Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Can't Wait to be Part of the Problem

I'm thinking of a magic number — can you guess what it is?

The number is 220. It's a very nice number, and not just because it's in my address. 220 is a common voltage in many countries. It's also divisible by the sum of its digits. The Goths invaded Asia Minor and the Balkans in the year 220. It also saw the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period in China.

But my affinity for the number 220 is not so historic. My magic number is actually 220 dollars, as in $220 a month. $220 is the most I'm willing to pay for a monthly bus pass for my family.

Right now, we pay $120 a month for our Muni fast passes, which allow us to ride any Muni bus or light rail in San Francisco as much as we want. We should be buying a youth pass for Benny as well ($15), but so far we've been able to sneak him on the bus for free. (Yes, apparently I am willing to compromise my morals for $15 a month. That's a whole other magic number.)

So the current cost of Muni transportation for a family of three (if they're not thieving cheats) is $135. Which would be completely reasonable, if San Francisco's public transportation system was a well-oiled machine, with consistently reliable, safe and pleasant service.

Ha ha.

Muni is well, pretty bad. The buses are dirty, the schedules are a joke and the drivers hate everybody. (These same drivers are guaranteed the second-best salaries in the country. Seriously, guaranteed. It's in the city charter.)

Still, we have made our peace with Muni, rarely venturing from the No. 6/N Judah cow path we take to work. I take other buses as little as possible, preferring to use City Car Share. Last night I took the 43, and a fellow rider pounded a rear window until it gave way, then leaned out and shouted at pedestrians.

This year, we plan to buy a car. Then we'll use Muni even less, probably only to commute to our jobs downtown.

Unless ... Muni hits the magic number.

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency is proposing cuts to every Muni bus line to close a $16.9 million budget gap. Just a month ago, the SFMTA made a ton of service cuts and raised the price of monthly passes from $55 to $60. The cuts will reduce frequencies on every Muni line and increase fares for historic streetcars, express buses and cable cars. They also want to increase the Youth monthly passes.

When Ron and I arrived in San Francisco in 2007, the cost of a monthly pass was $45. Now it's $60. Obviously Muni is gunning for the passengers and the cost of the passes will keep rising. Quickly.

Hence the magic number. I figure that if adult monthly passes hit $90 each, and the youth pass is $30, the total cost is ... wait for it ... $220. The SFMTA is already talking about raising youth passes to $30.

So what will Ron and I do if monthly passes total $220? The answer is simple: Climb back into a car.

For $250-$300 a month, we can get a nice parking spot downtown near our jobs. Then we can ride into work every day in our car, dropping Benny off at school on the way. A nice, relaxing ride with the family twice a day. If Muni keeps raising its fares, while providing substandard service, why not drive?

Then we will be part of the problem, spewing carbon exhaust every day while adding to traffic congestion in this "Transit First" city.

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