By Michael Cabanatuan and John Coté : sfgate – excerpt
San Francisco’s transportation system – famous for its slow Muni buses, pothole-pocked streets and inadequate bike and pedestrian amenities – needs a lot of help: $10.1 billion worth, a task force appointed by the mayor has concluded.
And, the panel adds, city leaders should ask voters to approve nearly $3 billion in taxes, bonds and fees to help pay the bill…
After months of study and discussion, the group concluded that the city has $10.1 billion in transportation infrastructure needs through 2030 and that the bulk of those needs are in maintaining and improving the core of the existing system, which has been neglected for decades. That means replacing and expanding the city’s bus and streetcar fleet, systematically and regularly repairing streets, and dealing with Muni’s overcrowding, unreliability and slowness, which riders have complained about for years…
$3.8 billion short: The task force will recommend that the Board of Supervisors put before the voters three ballot measures that would each raise roughly $1 billion…
- Two $500 million general obligation bonds – one in November 2014 and another in November 2024.
- A measure to raise the vehicle license fee from 0.65 percent to 2 percent – in November 2014. State law allows San Francisco voters to restore the fee, which was cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- A proposition that would increase the sales tax by half a cent – in November 2016. That would raise the city sales tax from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.
Fix existing system
The task force’s investment plan recommends spending most of the new revenues – about 54 percent – on maintaining and repaving streets, rehabilitating and maintaining the Muni fleet, replacing rails and overhead wires, paying the city’s share to operate Caltrain, replacing escalators and elevators in combined Muni-BART stations and developing safety improvements for bike riders and pedestrians.
About 32 percent would go toward enhancing the existing system, with improvements to Muni maintenance facilities, some of which date to the 1920s and can’t even fit existing buses. The money would also go to efforts to speed up Muni buses, including a bus rapid transit arrangement on Geary Boulevard, adding canopies at shared Muni and BART stations, and paying to transform Market Street to boost transit travel speeds and make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The final 14 percent would go toward expanding and improving the bicycle network, planning a Caltrain downtown extension, enlarging the Muni fleet and making neighborhoods more accommodating to pedestrians.
But not everyone agrees with the recommendations. Supervisor John Avalos, chairman of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and a task force member, criticized the report as a “predetermined outcome” from a group he said did not represent much of the city.
“Downtown businesses got to sit at the table and decide how they wanted to tax the rest of San Francisco for infrastructure,” Avalos said. “They’re not going to pay their fair share. … They get to call the shots and minimize the impact to themselves. Everyone else in San Francisco has to pay for the infrastructure they benefit from.”
Avalos last week proposed a rival amendment to the City Charter that would give the Board of Supervisors more authority over the Muni budget and direct more money for free service to youth and underprivileged riders.
“From day one they talked about a vehicle license fee, general obligation bond and sales tax. So what were all these meetings for?” said Avalos, who wanted to see greater consideration given to increased property taxes and transit impact fees charged to developers.
Spread burden broadly
Supervisor Scott Wiener, another task force member, disagreed, saying the group included labor leaders, transit advocates, regional transit operators like BART, and pedestrian and bicyclist groups.
“This was a broad-based effort, and I don’t agree that the business community somehow dominated it,” Wiener said.
He said the taxes and fees spread the burden broadly, with businesses and visitors paying much of the sales tax, and the vehicle license fee hitting owners of luxury cars the hardest. Wiener said the city needs to invest in transportation as it has in other parts of city infrastructure.
“We pass bonds for our park system, library system, hospital system, law enforcement – everything except for Muni,” Wiener said, “and Muni is one of our most significant assets.”
Bonds ride on voters
Whether San Francisco’s typically generous voters will agree is the key question.
Metcalf believes they will.
“We’re making an old-fashioned plea to the people of San Francisco to think about the good of the city as a whole and to make an investment that will make the city work better,” he said.
“Whether you get to work in a bus or car, a bike or train, you have an interest in a well-funded transit system. Muni carries 700,000 trips a day today. If we do not reinvest in the system, more and more of those 700,000 daily riders are going to abandon transit, begin driving cars and choke the city in congestion.”
By the numbers
San Francisco transportation, including Muni, streets and bicycle networks
$10.1 billion Transportation funding needs over the next 15 years
$3.8 billion Funding currently expected over that period
$6.3 billion Gap in transportation funds
$3 billion Additional funding proposed over the next 15 years
0.65% Current vehicle license fee
2% Proposed vehicle license fee
$1.1 billion Proceeds over 15 years from increased vehicle license fee
8.75% City’s current sales tax rate
9.25% Proposed rate
$1 billion Proceeds over 15 years from sales tax increase for transportation needs
$500 million Amount for each of two proposed general obligation bonds
66.7% Voter approval needed to pass the bond measures
8 mph Average speed of Muni vehicles
27 mph speed that champion sprinter Usain Bolt has exceeded in the 100-meter dash
3 to 5 days The frequency with which Muni’s oldest buses break down