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Muni votes to raise fares during outbreak, economic woes

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Fare hike is unpopular, but SFMTA chief says no one has any better ideas

San Francisco’s Muni To Cut Majority Of Service During Coronavirus Shutdown Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Although Muni is struggling to maintain basic service in the face of nearly nonexistent ridership, as well as a driver pool threatened by the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) board decided this week to raise fares despite economic downturn and public criticism.

The fare hike was part of the transit agency’s two-year, $2.61 billion combined budget, which the board passed at a virtual meeting Tuesday.

Starting in July, monthly fast passes will cost an extra five dollars, bringing the total to $86 for a regular pass or $103 for a pass that allows access to BART stations in SF. Starting in 2021, the price of those passes will rise to $88 and $106 respectively.

Individual rides paid for with a Clipper card will grow more expensive as well, moving up from $2.50 now to $2.80 in July, then $2.90 next year. Cash fares will remain the same, but were already the most expensive way to ride at $3 a pop.

These fare hikes are tied to annual inflation increases, the sort that Muni has imposed annually for over ten years now.

SFMTA faced broad public criticism over the prospect of raising fares in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent economic retreat, with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors asking SFMTA last week to cancel the increase.

“The last thing we want to do is be raising fares at a time when San Franciscans will be economically insecure,” Supervisor Dean Preston said at last week’s board meeting, suggesting that higher prices might scare off future riders who would already queasy about returning to the close-quarters of public transit.

Only Supervisor Rafael Mandelman supported the budget, praising new transit measures that the SFMTA plan would fund.

“Of course, we do not want to raise fares,” SFMTA chief Jeffrey Tumlin said before Tuesday’s vote, noting that public comment about the price increases was overwhelmingly negative but adding that “not a single [person] suggested where we should get additional revenue” otherwise.

Tumlin argued that SFMTA must continue paying drivers and other employees a rate commensurate with the cost of living and that the only options other than raising prices would be cutting service or laying off workers.

“Our riders are more dependent on Muni than ever,” he said, arguing that the price hike is the lesser of evils.

Muni adopted a policy of increasing fares every year with inflation in 2009, and the price of a single cash ride doubled in the decade after.

SFMTA also announced Monday that, after canning nearly 70 percent of Muni service citywide earlier in the month, the agency would bring back a few of the discontinued bus lines starting April 25, including the 5 Fulton, 28 19th Avenue, and parts of the 12 Folsom and 54 Felton servicing Chinatown.

Train service remains suspended, but shuttle buses continue to serve the N, L, and T routes.