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Opposition to F-Line Fare Increase Keeps Growing

Milan 1815 Cal Mkt Chron photo.jpg

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

More and more city leaders, groups, and individuals are sounding off about Muni staff’s idea of tripling the F-line fare to match the cable cars. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Scott Weiner, whose combined districts cover most of the F-line route, have written a “two thumbs down” letter about the proposal, focusing on how it is discriminatory against residents along the line who depend on it.

San Francisco Travel (formerly known as the Convention & Visitors Bureau) wrote a letter to Muni’s governing body, the SFMTA Board of Directors, that pointed out how such a move would only encourage day-trippers from other Bay Area cities to bring their automobiles to town instead. Many long-distance visitors would opt for taxis instead, defeating the purpose of offering attractive public transit.

The newly formed Embarcadero Business Improvement District, centered around the Ferry Building, has just sent a letter saying the possible fare increase “is a significant threat to the renaissance of the waterfront, and is potentially quite harmful to both the area and the city as a whole…As a critical transit lifeline to the northern waterfront, the F-Line is relied upon by many San Franciscans on a daily basis; dramatically increasing fares would discourage the use of the F-Line as a real transit option, and would likely condemn the line to a mere tourist line — with negative consequences for commuters and the City’s transit ecology.”

The Chronicle has now weighed in with a prominent story on the triple-the-F-line-fare idea. The article, by transportation reporter Michael Cabanatuan, noted, “In a series of town hall meetings discussing the budget, MTA officials acknowledged that charging more to ride the F-Market line has been extremely unpopular. They say it’s not a done deal and even bristle at it being labeled a proposal.” The article’s conclusion: “The public, almost universally, does not approve.”

That last point is made clear by the comments to the story at the bottom of the story itself on the Chronicle’s website, SFGate. “Guitar 49,” who commutes to the Wharf area from the East Bay, noted that tripling the fare would force him to quit the job he has held for 17 years and look for something closer to home. “No, keep the streetcars at $2 per ride, because many of us commuters rely on them as well, and they are very much appreciated by those of us who ride them… it makes for a beautiful start to the day, which is important because that “beautiful” start translates into better customer service and a calmer existence.”

“snoozysusie” wrote, “When they replaced the 8 Market line with the F line we were assured it would be a regular Muni line, not just a tourist line. So to change the rules now is dishonest. Anyone who lives in Upper Market area and goes downtown to shop uses the F line. Raising the fare will be one more reason not to go downtown to shop.”

“Samllama” wrote, “It’s time for the entire MTA to be re-evaluated, maybe eliminate some of these cushy jobs in the administrator ranks, and these people who come up with these crazy revenue ideas.”

One note on the Chronicle story: the reporter gives us way too much credit when he notes that the “streetcar of opposition [is] being piloted by Market Street Railway.” Just like the first time SFMTA staff raised this possibility, four years ago, the opposition is broad, and arose spontaneously, once the Muni budget documents were publicized. We did alert interested groups to the SFMTA F-line proposal (or “just ideas put on the table as something to consider,” in the words of their spokesman, a distinction without a difference as we see it). The response was self-generated, though to be sure we strongly oppose any effort to uncouple the F-line fare from general Muni fares. The Chronicle quoted our president accurately in saying “We think this is a terrible idea,” but the newspaper contacted us, not the other way around.

We feel the Chronicle wrote a balanced news article. Last Sunday, former Mayor Willie Brown struck a different note when, near the bottom of his opinion column, he breezily noted, “Nothing wrong with the idea of soaking tourists for $6 to ride the historic F-line streetcars. Most of the riders are tourists and tourists don’t vote, at least not here. If you’ve got to get money from someone, they offer the least resistance and least damage.”

This view was predictably derided by readers in the comments section, but the value of the former Mayor’s opinion on Muni matters had already been established in the previous paragraph, where he had written of the long lines at the cable car turntables, “To this day, I haven’t figured out why at least five cable cars will be lined up, motionless, as the tourists wait.”

Really, Mayor Brown? In eight years in office, you never asked your Muni leadership that question? Would it have something to do with the old saying, “Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer?”

Back to the F-line: at least by asking the F-line fare increase question once again, four years after it was crushed by the SFMTA Board of Directors, Muni staff should have a very clear answer as to what the public, and city leaders, think of it. Our non-profit would much rather focus our energy on supporting improvements to historic streetcar (and cable car) service than dealing with this terrible idea.

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