the material was all blah blah blah that wouldn't matter to me, but I found a chunk of information that made me quite frustrated that SFMTA employees would try to make the Board even think about accepting.

If anyone recalled the Mayor Frank Jordan era, Muni decided to implement a new fare structure where passengers had to pay an extra 50 cent fee to ride express buses or pay for a premium Muni pass, and eliminated all transfers.  The citizens hated it so much that Muni decided months later to restore transfers and kill the premium fees for all express buses.

So here's the stuff that made me go nuts:

Page 10: Automatic Indexing
The SFMTA is going to raise the price of its fare products by 3% for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.  What this basically means is your Muni fare will increase from $2 to $2.25 ($0.75 to $1 for youth, seniors, and disabled), and monthly passes will rise two dollars for adults and one dollar for discount passes.  Some of the fare products like visitor passports and cable car fares will remain the same.

Pages: 15 and 16: Possible Revenue Sources
I thought they've gone insane by proposing these ideas to generate extra money:
  1. They want to raise the price of riding the F-Market historic streetcar line.  On top of the regular Muni fare, a premium surcharge will be $1 per adult, and $0.50 discount for eligible people.
  2. Or instead of a surcharge, one idea is to charge passengers the equivalent fare that Cable Car passengers pay at $6 per single ride on the F-Market.
  3. For passengers who ride the limited lines and peak express bus lines, a surcharge on top of the regular single ride Muni fare of $1 for adults and $0.50 discount for eligible passengers.
  4. A policy to ban "M" Muni Only adult passes to ride the limited and express bus lines, therefore forcing those passengers to either pay for a "A" Muni premium pass or pay the FULL MUNI FARE + SURCHARGE if they only have the "M" pass.
  5. A plan to increase visitor passport fares by $1 or $5.
  6. A plan to increase the "A" pass $2 above indexed price due to BART's increased cost for rides within San Francisco.
However, since the Clipper card would be responsible for many of the fare and pass transactions, it will come at a big cost to Muni to modify the fare structure.  They estimate it will cost more than $250,000 to have the Clipper software rewritten with the new rules, but also have to tackle the Title VI equity analysis.

Pages 17 to 20: Possible Revenue Reductions
So by raising money (as seen above), the agency also wants to lose money in their real stupid ideas:

  1. The SFMTA wants to continue the free Muni for youth program at an expense of $2.7 million for the 2015 fiscal year, and $2.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year.
  2. The agency also wants to extend the free Muni for youth program to include 18 year olds which will balloon the program's expenses to $3.6 million for 2015 FY, and $3.7 million for 2016 FY.
  3. If the agency considers number two, they will also have to rewrite what "youth fare" means for passengers.  By redefining it to say it's good for 18 year old passengers, Muni is expected to lose up to $2.1 million in fare revenue.
  4. If the agency decides to eliminate Sunday meter parking fees, the loss would be about $9.3 to $9.5 million a year in revenue.  This takes into account the agency's estimated 'cost savings' for killing the Sunday meter program.
  5. If a proposal to give free Muni to seniors and disabled passengers is approved, upon the assumption that 50% of citizens are eligible, Muni is going to lose at least $4 million in revenue, and if it's increased to 67% are eligible, Muni is going to lose at least $6 million.

