SF Weekly Letters

Lively Debate over Death Spiral
SFMTA weighs in: Through numerous unsubstantiated assertions, omissions, and outright false statements, SF Weekly's article on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) ["The Muni Death Spiral," Joe Eskenazi and Greg Dewar, Feature, 4/14] does a great disservice to San Francisco transit customers and the SFMTA's hardworking men and women.

The article fails to highlight the most widely recognized source of fiscal challenges facing the SFMTA: raids on transportation funding by the State of California and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the state had provided the more than $220 million owed since 2007, our current and projected deficits would either not exist or be substantially smaller.

From senior managers to operators and car cleaners, we work constantly to provide the best service we can within the fiscal constraints we are under. The SFMTA is lucky that we have seen consistent increases in ridership throughout the Great Recession.

I was especially perplexed by the unsubstantiated assertion that our annual budgeting process is anything less than open and transparent. We have already held a half-dozen town hall meetings, apart from regularly scheduled SFMTA board meetings, and every document and every budget presentation is publicly available on our Web site.

Unfortunately, in the current economic environment, it's true we must make tough decisions about layoffs and service reductions. We make these decisions with the diverse interests of our customers as the priority. Indeed, the SFMTA continues to pilot new strategies to make San Francisco a "Transit First City."

Also noteworthy is that all of the service and schedule changes were planned with surgical precision using the wealth of data collected and analyzed through the Transit Effectiveness Project, the first comprehensive evaluation of Muni service in a generation.

We always welcome public involvement and debate. After all, it's about the future of the system that belongs to us all.

Nathaniel P. Ford Sr.

SFMTA Executive Director/CEO

Joe Eskenazi Responds
Nathaniel Ford's letter fails to address any of the substantive issues identified in our article. Also, tellingly, he does not deign to offer any details on any of our "false statements." SF Weekly's request that Ford offer some specifics to go along with his cavalier accusations was not answered.

Far from being "unsubstantiated," our allegations that the mayor's office dictates Muni's budget down to the fine details and cajoles the agency into fudging its numbers were backed up by both Muni's own documents and interviews with multiple sources.

Reducing stops is not the answer: The extensive article on Muni raised a number of important issues, and one very tired chestnut, the deservedly forgotten Transit Elimination Program study. Derided at the time for the too-many-bus-stops-makes-transit-slow argument, TEP is a reflection of the old-fashioned idea of "blame the victim."

Ask yourself: If the bus went faster, who would care if it stopped more? I am also dubious over the slower speed, higher cost argument, since the idea proposed — faster service and fewer vehicles — says to me that the bus goes faster and it's more crowded, too (since the number of riders is not reduced).

The article makes the point that eliminating stops is a Herculean struggle, but skips right over far easier and untried options like diamond- and bus-only lane enforcement, smarter use of towaway lanes, and expedited boarding. Or getting serious about getting bus rapid transit implemented on Van Ness, a mere 30 years or so after it was developed in South America.

David Grant

Former Chairman,

MTC Regional Pedestrian Committee

Joe Eskenazi Responds
David Grant's allegation that our article "skips right over" discussion of transit-only lanes and expedited boarding is puzzling. We spent just as much time, if not more, discussing those exact measures as we did writing about bus stop consolidation.

Correction
In last week's cover story ["The Many Faces of Dr. Syed," Ashley Harrell, 4/21], SF Weekly incorrectly referred to Robert Baratz as a doctor who helps run Quackwatch.org. In fact, he is only a contributor to the site.

 
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