Part IV of our series from Mayoral Candidates Series: Phil Ting

This is the 4th of 5 installments of our Mayoral Candidates Series. Today we are presenting Phil Ting. Sorry but no photo available.

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Introductory Comments

The good news—SFMTA has the Transit Effectiveness Project. For the first time, we have many solutions documented in one plan. The bad news—it’s going to take nine years to implement it. Does it make sense to take nine years? Is it going to take nine years to take away bus stops? Is it going to take nine years to make sure traffic lights are timed correctly? Doesn’t seem like it will take nine years.

It isn’t going to take nine years to negotiate contract with drivers. Want to make sure they have a fair contract, but also one that allows us as citizens to make sure adequate performance—overtime, cost. So many things we could be doing.

So many of them, and they’re all interrelated. We need to speed up Muni, which will make it more reliable. Increasing its speed from 8 to 10 mph saves $40 million for Muni. I was just at a town hall and asked, “If you had to walk two more blocks to make Muni faster, would you do it?” Half said yes, half said no. Another candidate said people were angry and pissed. Of course people are going to be upset. If you do change, people are upset. But we have to sell it right—what would you give up for your bus would come on time, for your bus to get you where you need to go 5 mins faster.

The great news is that we have a blueprint, the TEP. I was reading Dave Snyder’s article from SPUR newsletter from 3 years ago about the TEP.

We need leadership. I have a track record. Since I’ve taken over the Assessor’s Office, it has little by little transformed. I brought in $300 million over budget. One reason–accountability goes both ways. Staff understood what the job was. I turned around what was considered one of worst departments in the City. Didn’t do it by firing and rehiring; I know how to get things done.

Question: Congestion affects Muni, and development can cause congestion. In some parts of the City, an increase in housing units requires a minimum of one parking space per unit. Other organizations have supported a policy of 0.5 parking spaces per unit; are you willing to do that?

I was an early adopter of the Housing Action Coalition, which would approve plans with community members. We pushed back on how much parking was required. We can add bike parking and City Car Share. Doesn’t make sense to have a one-to-one parking ratio in major transit corridors.

One option is allowing people to sell their spaces. If someone doesn’t want to have a car, we should give them the opportunity to get rid of their parking space. They’ll get money, lower their property tax assessment, and help someone else who needs the space.

Part of this is to incentivize transit in transit corridors. If you talk about going higher density along Geary, Noriega, Taraval, Judah, etc., those are tough conversations.

Question: Developers say they want to build parking; they claim it allows them to sell the units for more. What would you say to these developers?

We have to create the right incentives. How much do you think developers would give up if their permits could move faster? The uncertainty of the slow permit process is money—$100,000s to millions of dollars. They’re floating the cost, which gets passed to us. They would trade parking or increased density for that certainty that their permit would move faster. Another idea is to sit down with developers and work with them. We aren’t developers, it’s not our line of work, but we can work with them.

Question: Since pilot implementation of SFPark parking meters, rates have been adjusted based on demand. Despite this, on Valencia, there are still no available spots on nights and weekends. Would you support enabling SFPark on nights and weekends, with a starting price of $0/hr, and using the funds toward neighborhood transit?

Extend hours? At this point, probably not. This is a very challenging economy, and we want to roll out SFPark piece by piece. I’m supportive that meters are more aligned with hourly cost. As things roll out, in a year or two, we can take a look at extending the hours. Janitors were concerned about meters in evenings. They park on street. If they have to pay 5 dollars an hour, 6 to 8 hours, that’s half their wages.

I’m a data person. I’m willing to look at it. Not saying will do it, but open to it. I was told by SFMTA that if we could go one min faster for each transit line, it would save $20 million. A one-minute delay can be caused by something as simple as someone crossing the road, or a car parked at the bus stop. We should have dedicated lanes for transit, especially on Judah, etc. Every other street is one way in Sunset except Taraval and Judah, the ones with transit. Those trains don’t go faster, especially with all the stop signs.

Question: How can the City justify free parking on evenings and weekends when Muni isn’t free during those times?

I’m open to making Muni more free. It’s about recovering costs. There are different pieces of data about whether that works. We have a tenuous economy right now. A major generator of jobs is our small business corridors. They were upset at SFPark when the hourly cost per meters went up. Although, it makes a lot of sense because we have parking lots that cost more than those meters.

Question: If Muni merely maintains current service–doesn’t expand it–the agency will face short-term and long-term deficits. How will you increase revenue for Muni? Be specific. Fees? Taxes? On what? Other sources of revenue?

The number one way we can build revenue is attracting more riders. If we have more riders, potentially fewer cars. Muni goes faster. It’s a win-win cycle. On the other hand, if the opposite happens, it’s very bad for Muni. Less people ride Muni, more cars on the road, which further slows Muni. So we need more riders.

Having dedicated transit lanes, removing stop signs, etc., don’t cost much money, but they help Muni save money.

I’m in the tax business, and I’m happy to talk about revenue. We need to make sure people feel the money is being spent properly. Muni is not always seen as accountable. I’m in favor of fees and taxes—if we’re going to have a fee, call it a tax, and say it’s going to go toward Muni and our economy. Whether it’s a parcel tax, bond, etc. But we also need to use the data to improve Muni. A lot of people don’t have faith the data is being used. It has to be both.

Question: The City is planning two bus-rapid transit systems. Things are moving slowly. As mayor, how would you push these?

People listen to the mayor’s office. For example, the mayor doesn’t have much say over education, but mayor has the pulpit. Can sell things. What I did as assessor is sell my office. Sold it to the mayor, Board, and City. Every year, we got more money and people because we could generate more money for the City.

Most people are satisfied with Muni, thankful for it, but many say it’s not accountable. Merchants are very concerned along Geary about BRT, but it has to get done. City has to do something. If merchants are worried about losing money—they’re livelihood—you have to make it up to them. Maybe you have to give them a tax break during this time. Some level of subsidy during this time.

We need BRT along both corridors. It takes forever on those routes. If you’re by the beach, it’s like commuting from the N line. Does it make sense to have so many big buses going all the way to beach? I get off at 19th Avenue, and even during rush hour, the buses aren’t full by the time the buses get to that point in the route. We have to look at data to make decisions and to make policy.