SF transit agency must cease questionable practices

by : sfexaminer – excerpt

There are now two incidents in which officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency have used handshake agreements with companies to either expedite a process or to avoid it altogether — as was the case with recently revealed news about commuter shuttles. The egregious backroom dealing by the SFMTA and its proxies needs to cease immediately.
In an SF Weekly article in early January, the newspaper documented a handshake deal for new Muni buses that would have the coaches in San Francisco in a more timely manner. The issue is that the buses were delivered to an East Bay facility before the Board of Supervisors approved the contract for the new buses. Officials argued that the deal would have allowed the agency to send the buses back if the contract was not approved.
Then in a Wednesday front-page article, The San Francisco Examiner outlined a handshake agreement between the SFMTA and commuter shuttle companies for the buses to use Muni stops without being penalized. The deal — outlined in a series of emails between the charter companies, the companies that contract with those firms and SFMTA officials — was apparently solid enough that the companies felt they could ask for fines for blocking Muni stops to be waived.
In both cases of the handshake deals with SFMTA officials, it is clear that the agreements sped up what could be a laborious process. And in both cases, it is also clear that the deals may not have exactly broken the letter of the law, but they surely toed that line and broke the spirit of the public process…
If the agency is unable to admit its shortfalls in these situations, it perhaps needs to be left up to the Board of Supervisors or another city office to step in and put additional safeguards into place… (more)

Boundaries, we don’t need no stinkin boundaries!

Then they don’t need no more of our stinkin money. Will someone please put these people out of their misery or must they completely destroy our streets first?

Emails show ‘handshake agreement’ for tech buses using SF transit stops: Emails from The City’s transit agency over the past three years indicate that a “handshake agreement” exists for commuter shuttles to use Muni stops without being cited.
The correspondence also shows that there was internal discussion at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency about whether to ticket for the illegal use of the public-bus facilities, while companies and their lobbyists called for leniency and requested citation dismissals.
The inquiries include emails sent to the SFMTA by shuttle providers and the companies that use shuttles…
The identified representative of Google was lobbyist Ross Guehring of the well-known local firm Barbary Coast Consulting, who wrote in an April 10, 2012, email, “I think it would go a long way if these tickets could somehow be reined in during this policy development process.”… (more)

CA Legislation Watch: Bills Introduced That Could Impact Livable Streets

by : streetsblog – excerpt

The deadline to introduce new bills to the California legislature was Friday, so a slew of new legislation is currently being assigned to committees for hearing. Some of them are so-called “spot” bills, as in “hold a spot in line for me, bub,” containing a bare minimum of information, with the plan being to shape them in legislative discussion. All of them are likely to be amended before reaching a vote, and they must go through two voting processes (one in each house) before being passed on to the governor to be signed. Meanwhile, they give some clues about what our lawmakers are thinking about.

Here are the bills in play that could potentially impact livable streets.

A.B. 2398 would raise fines for drivers who injure “vulnerable road users” in California — primarily, bicyclists and pedestrians. Vulnerable Road Users Law: Asm. Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced A.B. 2398, which raises the fines charged when drivers cause injury to “vulnerable road users,” defined as pedestrians, bicyclists, and people using farm equipment and riding horses…

Bicycle Tax: Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) has proposed S.B. 1183, which would allow local jurisdictions to set a tax on bike sales. Funds from the tax would go towards trail improvement and maintenance. Cyclelicious got this right, pointing out that while bike tax proponents argue that the tax would provide “political credibility that cyclists pay their way,” this is a “bankrupt excuse of an argument,” since road infrastructure is disproportionately bankrolled by non-drivers through general taxes.

Redefining Electric Bicycles: Asm. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) put forward A.B. 2173, which would define electric bicycles with motors that are limited to a top speed of 20 mph as “low-speed” electric bikes, and allow them to ride in bike lanes and on bike paths and trails…

Cycle Track Standards: A.B. 1193, from Asms. Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Mike Gatto (D-L.A.), is still alive from the last legislative session. It would require Caltrans to define and establish design standards for a new type of Class IV facility for bikes: physically separated, buffered bike lanes, or “cycle tracks.”…

School District Planning: School districts have separate planning departments with their own methods and priorities that don’t always mesh with those of their surrounding communities. A.B. 1179, introduced by Asm. Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) last year, was an attempt to merge school district planning into regional planning efforts…

School Zone Violations: In the Senate, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) introduced S.B. 1151, which would double fines for traffic violations near schools and use the proceeds to fund the Active Transportation Program, under whose umbrella Safe Routes to Schools Programs are funded. This would make fines for traffic violations in school zones equal to those in construction zones.

