SAN FRANCISCO - Without a new funding source, more than half of San Francisco's Muni bus lines could disappear.
The agency is already running limited service due to the coronavirus, and says about 40 of the bus lines that are suspended are now on track to be permanently halted unless the city makes a major change in the way Muni is funded.
Before the corona virus pandemic buses criss-crossed San Francisco, accounting for hundreds of thousands of rides per day. In April with the growing pandemic the agency restricted service to it's core routes, taking 40 of the city's 68 bus lines off the board.
Now, due to a major budget crunch those cuts may be permanent.
"We have no viable financial path to even maintain the lines that we're operating right now," said SFMTA Director Jeffry Tumlin. "Let alone restore those 40 lines that will likely not be coming back for the next two years."
Director Tumlin says the agency is just the first to feel the financial crunch from the corona virus pandemic. He says they've been able to stave off widespread layoffs, but fare revenue is down about by about 90%, and ridership is not expected to increase to pre-pandemic levels in the foreseeable future.
The agency is dipping into various every available source to keep the lines that are running going for the next two years, after that things get even more dire.
"We will be living on our credit cards," said Director Tumlin. "We're gutting our fund reserves, we're gutting our capital budget and easing it for our operating budget."
For now the agency says it plans on reopening more lines later this month, and rail service in August. Reopening rail service throughout the city will free up some buses that are currently running those routes, that should improve frequency throughout the system. But, still it will be nowhere close to what the city had pre-pandemic.
Director Tumlin says voters and politicians will have to make hard decisions about the future of mass transit in San Francisco.
"We have between now and the 2022 ballots to start a conversation with our policy makers and the citizens of San Francisco to try to figure out what is the right package of funding measures," said Tumlin.
Muni's director acknowledged that ending some bus lines in the city will disproportionately impact immigrant and communities of color. That's one of the reasons he says it is so urgent the city has to find those new funding sources.