prop. L can help build SF public transportation’s future

While the pandemic may have forever altered commute patterns for San Francisco, COVID hasn’t stopped the need to get people in, out and around the city on public transportation. Even though ridership remains far below pre-pandemic levels, Muni and other transit agencies serving San Francisco still need to improve their infrastructure and plan for a public transportation system that can meet the demands of the future.

Proposition L would greatly assist this effort by extending an existing 0.5% sales tax to fund major transportation projects. As a tax measure, Prop. L needs two-thirds of the vote to pass.

San Francisco voters have historically supported funding transportation infrastructure. Voters approved Proposition B in 1989, which added 0.5% to the sales tax for funding major transportation projects, and they extended it in 2003 for 20 years with Prop. K. Approving Prop. L would supersede the existing tax measure and extend it for 30 years to 2053.

Some may question the public’s appetite for funding measures after voters in June narrowly rejected Prop. A, a $400 million bond for Muni improvements. But as we noted in our endorsement for Prop. A, 800,000 people live in San Francisco, and the city is still a tourist and work center. People still need to get around. Yes, COVID changed transit patterns away from the traditional downtown commute. So Muni and other agencies must adapt. prop. L will be a key part of this effort. If public transit can’t get people where they’re going in a timely manner or at all, then more of them are likely going to drive — gridlocking the streets and spewing carbon into the atmosphere.

The drop in ridership has put Muni in financial free-fall. It can only recover if it lures riders back by improving and adapting service. prop. A could have helped buses by funding repair and infrastructure work to reduce the travel time of trains. Its loss in the June primary means we can’t afford to miss another chance to invest in the future of public transportation.

prop. L would generate about $100 million a year, totaling $2.6 billion through 2053. The money is administered by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and would fund the agency’s 2022 Transportation Expenditure Plan, which includes money for street improvements to ease traffic congestion, replacing Muni’s underground train control system, an equity plan for underserved communities and connecting Caltrain — and high-speed rail if it ever comes to fruition — to the Salesforce Transit Center in downtown.

Why extend the sales tax now when it still has 10 years to go? Primarily, because many big projects, such as the downtown Caltrain connection, will need federal grants to be completed. In order to qualify, there has to be local funding in place. prop. L would provide this as well as the seed money for the evolving transit system for a post-pandemic world.

Many of the improvements funded by the previous sales tax measures have paid off, but big public works projects are notorious for being late and over budget: the long-awaited Central Subway is set to begin service in November, and after years of delays, the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit line opened in April.

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