Increased Penalties for Hit and Run Drivers – Asm. Mike Gatto (D-L.A.) introduced A.B. 1532 legislation that requires at least six month of driver’s license suspension for any driver found guilty of a hit and run, regardless of whether or not someone was seriously hurt in the crash. The intent of Gatto’s legislation is to balance the penalty for hit-and-run crimes with those for drunk driving misdemeanors and felonies. This effort follows a new law Gatto authored last year that increased the statute of limitations for hit-and-run crashes.

Carbon Tax on Fuels: A bunch of bills want to control how revenue from cap-and-trade is applied (see below), but none directly address the market mechanisms used to control greenhouse gas emissions except for Darrell Steinberg’s (D-Sacramento) proposal to replace cap-and-trade with a carbon tax, S.B. 1156. Cap-and-trade is scheduled to apply to fuels starting next year.

Money from Cap-and-Trade: Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach/Huntington Park), Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), and Assemblymember Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) have each introduced bills that designate a specific use of cap-and-trade funds: S.B. 1204 (Lara and Pavley) would fund the technological development of zero emission trucks and buses; S.B. 1122 (Pavley) would designate funds for regional Sustainable Communities Strategies and the Alternative Transportation Program; A.B. 1639 (Grove) would clarify that the intent of the legislation is to use the funds specifically for cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of these bills will transform in the hearing process, morphing and perhaps combining  until the very last minute (hopefully with as salubrious effects as S.B. 743‘s last-minute amendments last year)… (more)

San Ramon needs to plan transportation before building

by Jim Gibbon, Sierra Club Mount Diablo Group – theyodeler – excerpt

The Sierra Club is urging San Ramon to prepare a transportation master plan to figure out how to solve our transportation problems for the coming decades–before  spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that may not help in the short term and that may close off long-term solutions. (There is a 2009 Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan, but it doesn’t really do the job.)

For example, the city is studying building on- and off-ramps for high-occupancy vehicles in the middle of I-680 at the Norris Canyon overpass. The ramps might shave three minutes off commute times for about 500 bus passengers a day using the Walnut Creek and Dublin BART stations–but at a cost of $101 million dollars. Unfortunately, because the freeway right-of-way is limited, the ramps would require reducing the number of freeway lanes, thus turning what is now a congested stretch of freeway into an absolute bottleneck. The ramps would replace the current Norris Canyon Road overpass, which provides a safe path for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians between neighborhoods on the west side of the city and the schools and parks on the east side. Even worse, the ramps would preclude other future freeway traffic solutions… (more)

A Twitter Data Scientist Hacks San Francisco’s Subway Fares

By Sydney Brownstone : fastcoexist – excerpt

Why pay the full price to your destination on BART, when swapping tickets with a stranger mid-ride would save you both money? Perhaps because it sort of violates the social contract?
When New Yorkers move to the Bay Area, they’re often accused of personality crimes. Being haughty, cagey, and ragey-for-no-reason are just a few. I know this because I was one of them, and when I lived in Berkeley, there was one experience that drew out all of the stereotypes I had in me: Riding on Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART.
Twitter data scientist Asif Haque has had his BART frustrations, too. Thus, he decided to take a data-driven approach to see if its fares were “fair” or not. In the process, he also devised a system to help riders artificially lower the cost of riding on public transportation by switching cards with fellow passengers in mid-ride.
For those unfamiliar, BART’s swiping and pricing system works like this: A passenger puts money on a paper ticket or plastic Clipper card, swipes through a turnstile at the origin stop, then swipes through another turnstile at the destination. How much you’re charged depends on where you eventually exit, and not necessarily how many stops you travel. (It’s a mileage-based formula, plus certain taxes here and there.) Unlike New York City’s subway system, BART does not charge a flat rate ($2.50) no matter where, or how far, you’re going. It also doesn’t offer weekly or monthly discounts for people who rely on it to get to work.
There’s a lot of math involved, but Haque, a game theorist and computer scientist by training, figured out that some people who switch their tickets or Clipper cards with each other mid-route could cheat BART’s fare calculator. In fact, a public ride-sharing scheme could work for some 13% of BART route pairs. For example, one rider traveling from Millbrae, in south San Francisco, to Embarcadero, in the heart of the city, pays $4.50 for the trip. Someone coming from the opposite same direction, Glen Park, and traveling to Berkeley, pays $4.20. If they switch passes mid-route, Traveler A ends up paying $5.10 (Millbrae to Berkeley) and Traveler B pays $1.20 (Glen Park to Embarcadero), together saving $1.70…

