MORE budget cuts? What the biggest cuts in Muni history mean for riders and operators

For those who rely on the San Francisco public transit system—and there are many—frustrations with Muni service will not be relieved any time in the near future.

On May 8, SFMTA mandated the biggest one-time budget cut in the history of San Francisco Muni.

Muni service was reduced 10 percent in attempt to save $29 million this fiscal year.

Muni frequencies

Muni service frequencies on weekdays at 8 a.m. prior to and after May 8 changes

Muni frequencies

Muni service frequencies on weekdays at 11 p.m. prior to and after May 8 changes

These recent cuts come on the heels of already extensive cuts implemented in December of 2009. The December cuts, which reduced service frequency and eliminated lines with low ridership, were among the first major attempts to remedy a $129 million deficit.

Despite cutting expenditures by $77 million by eliminating positions—essentially, reducing the number of operators—San Francisco government maintained that the December 5 cuts would somehow make the service more efficient.

In a press release held on December 4 of last year, one day before cuts would take effect, Mayor Gavin Newsom asserted positive feelings about the upcoming changes.

“On Saturday Muni will begin the most significant changes in more than 30 years,” said Newsom. “The end product should be a more efficient, reliable and useful transit system.”

Riders of the 26-Valencia bus might have disagreed with Newsom when their route was discontinued the following day.

The cuts implemented in December caused tensions to rise with Muni patrons and employees alike.

When SFMTA announced additional cuts even larger than the ones only five months prior, many reached a breaking point.

Rider submitted complaints surged, and transit employees and patrons gathered to express their anger and exasperation.

Muni protest

City workers look on as people gather on the steps of city hall to protest Muni budget cuts.

Hedy Griffin, one of the operators who gathered in front of city hall to protest on May 5th, expressed that the new May budget cuts couldn’t be accommodated.

“I had to come out here and say, ‘You know what? [With] your December cuts there’s a trickle down effect. We can’t afford another 10 percent.’ If that’s really what it is.”

Muni protest

Riders and drivers joined forces to protest against Muni budget cuts at San Francisco City Hall.

Operators recognized that the most recent cuts could be detrimental to not only the efficiency of Muni, but could even compromise the safety of patrons as well.

When asked how the recent cuts have affected Muni operators directly, David Reardon acknowledged this particular issue.

“There are less buses on the line, it means operators have to move faster and work harder,” said Reardon. “The pressure is on operators to break the rules and operate in an unsafe manner.”

Reardon elaborated that the increasing pressure on operators to move faster meant exceeding the speed limit.

Muni protest

A Muni operator protests at city hall, expressing that he is not to blame for having to break the rules

Riders are frustrated as well, with service frequencies on many lines greatly decreased and even more route segments eliminated.

For patrons of the 17-Parkmerced bus who depend on the line to get them home from West Portal Station after 9:40 p.m., a long walk or an expensive cab ride is in their future.

For those who depend on an already unreliable 91-Owl bus, which runs in the later hours of the night, can expect to wait for longer than 45 minutes for the next bus to come.

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