MUNI service cuts would affect bus lines 14, 47 and 49, that service the Mission District.

Editor’s Note: Gas tax legislation signed into law Monday night by Gov. Schwarzenegger has given the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency a sizable infusion of funds from to help delay proposed fare hikes and service reductions. Muni will get an estimated $36 million from the state within 90 days and another $31 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2011.

On March 2, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency showed no interest in additional MUNI service cuts but considered options offered by San Francisco Planning & Urban Research to prepare for the coming $56.4 million and $45 million budget gaps in the next two fiscal years.

Recommendations from SPUR include increased enforcement of parking meters and consolidation of bus stops, among 26 other recommendations made by Executive Director of SPUR Gabriel Metcalf.

The SFMTA board of directors backed down from further raising MUNI monthly pass rates for seniors, persons with disabilities, and youth after facing crowds of frustrated protestors at a February 26 meeting in City Hall.

After nearly four hours of public comment, the meeting ended in a small victory for opponents of the fare increase. Although monthly fees for seniors, persons with disabilities, and youth are set to increase $5 in May, the MTA board voted 4-3 to extinguish the proposal that could have again increased the fee for the next fiscal year.

“This is an uncomfortable thing to vote on for everybody,” said SFMTA Chairman Bruce Oka.

Commuters can expect longer wait times for all but ten routes throughout the city with the exception of cable cars. The cuts include bus lines that service the Mission District with frequency reductions, route changes and earlier curfews for the 14, 47, and 49 bus lines. The board was split for both approving the service cuts and rejecting the fare increases for “vulnerable” groups. According to SFMTA spokesperson Judson True, both items are designed to help the board balance a 2010 budget deficit of at least $16.9 million.

Some board members said that the service cuts could have been avoided if the Transport Workers Union had accepted concessions to their contract presented in February.

“If the union had accepted concessions, its possible that the board could modify their vote on Tuesday and do away with the service cuts,” said True. “But there’s no really going back now.”

President of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A Irwin Lum stood before the board donning an orange pro-MUNI t-shirt with his suit. Lum claimed the board has consistently used the TWU as a scapegoat for its financial crisis and challenged the agency to account for $400 million of its budget, suspect of boosting managerial salaries.

“We think that the MTA is being used as an ATM machine or a cash cow for other city department budgets which have nothing to do with transporting passengers,” said Lum. “To put the blame on operators and our union is blatantly wrong. We don’t make the decisions that affect how the agency is run.”

In May, the MTA will begin laying off 230 employees throughout the year, according to True, including 176 MUNI operators.

Secretary and Treasurer of the TWU Walter Scot, urged the board to reduce the salaries of administrators and other high paid employees in order to save services.

Scot and other union members fashioned signs and t-shirts saying, “Cut from the top”.

Many of the speakers during public comment questioned the integrity of the MTA, for having rescheduled the meeting with little warning and for it taking place on the top floor of City Hall. Hundreds of seniors, persons with disabilities, and union workers had no choice but to stay in the designated overflow room on the bottom floor. Some non-English speakers were left to their own devices.

Some like Kathy Russo of the Advisory Council to the San Francisco Commission on Aging and Adult Services exclaimed their disgust at the lack of understanding on the part of MUNI management for the disabled and senior members of the community. Russo, like many others, have no choice but to manage with the reduced availability of low cost services while their social security remains the same.

“Many disabled and senior citizens are living on a narrow edge between a plight to society and institutionalization,” said Russo. “Additionally, using them as a bargaining chip is demeaning and unacceptable.”

Others like Donaji Lona of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), an organization based in the Mission and Bayview committed to bringing social change to those most affected by the problems of low-income and working class people, reminded the board that public transportation needs to be made accessible for the entire community. In one of the few quiet moments of the meeting, Lona scolded board members for their blatant disregard of the concerns of working class communities.

“Police are terrorizing people on buses in my community and ticketing those who couldn’t afford a pass in the first place,” said Lona. “We are finding out that the tickets are being distributed only in communities of color. These tickets are proof of the racism in our city. This is enough already!”