San Francisco Mayor London Breed and a bevy of local officials kicked off Bay Area Transit Month this week with a Muni ride and a rally at City Hall, but for officials in charge of the region’s trains and buses it’s anything but party time.
Revenue and ridership numbers plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery is expected to take years. Muni plans to restore service to 85% of its pre-pandemic level by Jan. 2022—slower than a majority of the Board of Supervisors would like—but when riders might return is anyone’s guess.
The Wednesday event was organized to kick off Transit Month in San Francisco, a month celebrating the role of public transit in the city.
Yet the major theme to emerge was how the SFMTA will navigate financial hardship and restore service following the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw ridership and fare and parking collections drop precipitously.
“Muni continues to face the worst financial crisis in our history. We’re expecting at least another four years of huge COVID-19 related financial losses,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA).
SFMTA ridership took a big hit at the beginning of the pandemic, with average daily Muni boardings dropping from 469,000 in Feb. 2020 to 122,000 in March. Transit revenue fell from $13 million to $1.5 million between March 2020 and April 2020.
Public transportation is set to lose $568 million over the next four years, according to the SFMTA.
The agency has outlined three options for service restoration in 2022 and is seeking public input. The options include bringing back all Muni routes that have yet to be restored, increasing service on high ridership Muni lines while not restoring every pre-pandemic route, or some combination.
The SFMTA and many supervisors are mooting a 2022 ballot measure to help restore and expand Muni service, though details are unclear. Supervisor Gordon Mar proposed “taxing the rich to fund the bus,” with Supervisor Dean Preston in agreement.
“All of us on our staff believe that we were delivering far inadequate service back before COVID-19,” said Tumlin. “We need dramatic expansion and improvement in the frequency, the number of lines, the speed, the reliability, the quality, the cleanliness.”