Published Tuesday, November 30, 2004, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Budget shortfall creates Muni crisis
Transit chief's call for emergency measures promises contention
By Charlie Goodyear
Chronicle Staff Writer
For the second time in seven months, Muni chief Michael Burns is
preparing to ask the board that oversees San Francisco's transit
agency to declare a financial emergency in the face of a deficit
as high as $15 million for this fiscal year.
Burns put members of the Municipal Transportation Agency on notice
earlier this month that he would be coming to them with another
plan that could include slashed service, hiring freezes and a fare
increase from $1.25 to $1.50.
The board may hold a public hearing on the contentious issue as
early as next Tuesday.
"We are in fact working on a proposal for a fiscal emergency," said
Muni spokesman Alan Siegel. "We don't have the particulars at this
Muni officials said they would know later this week if Tuesday's
meeting will include a hearing on the fiscal emergency, and a board
vote is unlikely until at least January.
In April, Burns sought an emergency declaration from the board to
implement a plan that would have eliminated 43 Muni runs, mostly on
bus lines. The emergency measure allows Burns as executive director
to make the changes without submitting to a lengthy and costly
But at that time, board members deadlocked 3-3 amid strong
disagreement about service cuts.
Burns' plan drew ire from more than 600 residents and Muni employees
before it was stalled by the board.
Now, any new plan Burns is working on that involves service cuts or
fare increases is likely to face widespread protest. "If service
cuts are on the table and fares come back on the table, we also want
to be sure Muni looks at all possible ways to raise revenue," said
Andrew Sullivan, head of the transit watchdog group Rescue Muni.
The emergency financial measures come as new figures show Muni
unable to improve its 70 percent on-time rate, well short of the
85 percent goal set by voter-approved Proposition E in 1999.
Sullivan said the transit agency could consolidate routes and raise
parking fees on private parking garages to cover the current year
shortfall in its $486.6 million operating budget. Muni officials
estimate the operating deficit to be between $9 million and $15
"The whole budget problem can't be laid at the foot of the riders,"
he added. "It's clear that Muni has to do something to maintain
reliable service. People will notice service cuts -- no doubt about
William Sisk, president of the local Transport Workers Union of
America, lashed out at Burns and other Muni managers when asked
Monday about possible cuts.
"All Burns likes to do is come to us and take cuts from us," he
said. "There are too many chiefs, and people have got to be
accountable. What the hell are they doing? How come they can't get
past 70 (percent on-time rate)? It's not operators who can't get
it done on time. It's people who don't know how to manage."
Sisk said he and his union would fight any attempt to trim employee
levels or passenger service. And he suggested that fares should have
been hiked to $1.50 already to ensure Muni's ability to provide good
service even during tough economic times.
"With Prop. E, the voters didn't ask for less service, they asked
for good service," Sisk said. "(Burns has) been doing this for five
years, and I haven't seen anything improve. Muni's still the same."
E-mail Charlie Goodyear at cgoodyear@...