Reporting from CITY HALL
Despite challenges facing Bay Area transit agencies, including projected budget deficits, transit advocates kicked off Transit Month in San Francisco with city leaders at City Hall.
Some city leaders took Muni to City Hall for the noon rally, including Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin and the Department of Environment Director Tyrone Jue. SFBay rode with them in the subway from West Portal to Van Ness stations without issues.
The transit advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders has put on Transit Month (formerly Transit Day and Transit Week) for several years. Transit riders can participate in a contest where participants can win prizes just by riding public transit.
Another event will even take place on a BART train where Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s and director on the SFMTA board, will interview BART General Manager Bob Powers and BART board President Janice Li to have a conversation about the state of BART.
Bay Area riders can find other events on the San Francisco Transit Riders website.
At the rally, Mayor London Breed said that while there have been critics of Muni service after the pandemic, the mayor highlighted recent wins for the transit system and its passengers, including a faster 38-Geary after the completion of the Geary Rapid Project, and finally completing the Central Subway, adding:
“We got to take a moment to pause to celebrate those victories but we know there are challenges. We know we have a lot of work to do to make sure that we are adding more lines and making lines more efficient and making it possible so that people know that without a doubt they can rely on our public transportation to get anywhere in a timely manner in San Francisco.”
Tumlin noted that the 22-Fillmore and 49-Van Ness have the highest rate of ridership recovery possibly of any city in the nation.
The fiscal challenge remains for transit systems in the Bay Area as ridership is not back a pre-pandemic levels, though some transit systems saw ridership increases during major events like the Taylor Swift concert at Levi’s Stadium last month.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has been leading efforts to ensure transit systems in the Bay Area can survive until 2026. In 2026, officials hope to have a regional ballot measure to sustainably fund transit.
While the state budget included $1.1 billion for transit operations with the Bay Area expected to receive $400 million, the amount was not nearly enough, Wiener said:
“It’s better than nothing but we still have a long way to go.”
Wiener introduced Senate Bill 532 which would have increased bridge tolls by $1.50 for over five years to fund transit operations but suspended the bill for more discussions on other solutions to fund transit.
He said at the rally that his number one priority was to fix the transit deficit and asked critics of his bill for solutions:
“For the people who are just the part of ‘no’… I want to know what is your ‘yes.’ What is your solution to make sure that we don’t have massive service cuts?”
Safety on public transit was also another topic addressed at the rally. Supervisor Connie Chan said she spoke with constituents, especially Asian passengers, on why they are not getting back on Muni.
Chan said Asian elders are especially worried about waiting at bus stops and being on the bus, adding that the future of transit should also focus on the safety of passengers.
This year’s Transit Month also marked a somber moment as news last week broke that beloved former Muni operator Mike Delia died. Delia, who moved from Boston and was known as Mr. Boston, was an operator on the historic streetcars on the F Market/Wharves line.
The San Francisco Transit Riders named Delia the operator of the year in 2022 and dedicated this year’s Transit Month to Delia.