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SFMTA Leaning Toward Expanded Meter Hours, Away From Fare Hikes

New plan would extend meter hours to nights and Sundays

33-Stanyan Muni Bus in the Castro

A picture is forming of how the SFMTA might address its budget shortfalls over the next two years. The SFMTA Board of Directors and an advisory panel of community leaders seem to oppose any further fare hikes or service cuts for Muni riders while mostly favoring extending parking meter hours to nights and Sundays — a politically challenging yet long-overdue measure.

Yesterday, board members voiced their positions on a list of proposed budget measures [PDF] after Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin reported which ones were generally supported by the advisory panel. The panel has met regularly over the past two months to develop recommendations for SFMTA staff about how to address the agency’s looming budget gap — $19.6 million over the next fiscal year and $33.6 million in the following year — as well as a $120 million backlog in Muni vehicle maintenance and infrastructure improvements.

The panel is expected to submit official budget recommendations to the board later this month, but consensus is starting to form on most fronts. The group is composed of roughly a dozen representatives from the SF Chamber of Commerce, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), labor organizations, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association, the SF Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, and other advocates. SFMTA representatives include Reiskin, Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose, and Directors Cheryl Brinkman and Bruce Oka.

The panel generally favored proposals including an end to the MTA’s $9 million in annual payments to the SFPD for traffic enforcement (an arrangement which Chamber of Commerce President Jim Lazarus called “ridiculous,” according to the Chronicle), installing new car parking meters in high-demand areas, enforcing an existing regulation on downtown parking garage pricing, and a minor traffic fine increase to offset state-imposed fees.

The panel and most SFMTA directors also favor extending operating hours for car parking meters to Sundays and weeknights — a promising sign for proponents of the measure, which could reduce the number of drivers circling for parking. The board also favored it two years ago, but it was nixed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Letting the current dysfunctional schedule for metered parking continue costs the agency an estimated $11.8 million each year in lost revenue alone. In addition, excessive demand for free parking spots can lead frustrated drivers to double park — the top cause of Muni delays aside from maintenance and other internal agency issues. Given that pricing parking properly encourages turnover for businesses, Brinkman said she thinks “certain neighborhoods are going to embrace this.”

While Mayor Ed Lee and other officials have touted demand-based parking pricing under the groundbreaking SFPark program, they haven’t seemed willing to apply the same principle to price parking in busy districts during Sundays and weeknights after 6 p.m., as SFMTA staff recommended in a 2009 study.

“Last time, we got a lot of pressure from the supervisors to look at it, and when we put it to the supervisors to tell us which one of them wanted it in their district — guess what — nobody wanted it in their district,” said Director Malcom Heinicke. “I think we need to try a new approach to recognize that we don’t operate through the Board of Supervisors, we operate directly with the community… We need to identify some business corridors that would be willing to explore a pilot program.”


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