That’s one theoretical conclusion. The other outcome is deeply troubling. In 2013, after fares and parking fees, a little more than 38% of BART’s budget was funded by taxes. If the fare slice of the revenue pie decreases, taxes might end up making up the difference. That’s not decreasing the price of a ride, but simply shifting the cost onto the rest of the tax-paying public. To suggest that private companies jump in and make a profit off of potentially starving a public transportation system is a nightmare scenario–one that could create a massive gulf between functional private systems and crumbling public ones.
But Haque’s paper doesn’t really look at worst case scenarios. Instead, it’s purely focused on mathematical price efficiency. He says that he could apply this same analysis to any city’s public transportation, where efficiency is measured not by how expensive a ride is, or how profitable the transit authority might be, but whether pricing is set up in a way that makes it preferable to cheat. “For systems in which nothing is gained or lost by switching, those are efficient,” he says, citing Caltrain as one such example.
Haque suggests that if this inefficiency is brought to the attention of transit authorities, the less opportunity there would be to exploit it. He tweeted his research at BART to see how the transportation system might respond to the notion of changing its fare structure, but has yet to receive a response.
In the meantime, the likelihood of having private companies scale up Haque’s idea is nearly impossible. Crowds relying on paper and plastic ticket swapping is surely more physical trouble than it’s worth… (more)

This brings up the subject of how much all public transit truly costs relative to the fares charged for the tickets. The taxpaying public pays over half the Muni charges on the fares that pay. They pay 100% for all the free rides the city authorizes.

We take no sides on this issue, but, before you vote to approve more Muni bonds and approve initiatives to charge higher fines, fees, and taxes to support Muni services, find out where the money is spent now. Find out what percent of the MTA budget covers the actual operations and maintenance costs, and where the bulk of the funds go.

Ask the SFMTA, Mayor and supervisors how much SFMTA has spent on TEP plans to reorganize bus routes and cut Muni service. When you attend one of the many TEP meetings ask the MTA staff why the fifty new buses they just purchased can’t be used to increase service? Be sure to comment on the TEP in your neighborhood.

Lee’s Sunday free parking plan up against money, politics

By Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross : sfgate – excerpt

Mayor Lee’s call to bring back free parking on Sundays is meeting with behind-the-scenes resistance over at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
And, like most Muni decisions, the driving forces are money and politics.
Objections to the mayor’s proposed rollback are coming from two fronts.
First up, Muni number crunchers, who have been banking on the more than $9 million a year that Sunday meters – and Sunday parking tickets – bring in.
There are also objections from neighborhood merchants who fear they’ll lose business if people squat all day long in parking spaces outside their stores.
“There has been a lot of back and forth on the issue,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of the transportation agency board.
One idea is to have a “phased” rollback that would keep paid Sunday parking in some shopping areas such as Clement Street or the Castro.
The mayor, however, has his reasons for wanting a full rollback – not the least of which is making voters happy so they will approve the $500 million transportation bond on the November ballot… (more)

Muni riders not happy over fare hike

By David Stevenson : ktvu – excerpt


San Francisco Muni riders will be paying more this summer to ride city trains, trolleys and buses.  The fare is set to climb from $2 to $2.25 for a single ride.

On Monday, riders told KTVU they were not happy about the hike.

“I think I’d wanna know the reasons why they are doing that,” said Sandra Arriago at the Powell Street station. “I feel like fares have increased significantly since I moved here seven years ago.”

The fare hike is part of a scheduled fare increase that is central to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s new two-year, $1.8 billion budget. And this year, the SFMTA is actually looking at adding or expanding some programs thanks to a booming local economy and a $5 million surplus… (more)

SFMTA discusses what to do with Muni surplus

: abclocal – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The agency that runs Muni has a surplus for the first time in recent memory. So, why are fare hikes being proposed? That’s what lots of people who ride Muni buses and trains want to know, as they’re looking at the possibility of one ride actually tripling in price.

On Tuesday at San Francisco City Hall the public had its first chance to weigh in on this. Not that many showed up to the meeting, given that they are discussing a possible fare hike. The public has one more chance since there is a second hearing at City Hall on March 4.

The Metropolitan Transportation Agency that runs Muni is facing a surplus and there are many different ways the public could benefit. At the hearing, the agency was asking the public where some of that extra money should go… (more)

Maybe they could start by giving themselves higher salaries? Oh, that’s right, they already did that. How about paying down the debt? Or just hold off on raising fares and fees. Not enough money to do that either? Just how much of a surplus are we talking about?

The best transportation option in San Francisco might be one you’ve never heard of

Rakesh Agrawal : venturebeat – excerpt

Startups Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar get all of the attention when we discuss alternative transportation options in San Francisco. But one of my favorites is BMW’s little talked about DriveNow…

According to CEO Rich Steinberg, there are currently 70 vehicles in the San Francisco market. Although the service was off to a slow start, usage has now picked up, and the company is considering doubling its fleet.

