The MTA board listens to comments from the public just before their vote on Muni service reductions

Buena Vista Elementary School teacher Antoinette Marquez nearly cried.

The Municipal Transportation Agency Board voted 4-3 Friday to stop youth, senior and disabled fast passes from increasing to $30.  Instead, the $5 increase will go into effect May 1 as planned.

“My students and their families can’t afford anything,” she said of some students who live with their family in single-room housing. “They come into class tired and hungry; $20 is still better than $30.”

It was that kind of day —  small increases became victories and still short, the board continued to  look to Muni drivers and parking meters as possible funding sources

The board voted 4-3 in favor of a 10 percent reduction in Muni service. The cuts include frequency reductions, route changes and earlier curfews on 20 bus lines – five of which are in the Mission.

“The MTA has many problems, which are out of our control,” MTA Board President Tom Nolan said in an apparent reference to the economy. However, he and other board directors were quick to mention that any more federal stimulus money would go towards operating costs.

Muni operators present at the meeting said they disapproved of any cuts and resented  the city’s pressure.

“We are tired like the public, and the MTA is putting a gun to our heads,” said Muni driver Emanuel Andreas, referring to the city’s request that the union forgo an $8 million pay increase. Andreas is also president of the Bay Area Transportation Advisory Committee. “The pressure from the MTA is overwhelming.”

Andreas, who has been driving the 49-Van Ness out of the Potrero Division for eight years, said drivers are being demonized.

Irwin Lum sports a pro-Muni driver sign and T-Shirt at the MTA board meeting

“Drivers are constantly scapegoated and blamed for these cuts,” said Irwin Lum, president of Transit Workers 250-A, which represents Muni drivers. “Drivers don’t make decisions on how the system runs.”

Nevertheless, Andreas and his transit committee fought to get members to agree to give up the salary hike to help the MTA bridge its $16.9 million deficit. He said he hopes that more drivers will make pay sacrifices in the future.

MTA spokesperson Judson True said that on May 1 the agency will begin laying off 230 employees within the year including 176 Muni operators.  He did not say if these layoffs would go forward if the drivers declined the automatic pay increase.

The other popular solution at the meeting was extending parking meter hours into the evenings and on Sundays.

“We are clearly moving in the direction of supporting parking meters on Sundays,” Nolan said.

An MTA study, which evaluated extending meter hours in the city found that nearly $9 million in profits could be generated and suggested city businesses agree with the proposals.

However, Mission Loc@l found that nearly 80 percent of the 131 businesses surveyed on Valencia and Mission streets  opposed  the meter extensions on Sundays and weeknights.

Moreover, it’s unclear why Mayor Newsom and the SFMTA favor Sunday parking when the SFMTA study found more support for extended weekday parking, which was also favored by more cities included in the study.

MTA Board Director Malcolm A. Heinicke voiced a necessity for extending parking meters. He said he wants the MTA to identify parking meter corridors, especially in the Mission to create a pilot program for Sunday and weeknight meter enforcement.

He mentioned that several businesses are against the meter proposals, and that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s support of weeknight hours is critical to its success.   The mayor remains opposed to extending meter hours on Sunday.

“We have to be very cognizant about business concerns in times like these,” Heinicke said.

MTA Board Director Bruce Oka added that the meter extensions are a real solution to next year’s budget, which the board will discuss next week.

“There are no more rocks to turnover,” Oka said over the importance of extending meter hours to bridge future budgets. “This has to be tried.”

However, as transit riders hailed the meter proposals as clean solutions to helping Muni in the past, many were against the meter extensions.

Marquez said she’s against extended hours.

“I’ve spent two hours looking for parking in the Mission; in my own neighborhood,” Marquez said of her attempt to avoid metered parking.

She said many businesses in the Mission are going to loose their clientele if the meter proposals become adopted.

The meter extensions are a “near term issue” and the corridor pilot program is likely to be considered for next fiscal year, True said.

The board approved $14.4 million in solutions, with about $2 million still unaccounted, he added.

On Tuesday the board will reconvene and discuss solutions to the budget for 2011 and 2012. They will also reexamine their vote that increased premium fast passes for youths, seniors and disabled to $25.

The premium passes will be required to ride cable cars, express buses and BART.

“We’re not done this year, but we did take an important step today,” True said of the board’s action. “When you’re in this budget nightmare, you don’t wake up right away.”

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Nick Sucharski

Nick Sucharski is the current transportation reporter for Mission Loc@l.

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  1. Meters=parking is actually possible to find. Get rid of time limits, as the MTA study suggests, and maybe send half the revenue back to cleaning and maintaining the streetscape immediately around the meters, but please, extend the hours. It’s a better policy even if you were to just burn the money, because it does lead to more turnover.

    If the streets empty out, it means you’re charging too much. The easy solution then is to lower the price until you get the right level of turnover.