Akit's Angry Opinions
I've never seen such stupid ideas in my life.  So let's go down the list of their bad ideas.
  1. New adult fare at $2.25 a ride will definitely slow down the system for passengers paying the farebox; although, the agency would consider giving passengers who pay with Clipper a fare discount as a way to encourage more usage and speed boarding times.
  2. I really don't like the idea of charging any premium fee for the F-Market route, especially for those who live near the F-Market line along the Embarcadero.  Why punish the average citizen who can't afford the parking rates and make them pay extra to get to their house or workplace?  The F-Market has been the perfect alternative for visitors and citizens to get to Fisherman's Wharf without paying the insane Cable Car single fare fee of $6 a ride.
  3. What I hate even more is if Muni charges a $6 fee for the F-Market, equal to the Cable Car fare.  If anyone recalls the 74X CultureBus, a premium Muni bus service, they were charging a very high premium fare of $7 a ride (went up to $10), and because of the high fare for passengers, died a horrible death because of severe lack of ridership.
  4. I am very against the idea of making all limited lines and peak express lines a premium fare service.  If anyone recalls this, I reported back in 2010 that Muni attempted to make the express lines a premium fare service and rejecting "M" passes, but finally decided in September 2010 to not go forward with the idea.  Some people have to commute long distances on Muni, and the limited and peak express buses helps get them to their destination in a respective amount of time.  If there's a premium fee, it will force people who can't afford the extra cost to take the much slower local buses.  But how about the people who live west of 43rd Avenue and Geary?  The only bus line from 48th Avenue to 43rd is the 38L-Geary Limited inbound line, and will you force the elderly and disabled who live deep in the Outer Richmond district to walk several blocks just to save money?
  5. If Muni says okay to a premium fare for limited or express buses, I'm very against having "M" pass passengers get their passes rejected and being forced to pay the regular fare PLUS the premium fee.  At least give these people some respect by either honoring the pass and charging a small surcharge or honor the pass as full fare with premium.
  6. I've never liked the idea of giving out free passes to kids.  I applauded the MTC board for saying screw you to the kids on the idea of spending public money for free rides for the youth, only to have the SFMTA board decide to spend its own cash for the pilot program.  And the youth responded by humiliating themselves in the news media by getting angry (here, take a look at a Chronicle picture of a kid so upset he's not getting free rides on the bus).  Renewing the program comes at a huge expense to us taxpayers.  Remember kids, the price you pay for Muni rides today is the best offer versus all the other major transit agencies in the Bay Area.  And, you get a FREE TRANSFER.
  7. Oh, and let's not forget the idea to give seniors and disabled passengers free rides too.  Where do you think that money comes from?  The public's pockets.  I wonder how many people will try to fraud Muni and the MTC who issues the disabled IDs.  Get a crooked doctor to sign-off paperwork and why not apply for a shot a free rides on Muni for life?  Sounds similar to people who cheat the disabled parking placard system.
  8. Last but not least, let's talk about the end of the Sunday meter fees.  I think charging for Sunday meters is a great idea because business districts gets more turnover (more customers), there's more available parking, and for anyone who doesn't want to pay the meter fees, can opt to ride Muni as an alternative.  When Sunday meters was free, visiting neighborhoods with major parking issues like Irving Street from 19th to 27th Avenue was horrible; cars wouldn't move for hours and some people would double park forever waiting like a vulture for an open space.  So keep the Sunday meters running.
A lot of times, Muni's 'smart people' likes to rattle the cage and think of these harebrained ideas, including restoring programs like charging a premium fee for express buses when it utterly failed in mere months over 20 years ago.  Some of these ideas won't likely be implemented because it will anger the public, but some might fly without a doubt like continuing to give the kids free rides.

When Muni pulls these ideas out of their ass, I'm very grumpy.  I would spit on their grave if there was one (can anyone find the CultureBus gravestone?), but for now, it's just ranting on this blog.

If you feel the need to express your opinions about Muni's ideas to raise money and give out more free crap, contact your city supervisor.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Stopped Commuting on Sunset Boulevard - It's Too Dangerous

Sunset Boulevard has always been a problem for both drivers and pedestrians.  The death of a pedestrian who was flung into the windshield of a car at the notorious crosswalk on Yorba and Sunset is probably one of the worst intersections for pedestrians in the city.

I used to commute along Sunset Boulevard to/from the Outer Richmond district and SF State, and I never liked driving it because of the danger factor.  I decided to drive along the Upper Great Highway as an alternative because it was safer.

Here's a list of incidents I've encountered on Sunset Boulevard that made me switch to the Upper Great Highway:

1: On numerous occasions, I've stopped for pedestrians waiting to cross at non-signal controlled intersections.  Almost every time I've stopped, I've seen other drivers buzz by without even slowing down either on my right or left.  I've even stuck my arm out to warn drivers on my left to stop and let the pedestrian cross safely.  On a few other occasions, I've stopped for the pedestrian, only to be honked by the driver behind me and that driver merging into another lane just to pass me.  Lastly, I've had one incident where I stopped for a St. Ignatius student, only to have a driver cuss me out at the next red light signal.

