Skip to content.
Skip to page navigation.Skip to content.Website accessibility
SF MTA homeSF MTA home SF MTA home
Page title as stylized text

A version of this op-ed appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, January 19.

The Transportation Future We Deserve
by Tom Nolan and Nathaniel P. Ford Sr.

Today at 2 p.m. in Room 400 of City Hall, a frustratingly familiar but increasingly urgent conversation about our transportation future will resume.  How can San Francisco, declared repeatedly by voters to be a Transit First city, make it easier for people to get around in an environmentally-sustainable way in the face of budget challenges that threaten to move us in the opposite direction?

The meeting of the Board of Directors of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates Muni and manages parking, traffic, bicycles, pedestrian travel and taxis in the City, will include an update on the shortfall for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.  Last spring, the SFMTA passed a $783 million budget for this fiscal year that closed a $129 million deficit with many difficult decisions, but the red ink is not gone.

Now the SFMTA faces a $16.9 million shortfall even after layoffs and other cost-cutting actions that began this past November.  Solutions to be discussed today include proposals both painful and unpopular, among them reducing service frequencies on most Muni routes and lines and raising fares on the historic F line and express bus routes.

The primary cause of these financial problems is not a mystery: it is the economy.  Like other City departments and transit agencies around the nation, the SFMTA has seen tax revenues plummet even as the demand for services has increased.  Most consequentially, the State of California’s fiscal nightmare has meant a nearly $180 million hit to the SFMTA over the last three fiscal years.

Transit agencies as close by as BART and as far away as New York City and Washington, D.C. are faced with the same unwelcome choices—choices that could result in a spiral of decline for even the most successful and well-used transit systems.

In San Francisco, recent progress has been real.  Even with the falling economy, Muni ridership has increased.  On-time performance, though not high enough, is at record levels.  Muni’s collision rate is the lowest in years.  The SFMTA is becoming a more unified Agency focused on improving transit, bicycling, pedestrian travel and taxi service to reduce traffic congestion and improve our environment and our economy. We are again investing in our infrastructure to protect the public's investment.

Even on the financial front we have seen improvements.  Fare revenue is up in part thanks to a renewed focus on reducing fare evasion.  A new transit shelter advertising contract will replace all shelters and provide the SFMTA with close to $15 million per year instead of the previous pittance we received.

None of this is to suggest that we are in anything but a crisis.  To simply stay where we are now, much less to grow, the entire City will need to debate and then choose proposals sure to meet with quick opposition from key stakeholders.  Some elected officials are already floating ballot measures that could reduce labor costs, while others are discussing revenue measures.

We are confident that San Francisco is up to the challenge because we are a great City committed to sustainable transportation even when confronted with balance sheets that will not be getting better on their own any time soon.

Tom Nolan is Chairman of the SFMTA Board of Directors.  Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. is the SFMTA Executive Director/CEO.

See also:



Skip bottom navigation and boilerplate text.Begin brief site navigation and boilerplate text.

telephone311: 中文 / Español / Français / 日本語 / 한국어 / Italiano / русский / tiếng Việt / Tagalog / عربي / ภาษาไทย