“SF Considers Strategy to Boost Muni Service in Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods”

SF Examiner, April 29, 2014

Low-income and minority San Francisco residents make up a large chunk of Muni’s ridership, and The City is using census data to determine where those people live and what service improvements they need.

The Muni Equity Strategy isn’t the first time the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has looked at improving transit for customers of disadvantaged backgrounds. However, taking a neighborhood approach is a new concept, even for cities other than San Francisco, according to Julie Kirschbaum, who manages operations, planning and scheduling for Muni.

The SFMTA recently revealed that 51 percent of more than 20,000 Muni customers surveyed last year reported living in low-income households, defined as earning less than $47,000 a year for a family of four. In addition, 58 percent identified as minorities.

The 2010 census found that 31 percent of San Francisco residents are low income.

The statistics were not surprising, Kirschbaum said, because the SFMTA did extensive analysis on overall ridership for the Transit Effectiveness Project, the first major service overhaul in three decades, which was approved by the board of directors in late March. The transit agency also annually monitors how routes serving low-income and minority communities perform in its Title VI program, a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that addresses discrimination in most areas of public life in the U.S.

Under the new strategy, which goes before board members May 6, the SFMTA would process and analyze census data to choose six to eight neighborhoods within the next couple of months and identify two to three top performance issues per area.

As an exercise, staff looked at various routes in the Tenderloin, Bayview and Chinatown neighborhoods. Crowding on the 30-Stockton, for example, was a major concern for the community, according to data, and the solution would be phasing in longer and more spacious buses starting in early 2015.

“It’s a technical exercise and we’ll be vetting our findings with Supervisor John Avalos and community activists that we’ve been working with to date,” Kirschbaum said.

The strategy originated from a City Charter amendment introduced by Avalos in December that called for an equity analysis to ensure that funds from two bond measures likely to go before voters in November — a $500 million general obligation bond and a vehicle license fee — would be set aside for routes serving low-income and minority neighborhoods.

The bond measures are recommendations from Mayor Ed Lee’s 2030 Transportation Task Force, which community groups such as People Organized to Win Employment Rights and Urban Habitat were not included in. Avalos introduced the City Charter amendment because he “was hoping that by making sure equity was an emphasis in money coming from the vehicle license fee, that would build support from the groups,” said his legislative aide Jeremy Pollock.

Bob Allen, Urban Habitat’s policy and advocacy campaign director, said that even if money gets set aside for equity, there will be a need for oversight.

“What we don’t want is a nice analysis,” he said, “and it doesn’t get implemented.”

Muni ridership

51% Customers living in low-income households

58% Customers who self-identified as minorities

53% Customers not owning or having access to vehicle

3% Customers who pay discounted disabled fares or are Medicare cardholders

78% Customers who pay discounted disabled fares or are Medicare cardholders and live in low-income households

59% Customers who pay discounted disabled fares or are Medicare cardholders and self-identified as minorities

Source: 2010 census and SFMTA survey data