Like Daimler’s car2go product, which I wrote about before, some of the expansion Steinberg would like to see has been blocked by the intransigence of the SFMTA. I asked why there were no DriveNow locations in the Mission or on the west side of the city. Steinberg said he’d love to have them out there, but he can’t find suitable parking spaces. The demand is there, but he can’t fill it.

In other markets in which DriveNow operates (all in Europe; San Francisco is the first U.S. deployment), cars can be parked almost anywhere in the city; there are no designated stations. But Steinberg couldn’t get the SFMTA to cooperate with such an approach.

I asked David Chiu, my San Francisco supervisor and the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, why this is the case.

“I’ve championed city car-sharing with past legislation and have also advocated for one-way car sharing, as I’ve learned about issues from some of the new providers,” Chiu responded. “I understand the SFMTA has been a bit slower on this new innovation than we’d all like.”… (more)

“some of the expansion Steinberg would like to see has been blocked by the intransigence of the SFMTA.”

Another complaint about the lack of parking in the city, and this time it is coming from a rental contractor set up by the SFMTA. The SFTMA Board spends more time fighting cars by removing parking, than it does running Muni. You know what to do about it. Letters of complaint and suggestions for expanding parking options near freeway exits can go to the parties listed here: http://discoveryink.wordpress.com/letters-and-comments/san-francisco-officials/

Transit on Trial: Our Muni Cover Story Spurs a Public Hearing

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt
Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 – just found this article

…Supervisor David Campos called for a public hearing before the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee to address lingering questions regarding the bizarre manner in which these buses were obtained, and nagging concerns about their reliability. The material covered in our story — and Campos’ subsequent communications with Muni higher-ups — have left him scratching his head… (more)

Government Audit and Oversight Committee – February 13, 2014 – Item # 4 – 140044 RE: the  Municipal Transportation Agency Contract for New Flyer Hybrid Buses. Supervisor Campos requested a hearing on the Municipal Transportation Agency contracting process for the New Flyer hybrid buses, approved by the Board of Supervisors on October 29, 2013, as referenced in File No. 130977, to obtain additional information regarding the contracting process and construction of the fleet that occurred before approval by the Board of Supervisors.  1/14/14; RECEIVED AND ASSIGNED to the Government Audit and Oversight Committee. (video link – 1:29:17)

Supervisor Campos “…There are questions that should be answered with respect to the process that was followed for the purchase of the vehicles at issue 50 vehicles for 38 million…” Issues of concern to Supervisor Campos:  It is important to find out how the vehicles were delivered to the MTA before the contract was actually approved by the Board of Supervisors. It seems as if the decision to purchase these vehicles was made prior to completion of the internal review of the options… At least 10% of the buses may have failed in route to San Francisco… “If any of my constituents ask, did we make a good investment, was the investment made in a responsible way, did we follow best practices, we should be able to say, we in fact, have done that.”

Just listen to the tape.

Municipal Transportation Agency rolls out budget

By Michael Cabanatuan : sfgate – excerpt

Everything from free Muni rides for senior and disabled riders to shutting off parking meters on Sundays will be on the table when the Municipal Transportation Agency considers its budget for the next two fiscal years. (Mayors Transportation Task Force Proposals)

The agency, which oversees all things related to transportation in San Francisco – transit, traffic, parking, taxis – has proposed a basic spending plan of $915.4 million for the budget year that starts July 1 and $943 million for the following year. The budget covers the anticipated costs of operating existing transportation services.

A separate capital budget proposes spending $646.6 million and $749.1 million on physical improvements, including Central Subway construction, replacing Muni Metro rail cars and some buses, building more bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects, and installing new traffic signals.

The budget also calls for an automatic scheduled fare increase to $2.25 for single-ride fares paid in cash.

What’s not included are the proposals to raise, reduce or eliminate some fares and fees, increase service, build pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and improve technology.

A major new expense, however, is also a big unknown: increases in contracts with Muni’s labor unions, which are being negotiated this year. A potential big cost reduction is a proposal to reduce or eliminate work orders: that is, money paid to other city departments for services.

Setting those priorities will be the job of the MTA Board of Directors, which officially receives the proposed budget and hold its first public hearing at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A second hearing will be held on March 4, with a series of less formal town-hall meetings also planned(more)

What happened to the claims that Muni is broke? They found some money? Where? If you care about Muni money you should to send some written comments and consider showing up to the hearings. Also check out the comments on KQED Newsroom below for an explanation on why bond deals could be in trouble. Who tracks the money?

KQED Newsroom: (5:40- 5:55)) “there was an 11 billion dollar water bond passed in 2009 that was loaded up with all kinds of pork projects, bike lanes, and everything else, and, they know that isn’t going to fly with the voters.”