Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Free Muni?

San Francisco explored it and the results are very interesting, one being that other cities that have done it have seen ridership increase by 50%, indicating the desire is there, but the cost is too high.

Public leadership needs to weigh those tradeoffs.

Free ride? Fat chance: Muni fares will stay
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eliminating fares on San Francisco's Municipal Railway - an idea Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted explored - would worsen delays, overcrowding and financial burdens on the already strained transit system.

That bleak assessment by private consultants who evaluated the free-rides idea has led Newsom to quietly abandon the concept, top administration aides told The Chronicle on Monday.

"It's not something that we plan to pursue at this time," said Stuart Sunshine, the mayor's top transportation aide.

Newsom asked transit officials in March to study a no-fare system, saying at the time, "If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere." His suggestion was aimed at luring people out of their cars to reduce air pollution and traffic.

The consulting team hired by the city, led by Sharon Greene & Associates, looked at what happened when other jurisdictions adopted free transit programs. In larger cities, such as Austin, Texas, Trenton, N.J., and Denver, ridership increased by nearly 50 percent.

If that happened to Muni, which now provides nearly 700,000 trips on an average day, the annual operating and maintenance costs would rise by nearly $69 million. Muni's annual budget is about $670 million.

The extra costs would come from paying more drivers, maintenance and cleaning crews, supervisors and security guards.

In addition, the city would have to add an estimated 267 buses and streetcars to its fleet of about 1,000 at a cost of approximately $537 million. New storage and maintenance yards also would be needed to accommodate the new vehicles.