San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials on Wednesday defended a plan to restore near-full service by 2023, saying the one-time federal funding it has received throughout the COVID-19 pandemic must be used strategically.
The response by the SFMTA came after Supervisor Dean Preston introduced a resolution during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting urging the agency to reinstate all Muni transit lines and pre-pandemic service hours fully by Dec. 31.
Although underground rail service returned in May and cable car service is set to come back next month in limited fashion, 12 bus lines remain discontinued since the agency shuttered several routes at the start of the pandemic due to historically low ridership.
According to Preston, with the SFMTA having recently received a new round of federal funding now totaling $1.1 billion, he remained “concerned with this lack of clarity by the SFMTA and lack of transparency with the public.”
“All of these lines should be back at minimum by the end of the year,” he said. “At minimum, residents of San Francisco, a transit-first city by charter, deserve to have a written commitment from SFMTA as to when all these lines are coming back.”
With most COVID-19 restrictions having been lifted throughout the state and residents returning back to work and school, transit agencies like Caltrain and BART have targeted restoring full service by September.
Muni is anticipating returning to nearly 90 percent full service by June 2023, SFMTA officials confirmed Wednesday.
“Current federal relief has helped buy us time and allows us to continue to restore Muni service. But we need to make our federal funding last longer than other cities because all signs point to a slow recovery for downtown San Francisco,” the agency said, citing a recent report from the city’s Controller’s Office.
The report found that BART ridership through downtown San Francisco stations in May was only at 12 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“If we go too quickly, we risk exhausting our federal reserves too quickly by restoring more Muni service than we have passengers (which would mean running near-empty buses) prior to economic recovery. This will lead us into a death spiral of increased service cuts, reduced ridership, further reductions in revenues leading to even more draconian cuts,” the agency said. “By restoring service in a carefully planned manner, we will be able to help the economy grow and then allow the economy’s growth (through increased revenues) to pull service back even higher in a manner that will be sustainable for the long term.”
In addition to limited cable car service, Muni is also planning to bring back several other lines next month, including full pre-pandemic service levels along its late night Owl lines and the M-Oceanview rail line.