SF Muni is on life support. Prop. I can help

San Francisco’s Muni system is on the brink of financial ruin. Weekday ridership is still about half what it was before the pandemic. For a transit network dependent on fares for service operations, that’s devastating. Attracting more riders is essential for Muni to stabilize its finances.

And yet COVID has likely altered transit patterns for the foreseeable future, if not permanently. With many downtown office workers still doing their jobs remotely, the traditional commute may never return.

Muni needs to adapt.

That’s why Proposition A is imperative for the future of public transit in San Francisco. The $400 million bond measure, which needs two-third voter approval on the June 7 ballot to pass, will be used to finance the capital projects needed to modernize and enhance Muni.

Money from the bond is earmarked for capital projects that Muni says will improve the reliability of its system, including repairs and upgrades to its aging bus yards, street infrastructure work to help reduce travel time of buses and trains — such as smart traffic signals and dedicated transit lanes — and replacing the light rail system’s two-decade old control system so it can direct a higher volume of trains into underground tunnels.

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Muni also plans to use some of the money to expand measures such as improved signals and street crossings to make roads safer as part of the city’s Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic deaths.

Opponents of the measure question why Muni needs such improvements if ridership may never recover to pre-pandemic levels. There are more than 800,000 San Francisco residents and they still need to get around — whether they’re going downtown or not. And we need to keep people out of cars for the city to do its part in fighting climate change and to fulfill its transit first mantra.

“Even if there are fewer people heading to downtown office buildings, people are still living along those lines and need to move around,” Muni Director of Jeffrey Tumlin said in an interview. “We have to have transportation that can move them around quickly.”

Muni is already adapting to emerging commute patterns. After the pandemic hit, ridership rose on the 22 bus, which runs along Fillmore and 16th streets between the Marina district and UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. Muni responded by changing the route to reduce travel time to popular destinations and increasing its frequency.

Tumlin said the pandemic provided Muni with invaluable information about the geography and ridership patterns of essential workers — and that data will inform a more reliable system moving forward. “Ridership was really driven by essential institutions like hospitals and by neighborhood commercial districts and other places that were still operating during COVID.”

As with any bond, there is a cost. But the city’s practice has been to issue new bonds only when another one retires. This keeps property taxes, which finance the bonds, at similar levels. That is the case with Prop. A.

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