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Muni approval crashes in citywide survey

Complaints about homelessness, cleanliness, and infrastructure also on the rise

crowded muni underground train and station platform Photo by Shutterstock

The San Francisco Controller’s Office released the results of its biennial city survey on Monday, which probed San Franciscans’ attitudes about city services.

Although the public gave decent marks to the state of the city—in all categories but one, the average grade ranged from a B-minus to an A—satisfaction with Muni has collapsed since the last survey two years ago.

Pollster Corey, Canapary and Galanis Research (CC&G) conducted the survey of 2,218 residents between November 2018 through February 2019, rating the city on a grade scale from A-to-F across seven categories.

Those surveyed gave an average grade of C-plus to transportation services across SF, the lowest marks of any category and the only one below a B-minus citywide.

More specific responses show even greater discontent with Muni in particular, including:

  • Of all city services, the lowest rated was “Muni overall,” and satisfaction with “Muni overall” declined the most compared to the last survey. In 2017, 59 percent of those polled gave Muni a score of an A or a B; in 2019, that figure plummeted to 40 percent, by far the largest decline in any category.
  • Attitudes about “Muni frequency or reliability” dropped as well, as did “Safety on Muni,” “Muni cleanliness,” and “Managing crowding on Muni.” Compared to two years ago, more riders graded these categories below an A or a B, although most of the declines were by five points or less. The only category to improve over the past two years was “Courtesy of Muni drivers.”
  • Despite the unhappiness, Muni use is broad across all demographics in the city, with 84 percent reporting using it within the past year. Of those polled, 58 percent ride Muni weekly. Ridership was highest among women in low-income households, 68 percent of whom ride weekly, and lowest among women in high-income households, only 53 percent of home ride regularly.
  • Generally, low-income riders—those making less than $50,000 annually—were more satisfied with Muni. “Fifty-two percent of low-income respondents gave Muni an A or a B rating, in comparison to 34 percent of respondents making over $100,000 a year,” according to the Controller’s Office.
  • In a related finding, use of ride-hailing apps is way up since 2017. Two years ago, 55 percent of those polled reported using such a service in the past year, whereas that figure has now climbed 75 percent. By contrast, 40 percent of San Franciscans previously reported ordering a taxi in the past year, versus just 26 percent now.

In response to the low marks, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told Curbed SF, “Significant progress has been made over the last five years,” noting that “Muni went from operating the oldest fleet of buses and trains in the nation to one of the newest and the greenest,” and emphasizing “targeted actions across the system” to improve service in recent months.”

“But, there’s no denying we have more work to do,” added Rose.

City parks, library services, and 311 were among the most popular city services, netting average grades of A-minus, B-plus, and B-plus respectively, although 311 satisfaction was down since 2017.

Among non-Muni related gripes, homelessness was the problem most commonly cited as the city’s biggest challenge, with 53 percent of those polled ranking it their top concern and whopping 75 percent of San Franciscans testifying that the problem is worse now than in 2017. Only eight percent say it’s better.

Street and sidewalk cleanliness provokes similar discontent, with 57 percent of survey respondents say they believe the problem has gotten worse since the last survey, while just 18 percent report improvement.

Despite the negative attitudes toward Muni, only six percent of those polled called it the city’s biggest problem.

In demographic news, 51 percent of those surveyed identify as white (down from 53 percent in 2017), 22 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander (down from 30 percent), 12 percent Hispanic or Latinx (down from 14 percent), and five percent black (down from nine percent).

Nine percent of respondents identified as “other,” a category that was not present in past surveys and could account for some of the discrepancies in other categories.

(Update: Glynis Startz, an analyst at the Controller’s Office, tells Curbed SF, “The ‘other’ category combines less frequently selected racial groups as well as respondents who reported multiple races. This likely explains some part of the discrepancy.”

Startz adds, “The survey results should not be used to extrapolate changes in the demographic make-up of the city” and points to census estimates as a better tool for such things.)

Note that, according to estimates from the United States Census, the overall number of San Franciscans across almost all ethnic demographics has increased since 2010, even while some categories, like white residents, have declined as a percentage of the population.

The big exception to this is African-Americans in San Francisco, whose overall count dropped more than 3,000 persons during that period, even while other populations grew.

For the full results of the city survey, read the Controller’s report here.