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Price of riding Muni doubles in ten years

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Inflation-based system leads to runaway fares

An SF Cable Car cresting a hill.
Even the price of a Cable Car is set to go up.
Via Shutterstock

Public transit is at a crossroads in San Francisco, as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) searches for new leadership and the current head of Muni strives to fix the city’s long-broken public buses and trains.

One thing that’s certain: Muni will get more expensive to ride.

Starting July 1, another round of fare hikes will go into effect. The fare increase comes on the ten-year anniversary since Muni began chaining the price of riding the system to the cost of inflation, a decision that has doubled the cost of public transit in a decade.

According to SFMTA’s fare schedule, a single ride on Muni will cost $3, up from $2.75. A regular FastPass will jump from $78 to $81. And an “A Pass,” which allows riders to use both Muni and BART within the city, rises will rise from $94 to $98.

Discount fares ($1.25) will remain the same for now, but the price of a discounted monthly FastPass is set bump up from $39 to $40.

Even the the price for a cable car ride will increase from $7 to $8. Although a FastPass covers cable car rides; it’s mostly tourists who end up trapped by the fare box on that one.

A regular monthly FastPass will now cost the equivalent of 27 normal rides; at the previous fare rate, it was 28.67. The new $3 basic fare is double what Muni cost at the beginning of 2009.

Starting that year, the city began setting fares via an Automatic Fare Indexing Policy that employs an equation based on the rate of inflation to determine whether the price of Muni should go up and by how much.

For the curious, that formula is:

[Bay Area CPI-U ÷ 2] + [2-year Operating Budget Labor Cost Change ÷ 2] where the Bay Area CPI-U forecast used will be from the California Department of Finance; and Round up the Automatic Inflator to the nearest $0.25, $0.50 or $1.00 depending on which is appropriate given the base charge and ensure that the rounding impact does not result in more than a 10 percent increase.

[...] To the extent that application of the AIIP results in an increase in transit fares, such an increase must be submitted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as part of the SFMTA’s budget or as a budget amendment.

Note that pre-paid fares on Muni—those handled via a Clipper Card without a FastPass—will still run $2.50 in July, the same price as a normal fare in 2014.

In 2009, Muni’s on-time rating was 72.3 percent. In May of this year, it was 55 percent, and flat since January.

Opinions vary on how closely wages keep up with inflation in California. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in San Francisco in 2010 was $71,304—the equivalent of $83,741 today, per to the national inflation index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available), the median income was $96,265. Of course, low-income commuters are more likely to take public transit; in 2009 San Francisco’s minimum wage was $9.79 per hour, and come July it will rise to $15.59.