Today, the MTA Board will review the results of a staff study to expand parking meters – which could generate up to $6 million in revenue for San Francisco’s beleaguered transit agency. But Mayor Gavin Newsom – who appoints all seven Commissioners – came out against the idea before the study went public, and even tried to pressure MTA chief Nat Ford to kill the plan quietly. Which would not be so bad, had the Muni budget deal that Newsom cut in May with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu not relied on additional parking revenue. Without it, Muni will be forced to cut service and raise fares beyond what’s already gone into effect – as riders bear the brunt of the MTA’s deficit. At a time when even the Chamber of Commerce endorsed an extra $9 million in parking meter expansions, backing off on this new proposal makes no sense.

So far this year, Muni fares have jumped from $1.50 to $2.00, the Regular Fast Pass is up to $55 ($60 starting in January), the Senior, Disabled and Youth Passes are now $15 ($20 in May) and the MTA cut $13 million in bus lines. Only after the Board of Supervisors threatened to nix the Muni budget did Newsom agree to $8.7 million in service enhancements – which salvaged the long-awaited Transit Effectiveness Project. Still, that means riders have suffered a net loss of $4.3 million in service cuts – and are paying more for less.

When the MTA first passed its emergency budget to plug a $129 million deficit, bus riders were asked to shoulder 4 times the pain of drivers. After the deal that Board President David Chiu cut with the Mayor on May 12th, the ratio was still three-to-one. At the MTA Board, Commissioners voted down a proposal to expand parking meter hours that would have generated $9 million – despite support from the Chamber of Commerce supported it. Instead, when it was all said and done, Muni promised to come back and “study” the issue of parking meters.

Now that the study is complete, the Mayor is against it. But as Melissa Griffin pointed out, Muni has already spent part of the money it was counting on from this. The budget deal “found” $10.3 million to pay for service enhancements and delayed fare hikes by (a) cutting $2.5 million out of Muni’s “fare inspector” program, (b) saving $4 million in postponed hirings, and (c) shaving $2.8 million off the work orders. The remaining one million was “presumed” from future parking revenue.

After negotiating with Supervisors to pass an MTA budget, Newsom is now making sure that Muni lacks the funds to keep going – and fails. In other words, he betrayed the deal.

Granted, the parking study projects up to $6 million in revenue – whereas the deal only calls for $1 million to be covered by parking meter expansions. But the deal itself was the product of political extortion, a Faustian pact made under the Mayor’s threats of financial Armageddon if the Board of Supervisors dared to stick together and reject a deeply unfair budget. Transit advocates were furious at David Chiu for the deal, prompting Supervisor John Avalos to (unsuccessfully) take another crack at negotiations.

Unless Muni can find more revenue quickly, the entire Transit Effectiveness Project – which painstakingly studied and proposed changes to make our bus lines efficient – is in jeopardy. The plan was supposed to be “budget-neutral” – cut $13 million of wasteful and inefficient transit lines, replacing them with $13 million in service enhancements. A good example is cutting the 26-Valencia, while adding more buses on the 14-Mission. The MTA budget that passed this year went ahead with the cuts, but provided less than $9 million in line enhancements. In other words, we have a service deficit of $4 million.

Any parking meter expansions must generate at least $5 million in revenue – one million to salvage the May 12th deal, and four million to complete service enhancements – just to maintain the status quo. Bear in mind as well that Muni has undergone a slow death spiral for decades in the form of service cuts, and that the voters passed Proposition A in 2007 precisely to get our public transportation system back on track. We voted to set aside an extra $26 million a year to augment the MTA budget – we should be seeking ways to expand bus service, keep fares affordable and improve the transit agency.

Cutting a bad budget deal for Muni was bad. But betraying the little we got out of it is even worse.