The newly formed Coalition for Transit Justice held a mid-day press-conference yesterday on the steps of City Hall in preparation for today’s meeting of the MTA Board of Directors. A succession of speakers, including Supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi and representatives of Transportation for a Livable City, Mission Agenda and Religious Witness with Homeless People, all spoke against fare increases and service cuts proposed by MTA management. Most speakers, flanked on either side by dozens of sign carrying supporters, stressed that San Francisco is a “Transit First” city and suggested some increase in parking taxes and fees or taxes on downtown business instead of fare increases. Representatives of the San Francisco Tenants Association and the Chinese Progressive Association spoke in Chinese, including a translation.
Muni faces a budget shortfall of 24 million dollars for the current fiscal year and projects a deficit of 55 million dollars for the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Muni management has not put a proposal to the public, but the Chronicle reported Friday that management, in a presentation to an advisory group, proposed cutting unspecified routes, raising regular fares at least 25 cents, raising the price of a monthly pass by nine dollars and increasing parking fees. Fare increases could take effect as early as September 1st.
Supervisor Chris Daly, who sponsored the conference said “When you get on the bus, on just about any bus line in this city you will see that the diversity of San Francisco.” He also said that “The budget problem cannot be balanced on poor people’s backs, this budget can be balanced without service cuts.” He pledged his support in the fight against fare increases and said that he believed a majority of the Board of Supervisors would support him. He suggested that the current and long term solutions to Muni’s budget problems were “progressive” taxes on parking used by downtown commuters. He added that since people choose to drive, “a parking tax would be a luxury tax.”
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said that it shouldn’t have to be that “the poor have to shoulder it when the government has gone wrong.” He also said that he did not think that the “tension between reactive and forward thinking government has been reconciled in San Francisco” and that “everyone feels that it is a fait accompli that Muni will get what they want, and that troubles me greatly.”
Sister Bernie, from Religious Witness with Homeless People, said “It’s downright wrong to solve the financial crisis of this city on the backs of the poor time and time and time again.” She also said that while many options have been proposed, “it takes political courage to turn to the wealthy members of the community to solve the city’s problems.” She ended by saying that, although many have pointed out that Muni is less expensive than systems in Chicago, New York and other cities, “I don’t care what New York does, I don’t care what Chicago does, I care about the poor people in San Francisco.”
Richard Marquez of Mission Agenda opened by saying “It’s time to build a bus riders union in this city” because “thousands can’t afford the $1.50 fare hike.” He pointed to the bus rider’s union in LA, with their slogan “No seat, no fare,” and to the union in Vancouver, which recently led a one day “fare strike.” He also echoed their sentiments when he invoked the image of Rosa Parks and said that any fare increase would amount to “institutionalized racism and class discrimination.” He ended by saying “riding the bus is a civil right and this is our transit fight.”
Bob Planthold of Senior Action Network said that “Muni takes transit first to mean that transit pays first.” He accused Muni management of being “aloof, cold, unresponsive, isolated.”
After the conference both Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi said that they wanted to make the Board of Supervisors into the battle. Supervisor Daly said that Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Aaron Peskin and Gerardo Sandoval were all opposed to a fare increase. Daly also laid out three ways for the board to make itself felt. They can hold up the Muni funding measures that come before them, draft charter reform or a referendum, or threaten to reject Muni’s budget if it contained fare increases. Of the three, Daly said that threatening to vote against the budget would be most expedient, although the board must consider Muni’s budget as a whole and would need eight votes to veto it.
Also after the conference, Supervisor Mirikami said that the board was the “backstop” for Muni’s problems and said that he was disappointed that “every time Muni gets into a jam, we have to bless their decision.”
The head of the Transport Workers Union, William Sisk, was also in attendance. Though he did not speak and declined to comment in detail, because the TWU is currently in contract negotiations, he did say that “our concerns are the riders’ concerns.
The MTA Board of Directors meets today, February 1st, at 4:00pm in room 400, City Hall.