2: Bad signal timing.  The 'green wave' signal pattern is great for drivers as long as you drive at or slightly below the speed limit to keep the cars moving; unfortunately for many years, the city's signal engineers badly timed a signal that encouraged speeding.  If you were the lead car waiting at Ocean Avenue (northbound), got the green light, and accelerated to the speed limit (35 MPH), you always got the red light at the Vicente intersection.  But for drivers who speed faster at about 40 or greater, by the time the vehicle reaches Vicente, they still have the green for a couple of seconds or blow through the yellow light because they know that going faster than the speed limit guarantees safe passage.

3: Speeding.  While the 'green wave' encourages drivers to drive the speed limit, I've seen many drivers speed between Vicente and Ocean because there's no traffic signals for an entire half a mile.

4: Lack of enforcement.  I've complained to SFPD's Taraval station to do something about the speeding problems and dangerous crosswalks only to get nothing in return.  I've only encountered one pedestrian sting at the Yorba and Sunset crosswalk, and it nabbed a ton of drivers who blew through.

5: Too many accidents.  I've seen too many on Sunset.  I've seen a car vs. pedestrian crash on Sunset and Noriega, a car going too fast that slammed on their brakes too late and smashed into a stalled car, and a few cars that have flipped over when they go too fast on the curvy road between Sunset & Ocean and Lake Merced & Winston.

This is why I took a different route instead of Sunset Boulevard.  The road rage alone really messed up my psyche, and at least the Great Highway was a more smoother commute and relaxing.

City Only Takes Action When Someone Dies
It's not a great thing for me to say this: When the city really wants to invest in intersection and road changes, they only take real action when someone dies.  Here's a great example of a major change:

At the intersection of 47th Avenue and Fulton, it was a two-way stop for north and south traffic.  Those going east and west along Fulton had no stop sign.  Residents in the neighborhood hated the intersection because it was too dangerous to cross and cars had to quickly get through the intersection with major blind spots giving limited view of incoming cars.

The neighbors complained to the city, asking for a 4-way stop.  I asked the city myself for the 4-way stop, only to get a written response later on stating they will not change to a 4-way stop because it would "delay Muni."  Instead, the city lengthened the red zone so the cars stopped northbound and southbound could see better for incoming traffic.

It wasn't until one day, a pedestrian crossing the street was hit and killed by a car on Fulton (remember, 47th Avenue and Fulton didn't have a stop sign for eastbound and westbound Fulton) that change was coming.  After that point, people started leafleting the neighborhood campaigning for a 4-way stop to be at the intersection.  In the end, we got our 4-way stop and now it's a lot safer.

Sadly, it took a pedestrian death to make a change.  Hearing from the city saying that a 4-way stop would "delay Muni" before the pedestrian death was a horrible mistake.

It makes me frustrated that a lot of these improvement projects comes at the cost of someone getting killed before action can take place.  Why did the city and state government (since it's also a state highway) install a brand new pedestrian warning signal along Sloat Boulevard?  That's because a Lowell High student was struck and killed by a driver.

However, I will applaud the city for making some improvements without hearing about someone getting killed, such as the traffic calming project along 25th Avenue in the Outer Richmond district.  Four lanes was too narrow and dangerous for drivers, but when it was reduced to two lanes (one each direction) and a middle turnout lane, things was a lot better and calmer.

How I Would Improve Sunset Boulevard
If I had all the money I wanted and can flex the laws, here's what I'd do:

1: Reduce the speed limit to 30.
2: Put those radar traffic signs that tells drivers how fast they are driving.
3: Install traffic signals along every intersection.
4: Cut lanes from 3 each way to two
5: Fix the 'green wave' signals to not reward drivers who speed.  I've heard of some signals intentionally give a red light when a driver goes too fast, a nice punishment.
6: Improved lighting at intersections.  For us drivers, it's our responsibility to identify pedestrians at every crosswalk and intersection we approach.  Having bright lights at the intersections during the night helps us see better, especially when a pedestrian is wearing all black or colors that blend into the background, such as wearing green or brown as Sunset Boulevard's sidewalks are full of trees and dirt.
7: Using the extra space from reducing from 3 to two lanes, I would make bigger pedestrian refuge zones with steel barricades at the medians and crosswalk bulb outs so pedestrians would cross less of the road.
8: I would eliminate the Muni stops at Yorba and remove the dangerous crosswalk.  Instead, I would move the stops closer to the Sloat overpass and build stairwells, and accessible ramps or elevators so people can use those to get from one side to the other without crossing six lanes of Sunset.